Intimate Conversations with America’s Change-Makers
Burn the Boats is an award-winning podcast featuring intimate conversations with change-makers from every walk of life. Host Ken Harbaugh interviews politicians, authors, activists, and others about the most important issues of our time.
Russian politics expert Olga Lautman discusses Russia’s failure to defeat Ukraine, the instability of the Russian political system, and more.
Olga is a researcher and analyst who has been monitoring Russian and Ukrainian internal politics for years. She’s a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, and the co-host of the Kremlin File, a podcast that details the rise of Putin and the spread of authoritarianism across the globe, including the Trump White House.
Ken Harbaugh: Hi everyone, it’s Ken. Before we start, I want to share some exciting news: We’ve paired with Meidas Touch, so you can now watch these interviews on YouTube. Just search for the Meidas Touch YouTube channel, or click the link in the show description. Thanks, and enjoy the episode.
Olga: This is the system. And it's not Putin's system. This is a system that has been there for the past century. Until that system is broken, you will see more leaders like Stalin and Putin and Brezhnev and others be installed
Ken: I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.
My guest today is Olga Lautman, a researcher and analyst who has been monitoring Russian and Ukrainian internal politics for years. She's a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and the co-host of the Kremlin File, a podcast that details the rise of Putin and the spread of authoritarianism across the globe.
We had Olga on the show in March when the war in Ukraine had just begun, and I've brought her back to talk about how the war has progressed and to hear what she thinks about the rise of authoritarianism here in the U.S. Olga, welcome back to Burn the Boats.
Olga: Thank you so much for having me back.
Ken: So, we're talking as winter is setting in, in Ukraine, or has set in, it's a brutal one. A few months ago, Ukraine launched a massive counter-offensive before the snow came. It was hugely successful. But where do things stand now? Can you give us a quick update?
Olga: Well, right now Ukrainians are continuing their counter-offensive. It obviously has slowed because the weather is not exactly the most ideal for a counter-offensive. I think we will see more progress in the next few weeks as the ground freezes, and it's easier for military equipment to move versus being stuck in mud right now.
The Russians, obviously, we've seen what they have shown us, their military is more like a ragtag group of like terrorist bandits. They have zero logistics, zero organization.
But what is the most frightening right now is that Russia is losing on the military field and have now strategically turned into terrorizing Ukrainian people and specifically targeting critical infrastructure, leaving Ukrainians without heat, power, water, electricity and everything that you need in the middle of winter as the temperature is plunging.
Ken: You'll be traveling back to Ukraine in a month or so. What is your assessment of how successful they have been and are likely to be in either countering those attacks or getting that infrastructure back online quickly?
Olga: Well, they've been doing a remarkable job trying to get the infrastructure back online within days after Russia strikes the power plans. The problem is that the world needs to help and provide. I know that Europe and the U.S. have been sending generators. But they need to send more because can you imagine, you know how Kyiv is, you have apartment buildings where you have multiple flights of stairs. There are so many elderly people who have to climb upstairs with no power. The elevators are down, obviously.
And then what's happening with the hospital situation. So, Ukraine right now needs generators because Russia is not going to stop. They see this is working. They're trying to break the will of the people, which will never happen because like I told you in March, and I'll remind you again, that this is like now centuries old war and we saw the last genocide by Stalin against Ukrainians in the late thirties. So, Ukrainians will fight. They will not turn against their government or their country because of electricity. But Russians at the same time are seeing the effect it's having that they could have maximum damage by targeting civilians and attempting to freeze them to death. And they will continue increasing their attacks.
Ken: The West has begun to step up in terms of providing generators and fuel and that kind of thing. But what about defensive systems? What do you make of the decision to provide advanced anti-air systems like the Patriot?
We've talked about this before, but share your thoughts with this audience on the dangers of escalation versus the obligation to support Ukraine in its own defense.
