Marcus KolgaHope for any Western-style democratic reform was lost when Boris Yeltsin handed his country to the unremarkable former KGB officer in 2000, writes Senior Fellow Marcus Kolga in the Toronto Star.

By Marcus Kolga, Dec. 6, 2017

Is Vladimir Putin uniquely evil? Or his reputation for evil one that is conjured up by old cold war conspiracy theorists, as some Putin apologists have recently mused?

There is overwhelming consensus among those who have observed Russia over the past 17 years, that the country under Vladimir Putin, has become authoritarian, repressive, revanchist and imperialistic. Hope for any Western-style democratic reform was lost when Boris Yeltsin handed his country to the unremarkable former KGB officer in 2000.

Within a few short years, oligarchs, media barons and officials who weren’t loyal to Putin personally were eliminated. As Russian anti-corruption crusader, Bill Browder says, the cost to those oligarchs who wished to remain in business and untouched by the Kremlin, was 50 per cent of everything they had, making Vladimir Putin one of the richest people in the world.

Russia’s press, which was remarkably open and free in the early 2000s, was quickly silenced, as Putin ordered police raids of major media networks, which were expropriated by the state, broken up and sold to his friends.

Journalists who questioned the Kremlin’s tactics were silenced with assassin’s bullets. Anna Politkovskaya, who questioned Russia’s war against Chechen separatists, was gunned down in an elevator in her apartment block. Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer who blew the whistle on Russian apartment block bombings that were staged by the FSB, was murdered in London with radioactive polonium 210. A British inquest later called the murder an act of nuclear terrorism, carried out by an FSB officer, who Vladimir Putin later made a member of Russia’s Parliament.

Since becoming President of Russia, Putin has stolen every single election, denying Russians the freedom of democratic choice by eliminating any political opposition using draconian anti-democratic laws, arrests and assassinations.

Neighbouring states have not been immune from Putin’s “evil” either. In 2007 Putin ordered the Russian embassy in Estonia to sponsor, organize and stage “ethnic riots” when a Second World War Soviet memorial was relocated. The riots and the mass state sponsored cyber attacks that were ordered afterwards, were Putin’s first attempt to destabilize a neighbouring state.

The following summer, Putin ordered Russian troops to invade parts of Georgia under the pretext of supporting local independence movements — yet remain occupied by Russian troops to this day.

Just days after the most corrupt games in Olympic history closed in Sochi, in 2014 — which would also become known for the worst doping scandal in history — Putin ordered his troops to invade the Crimean peninsula and stage a fake referendum, eventually stealing a massive swath of Ukrainian territory. Thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have died since, as Putin continues to destabilize Eastern Ukraine.

In response to this, many Western nations placed sanctions against members of the Putin regime, and specifically those responsible for the violence in Ukraine, including the senseless downing of a civilian Malaysian Airlines flight in 2014.

Not quite satisfied by his attacks on Estonia, Georgia or Ukraine, Putin adopted a strategy of active disruption and destabilization of Western democracies and institutions.

These included cyber and disinformation campaigns intended to erode confidence in international organizations, pit domestic political groups against each other and active meddling in foreign elections and referendums.

There is extensive evidence and broad unanimity among Western governments and intelligence agencies that this happened in several cases, including the U.S., France, Germany, U.K., Spain, Montenegro and elsewhere. This is not a conspiracy that’s up for debate by fringe Putin apologist groups, but a well documented fact.

The only deterrent that seems to keep Vladimir Putin up at night, are the sanctions that have been applied against his officials, oligarchs and friends. Magnitsky human rights sanctions as they’re known, freeze the assets of Russian officials who engage in corruption and human rights abuse and impost visa travel bans against them.

It is the repeal of those sanctions, applied to punish the Putin regime, that the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin lawyer, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort was arranged to discuss. Sanctions are also what Michael Flynn has now admitted discussing with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during the Trump transition.

The Western notion of Vladimir Putin as an “evil” autocrat, is entirely deserved and well earned by the Russian President himself. To suggest that this is a cold war style “conspiracy” is foolish and dangerously naive.

Marcus Kolga is a communications strategist, documentary filmmaker, Russian foreign policy and disinformation expert. He is a senior fellow at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute’s Centre for Advancing Canada’s Interests Abroad and the publisher of

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