It’s dangerous to aggravate Vladimir Putin. You could slip and fall out a fourth-floor window, like Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for a prominent Russian whistleblower. You could get assassinated on a Kiev street, like Denis Voronenkov, a Putin critic who had fled Russia. (See Best International Columns.) You could get your country invaded, like the Ukrainians who in 2014 dared to overthrow the Putin puppet Viktor Yanukovych. You could get arrested and beaten for demonstrating against the rampant corruption of Putin’s kleptocracy, like tens of thousands of fedup Russians did this week. You could even have Russian hackers try to disrupt your presidential election, as our nation did last year. We do not know yet whether people connected to President Trump’s campaign had any illegal dealings with Russia, but this much is beyond doubt: Putin is an amoral thug who loathes democracy and dissent, kills without conscience, and is aggressively conspiring to sow chaos in the Western world.
Is that characterization too harsh? In certain provinces of the far right and the far left, there is now a shared concern that Putin is being “demonized.” Trump loyalists and liberals hostile to the intelligence services have resurrected the term “McCarthyism” to criticize reports about the Russian regime’s secretive contacts and financial entanglements with well-connected Americans. Now, it’s certainly true that taking a meeting with the Russian ambassador doesn’t make you a traitor. But Putin’s cyberattack on our election, and his efforts to recruit people connected with Trump into lifting U.S. sanctions and legitimizing his theft of Crimea, are not wild imaginings. (See Main Stories.) The FBI investigation may ultimately find that Trump, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama before him, was merely naïve in thinking Vlad was a potential partner, rather than a ruthless and resolute adversary. But there is no longer any excuse for anyone else to make that mistake.