Olga: Well, the dangers of escalation is if we don't provide the weapons, because we all know that Russia has made it very clear that Ukraine is just their current stop and that they have their sight set on restoring their version of the Soviet Union. We saw how Russia softly annexed Belarus. And right now, Lukashenko is basically pondering to Putin and cannot exist in power without Putin. And that, what did they do? The minute they softly annexed, Ukrainians already for months are worried that there's going to be an offensive coming from Belarusian borders. So, if Ukraine falls, we will see such chaos in Europe. We will see World War III that is likely to spread, really break out in Europe, if Russia is not stopped in Ukraine. And even in the midst of this counter-offensive, you’d see Russia still hasn't slowed down.
And you saw this German coup plot by a noble, for a prince who wanted to overthrow the German government and basically cause an insurrection, overthrow the government and install his version of I don't know, whatever kind of government that they were planning on. And they met with the Russians in the Russian consulate in Germany. So, Russia is still interfering in affairs. And that sounds extremely familiar because this is exactly what happened here, January 6th. And Russia continues to interfere in domestic affairs of European countries in U.S. And if they're not stopped and decisively defeated and humiliated in Ukraine, we will see this spread out.
So, this is something we should have done last year. Ukraine shouldn't be, now what, nine or close to 10 months into Russia's genocide campaign, where we are now beginning to say, “Oh, let's provide defense missile systems.”
Ken: In the dead of winter now, with the tactical situation as it is, which side is favored? The conventional wisdom, and I'm saying this as a military person, is that the defender has the advantage. And in this case, ironically, the defender is Russia trying to beat back the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
But I think the conventional wisdom is being turned on its head by Ukrainian tactics, by the utter collapse of Russian morale. What are you hearing from your Ukrainian family and friends about the reality on the ground with essentially trench warfare on the front lines in the east?
Olga: Well, throughout Russia's latest campaign, and again, to remind your viewers, Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, so now we're going into what, almost a nine-year war. But in their latest invasion in February of this year, it was very evident that Russia was going to lose on the military field because Ukrainians, it is their land. They have no choice. They either fight to the last Ukrainian, to secure their land and some kind of future for their children or grandchildren.
Or they just give up and go under a Russian rule, which we've seen what Russia has done inside of Russia, they've turned it basically into a big gulag that you can't even speak freely without being jailed or attempted poisonings or the other atrocities they're committing inside of Russia.
So, nobody wants this. And as far as on the Russian side, Russia pulled out mercenaries basically from the poorest villages across Russia. They went there for money. They have zero morale, there's zero logistics. You see the breakdown even of communications from the beginning, and now it's even worse between Russian military and their generals because they feel abandoned. They're left without food. I left because there was a video last month floating around (and I had to verify and sure enough, it was true), that in one of the people in the mobilization center, she told the mobilized Russians that you have to like ask your wives and mothers for tampons to plug in bullet holes because we don't have first aid equipment. So, this is what the Russian military is dealing with, that they have no food. They have to buy their own first aid kits, which a lot of them don't have, their own uniforms, their own sleeping bags, and they don't even understand the purpose, because this is one sick regime that basically has their sights set on reinstating the Soviet Union.
So, they don't have the high morale, there's no idealism, like for instance, during the Soviet Union where at least with the Politburo, they had the idealism of communism. Here it's just, there's no idealistic values. There's nothing there. It's just a bunch of bandits who want to invade land and rob the land and kill the people on the land. And it's Ukraine. And then Moldova they’ve … into them, Kazakhstan, they've threatened. They're constantly throwing out threats that the countries are irrelevant. Even the Baltics, they've threatened the Baltics, like, “Oh, these are fake countries set up. They belong to us.”
So, you see the difference. Ukrainians will fight. And I told you even back then, that with or without help from the West, whether it's fighting with advanced weapons or broomsticks, they will fight for their land. They have no choice. And the Russians, we see what happened on the field.
Ken: Given all that, the total failure of Russia's military, the lack of a coherent message around why this “special operation” is necessary, why is Putin able to hold on to — well, I think the reasons he's able to stay in power are pretty clear. He's authoritarian. But why is he broadly popular, at least outside of the big cities, if the polls are to be believed?
