It’s important to understand that the Russian government isn’t so much a government as it is a criminal organization. It’s baked in. Russia’s assets, the industries that were built under communism and their extensive natural resources are owned by the people that managed to successfully steal them after the fall of the USSR, and they get to keep them only as long as they please Putin.
Russia has the legislative and judicial system of Trump’s wet dreams. If you are an oligarch that controls an industry and the winds shift, you may be presented with legal papers that show that you never owned the companies that you own. You stole them. You’ll get arrested and maybe you’ll die in jail. There will be piles of trumped-up evidence against you, and anyone that might have supported you will be arrested or disappear.
Putin mostly does this to his own oligarchs, but he and his government have done it to foreign individuals and companies……the Magnitsky Act sanctions were imposed as the result of Russia pulling this scheme on an American businessman.
Any holdouts, people who believe in uncorrupt justice, within law enforcement and and the judicial system have been purged long ago, persecuted and prosecuted on false corruption charges ……think of Trump’s push to “investigate the investigators” and push out and prosecute anyone unwilling to corrupt the system in his favor.
This has a chilling effect. Not chilling, in the sense that a horror movie is chilling ( although it’s chilling in that sense as well), but chilling in the legal sense. It discourages (chills) honest people from entering law enforcement, taking government jobs and running for public office. It’s how you maintain corruption.
The Russian government also uses their corrupt institutions to incite moral panics, pedophilia being a big one. They love accusing political enemies of being pedophiles and will drum up all sorts of evidence. The pedophilia panic is also used to fuel anti-gay sentiments and to chill educators, who are frequently persecuted for promoting immorality.
I became very interested in this subject in 2015, (yes, pre-Trump) after I read Bill Browder’s book Red Notice - the story of his persecution by Russia, then I read a few more books including Nothing is True and Everything is Possible - the Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev.
The thing that I found most disturbing about the Trump/Russia scandals wasn’t the individual contacts with Russians or even the fact that his campaign was run by a person who attempted to rig Ukrainian elections in Russia’s favor.
It was the Putinesque flavor of his overall trajectory. Discredit the press. Discredit law enforcement. Investigate the investigators. Flood the zone with constant relentless lies. Drum up crimes against anyone that goes against you. Keep lying, relentlessly, until you wear your country down. Hold fake elections with a pre-determined outcome.
Trump is Putin’s revenge. The USA tried for years to get Russia to become a liberal western democracy like us. Putin used Trump in an attempt to turn the USA into Russia, a corrupt illiberal democracy. He almost won, and he hasn’t lost yet.
That said, I don’t think Trump is actively in on it, although he’s surrounded by people who are. Trump is an idiot, a clown with a flamethrower that got played by Putin. But a clown with a flamethrower still has a flamethrower and just look at how well Putin played him. Putin literally tricked him into unilaterally withholding urgent Congressionally appropriated assistance to his enemy in a hot war - tricked him by manipulating his vengefulness with ridiculously transparent disinformation.
So, how do we win? Not by going after Russia’s secrets, they have none……we know they murder people all over the place, we know they’re totally corrupt. Hacking and releasing their secrets will only get innocent people killed, even if we released something that implicated only the guiltiest of the guilty, they’d flip it around and use it to persecute their enemies - investigate the investigators, blame someone for the leak and kill them.
We do it by restoring our strong and uncorrupted democracy. Unfortunately there isn’t enough interest in doing so, because politically, democracy is for Democrats.
5 years ago I joked that Trump would have half the country convinced that democracy was only for Democrats. I wish it had stayed a joke.