Recent polling indicates Americans view the Islamic State as a greater threat than the governments of Russia or Iran. Although it is true that the Islamic State does pose a far more apparent and imminent threat, Russian and Iranian leadership represent far more hazardous threats to the West and the rest of the International Community, if their rogue behavior is left unchecked.
Unfortunately, a renewed buildup of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border, once again, threatens to escalate the Ukrainian Crisis. The tendency for humans to prioritize immediate concerns above the far more harmful consequences of distant threats, therefore, needs to be taken into account. The voices of the American People must be heard, but the views of the majority do not necessarily provide an accurate threat assessment, which appears to be true in this case.
It would clearly be preferable to focus on the Islamic State threat; however, the consequences of ignoring Russia’s domineering behavior toward Ukraine will only encourage more domineering behavior from Russia as well as other countries like rising global power China. Quite frankly, the erosion of support for international norms and the sovereignty of nations undermines the credibility of the International Community while weakening US and Western influence across the globe.
Even as Russian President Vladimir Putin joins in the politicization of the 1915 Armenian genocide to criticize the rise of “nationalism” in Ukraine and stoke anti-Western sentiments for Western denial of the genocide, he hypocritically continues his efforts at home to reawaken Russian patriotism and imperialism. In other words, Putin’s propaganda campaign to rationalize his support for the Ukrainian insurgency seeks to undermine national loyalty within neighboring countries, Russians and Russian supporters throughout the world will embrace Russian loyalty, i.e. loyalty to Putin.
Because the ultimate achievement of Vladimir Putin’s policy trajectory is likely to return Russia to its former imperial glory and/or surpass the US as the most powerful nation on the planet, the threat to the American People is diminished influence on the world stage and increased national security threats from weaker, emboldened, nations. For the International Community, Putin’s quest for glory will lead to additional conflict and conflict always lead to instability.
Given Putin’s current weapon of choice is insurgency, the kind of threat Russia poses to the world is not limited to war between nations. People may view the Islamic State as the greatest threat to Western interests, but the Putin government’s tactics are likely to create new threats of terrorism. Adding to the threat of the Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels, Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s “shoot-to-kill” orders directed at any Russian police operating in Chechen represents the kind of booby-traps Putin engineers.
It should be no surprise that a brutal, domineering man like Kadyrov would chose to engage in such a policy. Those seeking power only use others to force their way into power then lash out at them as soon as they become a threat to their authority. For Kadyrov, Russia’s weakness at the hands of Western reprisal, focus on Ukraine, and regional dealings offer the perfect opportunity to undermine Russian authority.
For Russia, Kadyrov represents a serious national security threat at a time when Russia can least afford it. Not only has Chechnya long been a source of terrorism for Russia, Kadyrov’s hardliner tactics and perverse views on Islam put him on bar with the Islamic State. Recalling the Islamic State’s pledge to expand their caliphate to Russia, a Kadyrov-Russian conflict and an increasingly successful campaign to combat the Islamic State in the Middle East makes Chechnya a very inviting place for Muslim extremists.
Consequently, the International Community needs to stay on task when it comes to addressing Russian Vladimir Putin’s campaign in Ukraine. Putin has increased the terrorist threat for Russia, but his continued efforts to dominate Ukrainian governance and undermine Western influence will only intensify that threat for the rest of the world. Although the Islamic State is a serious threat today, the Russian government’s continual aggressions must be checked or Russia will become a far greater threat.
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