Olga: Well, the polls, I wouldn't believe, I think with Russians they're apolitical. They don't have an opinion. They don't care any way, either way, who's in power, and it's just, they're not a political society. They never have been, not under tourism, not under the Soviet Union and communism and not now. They become concerned only when it affects them. And we saw when Putin announced the mobilization, how you saw Russians, 700,000 fled Russia. And you saw the rest, it's humiliating for Russia that like they had more mobilization police coming to pick up people on the mobilization list and like running around in circles like in the courtyard in Moscow, trying to capture them to be deployed.
So, Putin is in power for now. Honestly, I don't see him staying in power. I do see him being overthrown from inside, and it's not going to be by the Russian people. I personally have become more and more convinced that it's going to be through the security services, because they're the ones who installed them. And honestly, when you pull back and look at Russia, yes, he has the power. Yes, he controls everything. But at the same time it's a Chekist country and for the past century, it's been controlled by security services. And I laughed because I remember looking even at the past Soviet leaders, I think six of them died in office. And Gorbachev, basically the Soviet Union collapsed under him. And there was one more, I think he got pushed out.
So, I don't believe Putin will stay in power, but again, this is bigger than Putin, and this is a problem that I think I'm the most concerned about. This is the system. And it's not Putin's system. This is a system that has been there for the past century. Until that system is broken, you will see more leaders like Stalin and Putin and Brezhnev and others be installed and they're all cruel. And the cruelty comes from the top and goes to the bottom, because you even see with military, it's not a military objective by Russia to go into Ukrainian homes, rape women, rape two-year-old children, cut their tongues out for refusing to say loyalty to Russia. That's not a military objective. This is coming from something darker and deeper inside the society. And until that system is broken, we're not going to see any change.
And my final thing on this, I've been trying to sound the alarm and give a warning. The biggest mistake we made after the Soviet Union collapsed was saying, “Oh, wonderful, we won the Cold War.” And flooding Russia with money in order to set up their democracy. That money went to Russia security services, to mafia and to politicians who were under the control of both mafia and Russia's “security services.” So, I hope that we realize that if Putin falls and his regime is overthrown, and FSB decides to play nice and put some new leader in place that no one knows about and push again for the fake democracy, that we don't fall for it and immediately go back to business as usual and remove sanctions and welcome Russia back to the West. Because there really has to be repercussions and changes made inside Russia, real changes. And that system needs to be broken before you can see anything, Russia moving forward in any kind of democratic way.
Ken: How does that happen if you are indeed right and popular discontent is irrelevant, if it's the FSB, which for our listeners is the inheritor of the KGB's legacy, and that gave birth to Putin in St. Petersburg. If they, at the very top are calling the shots and running to society, how does a popular movement gain any traction?
It's striking to me that Alexei Navalny, they put him in prison and you hear no more mention of him. Their ability to squash public dissent is extraordinary.
Olga: Yeah, no absolutely. And honestly, to tell you the truth, look, I've wanted a free Russia for a very long time, but after the latest atrocities in Ukraine and the silence by the majority of the population, I think the policy from the West needs to be ‘They need to figure it out for themselves.’
We need to make sure that Russia is contained. We need to set very clear rules that you step one inch out of your border, that there will be immediate consequences. And that's it. And they need to figure it out, because you know what? There are so many countries who actually do want a democracy like Romania, like people in Kazakhstan, people in Moldova, but are mired with corruption. Our efforts would be better to secure the countries where the people actually want a democracy, than to go and figure out Russia's centuries old issue of not even understanding what democracy is.
So, I’m for, we need to put very clear rules, contain them, and put very clear rules that you step outside of your borders, there are huge consequences and they need to figure it out for themselves. And when they get tired of their leadership or their system or whatever, there will be a revolution and they will overthrow the system. But I don't think it's for us to be concerned. Our concern is to secure Europe, to secure United States, Canada, frankly the whole world, and make sure that Russia's active measures are cut off and that their invasions and imperialist ambitions are not allowed to flourish.
