Outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster on Tuesday became the latest senior Trump administration official to publicly warn that Western governments, including his own, are not doing enough to deter Russian aggression. “Some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats,” McMaster said in a speech to the Atlantic Council. “Russia brazenly and implausibly denies its actions, and we have failed to impose sufficient costs.” Though Mr. McMaster did not say so explicitly, the critique easily fits President Donald Trump.
The Kremlin must be deterred from more interfering in this year’s midterm elections, not to mention violations of democracies in Europe. But McMaster, the country’s intelligence chiefs and experienced Russia hands agree that Russian President Vladimir Putin feels too little pressure. “The Kremlin’s confidence is growing,” McMaster said.
To be sure, the outgoing national security adviser argued that Trump has responded to the Russian threat, highlighting the recent expulsion of 60 Russian officials who might otherwise have helped “orchestrate Russia’s sustained campaign of propaganda, disinformation and political subversion.”
But McMaster described a determined adversary that cannily exploits both traditional and nontraditional methods of disruption.
Congress made a downpayment on a more effective response in the omnibus funding bill it passed last month, setting aside money for hardening election infrastructure against Russian intrusion, upgrading voting machines and investing in the FBI’s mission to counter Kremlin plots.
But, the Trump administration should strike at the foundations of Putin’s regime - imposing asset freezes and visa bans on the network of oligarchs and officials who execute Russia’s aggressive campaigns against the West. U.S. allies, such as Britain, where wealthy Russians have an appetite for expensive real estate, must be enlisted to cooperate. The alternative is further emboldening a foreign power that has made clear its aim of undermining the foundations of the West.