“It’s the same playbook they used in the Cold War era,” says Clint Watts, a researcher at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In the 2016 election, he says, Russia “just used a digital battlefield instead of an analog one. They didn’t do anything in terms of strategic doctrine that was different. It was just much easier to execute in cyberspace and social media than they could have ever done in the 1980s, for example.”
And why not? As far removed as US politics may feel from the dark days of the Cold War—at least until recently—the Russian leadership remains dominated by those who began their careers rising through ranks controlled by stalwarts of the Communist Party. Putin began as a KGB officer, and today nearly all of his top advisers are aging products of the Cold War: Gerasimov is in his early 60s. Putin’s top foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov—Sergey Kislyak’s predecessor as ambassador to the US—turned 70 in March, and the long-serving foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is 67. The men who head the three main intelligence services are all in their early 60s and graduates of the Soviet Union’s top intelligence and military academies. “There’s no X-ray into someone else’s thoughts, but judging from my own soul, which I know well, we grew up in the Soviet Union seeing the US as the enemy,” Andrei Kozyrev, who served as Russia’s foreign minister in the 1990s, tells me.