Ken: What are those consequences that you speak of? And the calculation is fundamentally different with nuclear power. Let's take as a potential scenario, a Russian strike very close to the border, but just over in Poland to a staging area for say, Patriot batteries going into Ukraine. Clearly that's an overreach. That's Russia stepping outside of the boundaries we have drawn, that the international community has drawn. But when you're dealing with a nuclear power, what are the consequences for something like that?
Olga: Well, we have to make sure that we devise very painful consequences. I don't know our nuclear protocol. I know that we do have certain levels. It's not if Russia launches a tactical nuke that we start firing on Moscow or St. Petersburg, that there are levels. First we respond with conventional and then escalate in that way.
Look, at the end of the day, we have to make sure there are consequences. Make them clear. The Pentagon is excellent at devising plans and issuing protocols of what can and can’t be done. What happens if you do something like that where it goes into a NATO country. And we need to stick to these consequences. So, I think, at the end of the day, this is what needs to be done. And yes, Russia's a nuclear power, but you know what, every analyst really needs to go and revisit their analysis over the past few decades because they also made Russia the second largest military in the world. And I laughed about it. And last year I was laughing. I even said on my podcast, I said, “How could Russia's military be so powerful if they rob everything?” Literally out of a million-dollar contract, about 7 to 800,000 is going into people's pockets. Thank God for corruption in this case. And 200,000 actually goes to the contract.
So my point is, we don't even know what's happening with Russia's nuclear arsenal. I'm sure if they're robbing the rest of the country. You would think that their defense ministry would at least make sure that they have an adequate military and that they have adequate weapons. They've threatened us with these hypersonics. Where are these hypersonics? Russia has thrown everything in the kitchen into Ukraine, and we don't even see their advanced weapons that they put out their lovely propaganda videos over the past decade.
So, my point being is that we don't know what's happening with nuclear either. We don't know how much of it is working. Obviously, I think, for instance, they could probably have enough to use a tactical nuclear weapon, but at the same time, we don't know how effective it is.
And even people here, like analysts in January were hiding under the bed in the United States, like, “Oh my God, Russia's going to send a nuclear missile to U.S.” I'm like, “If they shoot a nuclear missile at us, like that thing will go back into Siberia.” You see based off of the corruption, that this is the status of what it is.
So, we need to have that, and we also have to have honestly, rethink our international courts and start prosecuting leaders and anyone, frankly, in the military and any kind of chain of command, a decade or two decades later, and hold people responsible. Make sure that they know there are consequences. So people, before even pushing a button, understand that they're pushing a button, that they will face repercussions.
So, I think we have a lot of things to do, but that would be my two recommendations
Ken: Last year you took us inside the mind of Vladimir Putin. And I have to believe that in the year that has passed, his mindset has to have shifted. He thought he would be in Kyiv in a couple days, I'm sure he was believing the people surrounding him. Where is his mind right now on Ukraine, on Zelenskyy, on his utter failure to achieve the objectives he set out in the beginning?
Olga: Well, I'm sure that his mind isn't survival mode because he understands how cruel the system is again, and that he could be eliminated at any point. So, I'm sure he is in some kind of survival and preparation mode of protecting himself.
But look, Putin was fed lies. Again, this all stems to corruption. Putin cultivated three or more political parties inside of Ukraine over the past few decades. And honestly, it started before Putin. It started immediately after the collapse. Russia controlled, or at least their security services controlled, most of the media inside of Ukraine that fed Ukrainians propaganda for the past several few decades via the oligarchs. So Putin, again, was fed lies from the oligarchs that he controlled inside of Ukraine, who told him that, “We will, no problem” (because everybody wants to see the money flow continuing), “Yes, yes, we have everything secure. We're going to grab the administration buildings and we're going to this, we just need enough for military backup to quell the protest.”
You were in the military, you have a better understanding, way better than me. If you look at the amount of forces they even sent for Ukraine, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. I don't think 190,000 or 150,000 that crossed the border into Ukraine is enough to take down a country that's the second largest in Europe.
