We hid under our desks in school practicing safety from the nuclear bomb sent us by the Kremlin. We watched in dismay as Germans were gunned down trying to scale the wall dividing East and West Berlin. We were shocked when the Russian, Yuri Gargarin, beat us into space. We were frightened and outraged when we learned that Khrushchev had missiles in Cuba pointed at us. President Kennedy took action.
More recently we watched as Putin murdered his opponents both in Russia and on foreign soil. We were intrigued and amused as Putin won his sham elections with well over 90 percent of the vote. They annexed land by force. After the Soviet Union was dismantled we saw oligarchs become billionaires overnight under the approval and watchful eye of Putin. And, more recently, we know Russia is seriously messing with our democracy and elections using cyber attacks.
We have seen a lot of Russia over the years, none of it much good. Although no longer the Soviet Union the beautiful Russian people are ruled by Putin the autocrat and murderer who many agree has become the richest man in the world. These are the sad facts. We know and understand them.
Russia’s economy is stagnant. It is about the size of Italy’s. But unlike Italy’s slow economic growth Russia’s wealth is declining. By comparison the U.S. economy is about 10 times that of Russia. What is more, we live in the sleepy, rural lower Sierras and can easily forget that we’re part of a California that has an economy larger than than that of Russia.
Now Putin threatens our democracy with cyber attacks. It is quiet, sophisticated and goes unnoticed for the most part but it is true warfare nonetheless. So, how do we combat these attacks? Sanctions and technological response.
Sanctions hit them where it hurts, in their collective relatively small wallet. Sanctions prevent us from investing in Russian businesses which would only improve their economic travails. And, probably most important to Putin, sanctions hinder him and his approved oligarchs from moving and hiding their considerable wealth here and around the world. And, targeted responses with cyber-technology tells him that we can play the game much better than they can.
We through our elected representatives have spoken. Over 95 percent of Congress wisely voted to impose sanctions on Russia. We have the best and brightest in information technology. What are we waiting for?
All of our security heads, four of them Trump appointees, agree Putin attacked our elections, continues to attack us and plans to disrupt our 2018 midterm elections. All the while Donald Trump is doing nothing (slow-walking a bill is equivalent to doing nothing). Why? His recent statement is less than heartening. He said. “Putin feels he did not interfere with our election.” He also said that “Putin asked me to invite them” when questioned about two Russian ambassadors, one a spy, visiting the Oval Office the day after he fired our FBI Director. (Note: we learned of this meeting from the Russian press. Our press was not notified or invited.) Russia provided us with pictures of the meeting.
What should we do? Russia’s nuclear arsenal requires our State Department to have continuing relations and meaningful negotiations with them. Members of Congress need to speak out vigorously about the inaction around imposing the sanctions. POTUS must be forced to lead and protect our country — his sworn duty. Trump must challenge our security chiefs to both stop the hacking and recommend an appropriate cyber plan. Our security chiefs are patriotic, bright and effective. They undoubtedly have alternative plans in place.
One would think that the almost unanimous vote on sanctions by the House and Senate would be an understandable and unequivocal demand for action and leadership. Sadly, the vote seems to be a cover. Write Senators Feinstein, Harris and, more importantly, our Congressman Tom McClintock. Ask them to speak out often and aggressively against our inaction. Doing this has political implications but now is the time for courage.
Jim Koerlin lives in Groveland.