I think those forces were more to quell protests, as the traders inside that Putin has cultivated and Russian security services have cultivated, as they take the country from within. So, that plot failed.
And now, he sees his military is basically a joke because of the corruption, to the point that now they're arresting senior leaders for various bribery charges and corruption charges.
So, right now, he sees that he's at the end of the rope. For me, I think he understands very clearly that he's not going down into Russian history books, which is the most important for any leader. They want to have a good place in the Russian history books and statues after them. This is exactly what he's been, calculated everything, Ukraine, Belarus, and then they had other plans to take Moldova and kind of start reinstating the Soviet Union.
So, he sees that's not going to happen. And he sees that if anything, it’s how is Russian history going to write about him? As a failure, as a “leader” who had to grovel to Iran for weapons. Russia's second largest military, like Putin is at Iran's knees begging for weapons and Hezbollah fighters.
So, I personally think that he's at the end of the road, he understands and now he's frankly just in survival mode to try to secure as much as he has.
Ken: Do you worry that that may lead him to act rationally or even irrationally when up until this point, everything seems to have been done, albeit in an information vacuum, but with this at least rational drive to conquer, so not to use nukes or something that would provoke the kind of regime ending response, are we approaching a threshold where that consideration goes away?
Olga: Well, I think as far as with Putin, he has nothing to lose. He's what, 71 now. So, he’s not concerned about his life as far as if he were to go down using nuclear weapons. So, I don't think there's anything holding him back, because at least he would be framed as fighting the West. I do think that there are people around him who are concerned.
And like I said, Russia's security services ultimately control the country. Before Putin, they controlled Yelstin, they controlled Putin, they controlled Gorbachev. Well, in Gorbachev, we saw the shift again over Afghanistan, that was a driving factor of the collapse of the Soviet Union because of the long Soviet-Afghanistan War and the heavy losses the Soviet Union took. But I do think that security services, see they're at a dead end too. Putin in what, now nine months has literally disrupted 20 years of operations for them. Their agents for the most part are hiding underground in Europe and the U.S. They're being exposed. U.S. Law Enforcement, FBI Treasury is like pouring through every company, going through all the bank accounts, monitoring any kind of irregular activity. You have the same happening in Europe. Russia’s disinformation, even though it still continues, at this point it's laughable because even like the average American who never even paid attention to Russia hears something, they're like, “Oh, this is fake.” And like, even they're not falling for it. Like for instance, as what happened in 2016 and ‘17 and the disinformation we saw.
So, even disinformation operations are weakening, you see RT has been shut down, Sputnik across Europe, I believe in U.S. And those are huge spy hubs because first of all, RT and Sputnik are a part of their intelligence services, and it's also covered for a lot of their intelligence agents because they use the cover just like in Soviet days, as journalists.
All the embassies are under scrutiny, and the most important, the oligarchs are locked away because oligarchs were able to buy western politicians with their wonderful yacht parties and all the decadence, now they can't do this anymore.
And even the European politicians who were cultivated and U.S. politicians, by Russia over the decades, they can't freely come out and express, oh, their loyalty for Russia, they still put out disinformation, but now, like people look at them like, “Okay, you like work for the Kremlin.”
So, with that said, I think it would be from within. I think honestly that security services, they're at a dead end, and that's not even to mention the economy. What's happening inside Russia economically is getting worse by the month.
So, I think that whatever Putin wants to do, I still do think there are rational players, particularly in security services who want to preserve even some sort of framework of the system. So, like after the Soviet Union, they can go under and then come back and strengthen the system again.
Ken: The last time we spoke, you described the oligarchs as almost completely dependent on Putin, and we had another guest who described the system as an inverted pyramid with Putin at that fulcrum point or that balance point at the bottom, and that if he goes away, everything is lost. And that does not inspire confidence that there's going to be a movement to get rid of him, even if it's inside the security services. Do you disagree with that? Do you think there is more to gain from a system that has grown dependent on him, than there is to risk?
Olga: Yeah, absolutely. Because if he goes, all the oligarchs go with him and the whole leadership and defense ministry and all the agencies, the state owned institutions. The system needs to be broken because the system ultimately, I do believe is the security services. They put Putin in what, in ‘98 or ‘99, they had a meeting and decided that Putin was going to be the one that they're going to put into power. If you remember back then, he came in, literally he couldn't speak, he looked like a thug, like a St. Petersburg thug. He wore oversized suits that the media used to laugh, like what, did he borrow Yelstin’s suits? Like he was not polished. I think even Berlusconi from Italy, like sent his advisors to teach Putin how to be more polished and how to speak with the media and whatnot. Yes, over 20 years, he has secured the system, but at the same time, at the end of the day, the KGB or the FSB/SVR, they still want to survive. And if he has taken them to a dead end, they will make sure that they can do everything they can to ultimately preserve the system.
And there is no loyalty in Russia. Putin, his mentor Anatoly Sobchak, who was the mayor of St. Petersburg, he is the one who helped make Putin. Putin was in the longest investigation, at least by opposition media within the nineties. So Sobchak, when Putin was campaigning for election, Sobchak came for dinner and then Putin sent him off to campaign, like in one of the regions that was further away from Moscow, and he died from a heart attack, and then his bodyguards died within days also from a heart attack. So, there is no loyalty inside of Russia. Today, if things are going well, the leaders and everyone around Putin is celebrating and thieving and securing their own assets. When things start to go, they will turn on each other.
And we're seeing it. We see what is happening between security services, even within the security services. You've seen FSB fighting with GRU. Prigozhin, who is head of Wagner mercenaries, which is an intelligence arm of defense ministry, fighting the defense ministry. Kadyrov, who is the head of Chechnya, that is loyal to Putin, criticizing Putin, criticizing Russia's defense minister Shoigu.
So, you already see the like underground boiling of these tensions, and it's only going to spill over more. And Russia's not going to win. We already see Russia will not win, even if they use a nuclear weapon, this will do nothing. This will just be out of spite. It's not going to change anything on the military field. They're not going to suddenly gain advancements. The only thing they're going to do is make a certain portion of the land unusable and kill mass civilians and basically cross a threshold that it'll be even harder for the West to bring them back in within the next several years or decade or whatever it is.
So, strategically even if they do pull the trigger and use a nuclear weapon, it's not going to change anything. And again, you're the military expert, you understand yourself that that wouldn't help Russia's military advance.
Ken: Well, a lot of the strategic planning of Russia just flies in the face of history. And let's look at the attacks on infrastructure as the latest example. Anyone who studies that kind of thing from history in World War II is probably the best example. Those kinds of attacks (and I'm thinking about the Blitz and the Battle of Britain), they don't break the morale of a dedicated enemy. They actually strengthen it. And for someone who is supposedly as strategic and wily and cunning as Putin, it's just striking that he makes such obvious strategic mistakes.
Olga: Well again, I don't think he's strategic. I don't think he's ever been strategic. He just took hold of all the security services, and he lives in his own world.
Perfect example, when they decide to attack our elections in 2016, Putin comes from the mentality that once you put someone at the top, and again, this is from KGB's mentality, the way to gain control of the system or of anything is from the top. They put him into the top, he put his people into the top of all the state owned entities and whatnot.
So Putin, when he attacked our elections in 2016, he has the mentality that he thought Trump was going to be going to the White House and collapse the whole system. And that's it. And then our system will collapse with us, we are known to have outrage over issues, but then we're also known to quickly move on to the next thing. So, a lot of people are shortsighted and short minded in U.S. Here, Putin didn't expect a resistance building against Trump that lasted for years. He didn't expect that Trump wouldn't be able to control the Department of Justice because it is such a bureaucratic machine, that good luck changing a light bulb, forget actually erasing an investigation or doing anything in favor of Russia or of Trump.
But when Putin planned it, he planned it as how it would be in Russia, because for him, if someone is a problem, he orders them to be killed. If someone is creating an issue in one of the state owned entities, he orders fake corruption charges, has them jailed, removes them and puts someone else in.
So, for him inside of Russia (because their system is so different), it is much easier and it is hard for someone who lives in that mentality to understand the mentality of for instance, the United States.
So yes, did his plan, short-term work in the United States? Did he manage to successfully install Trump? Did he manage to cause chaos in United States that we haven't seen for several decades and deep divisions? Yes. Is this going to be long-term? No, United States will survive because United States has gone through worse. We will survive. But when he was planning it, he envisioned something else, and that's it. And even with the media, Putin understands, when he went into power, he took control of the media immediately because the way to control the public is through the media.
When Trump launched his campaign, he immediately started attacking the media, fake news, regardless of what it is, if it's something that is against him or against Russia or against one of the policies, it was fake news.
Can Trump take over the media? No, this is United States. Good luck taking over the media, he wasn't successful. Maybe some of the media outlets favored him, but he wasn't successful to take control of the full media and the full information space. So, on paper, what looks good on paper inside of Russia is not practically what happens when it's actually being played out.
Ken: There's this undercurrent of admiration within the Republican party for Putin, for Russia. Occasionally, it boils to the surface as when Ted Cruz admired that old Russian military recruiting video. It has been subdued. But do you worry that that sentiment, that strain of admiration for authoritarianism might present a real danger? Should the Republicans regain the White House, …How worried should we be about that?
Olga: I think we should be worried, extremely worried. I'm definitely a little more calm since midterms, but I think we should be worried because again, America will survive this, but we should not have one full political party that is okay with authoritarianism. And regardless, even though we've seen them a little bit less vocal about disrupting our system over the past year, and now they're actually, suddenly like in the full outrage that Trump attacked the constitution, which he's been doing since day one. He doesn't even know what a constitution is. But Trump has authoritarian tendencies. I think we should be very worried as far as, not that we should panic, that we should continue being engaged in our democracy. We should continue making sure that we pick good candidates, that we are involved in local elections. That it's not just picking the White House, that we see the importance of the state houses. We see the importance, my goodness, of the school boards. Who thought 10 years ago that making sure that you have a good school board is going to make a big difference in our democracy? And we see it now.
Do I think we'll ever fall into authoritarianism? Now, if we continue being active and engaged in making sure that our democracy’s for the people and by the people, and that we are doing everything to secure our democracy, I don't think we'll ever see authoritarianism. But we do need to figure out this undercurrent, why it is there. And again, a lot of it has to do with Russia, because this really started in 2007, because when Obama was running for election and gaining strength, Russians took notice of the divisions on social media over Obama, the racism towards Obama. When Obama won, you had Americans inside of America burning effigies of Obama. I haven't seen scenes like this since Iraq when Iraqis were burning Bush. That's when the Russians got active in our society. This is when they sent their advisors to start moving in and making in roads with the Republican party.
This was around 2007/2008, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters. Prigozhin, who's head of Wagner mercenary is also at the same time was running a troll farm, which was a huge disinformation operation to push divisive messaging and disinformation and fake news and everything that you could think of. Prigozhin’s entities were assisting in I believe 2012, helping push and amplify the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.
So, this is something that we need to make sure that we need to cut all foreign actors out and that's foreign intelligence agencies, to secure our information space. And as people we need to be engaged and continue just because Biden has the White House, so even if we win the White House in 2024, it doesn't mean things are all well. And we took that as Americans for granted until it took 2016, where … I took it for granted. I'm like, “I'm in America. This is the safest country in the world.” When I saw what was happening over the past several years, I'm like, “Whoa, my God, did I get a wakeup call?” How important it is that we have to focus and be engaged in our own democracy.
Ken: Well, we're going to have to end it there. Olga, thank you so much as always. And thank you for your vigilance on this. Appreciate all you do.
Olga: Thank you.
Ken Harbaugh: Thanks again to Olga for joining me. You can find her on Twitter @OlgaNYC1211. And make sure to check out her podcast, Kremile File. The link is in the show description.
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Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss. I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.