How Putin is using Trump
NEW YORK — Not since the beginning of the Cold War has a U.S. politician been as fervently pro-russian as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Just four years after his predecessor Mitt Romney declared Russia to be Washington’s greatest geopolitical threat, Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin as a real leader, “unlike what we have in this country.”
Trump has also dismissed reports that Putin has murdered political enemies (“Our country does plenty of killing also,” he told MSNBC), suggested that he would “look into” recognizing Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and questioned whether the United States should defend NATO allies who don’t pay their way.
When Russian hackers stole a cache of emails in July from the Democratic National Committee’s servers, as security analysts have shown, Trump called on “Russia, if you’re listening,” to hack some more.
“Trump is breaking with Republican foreign doctrine and almost every Republican foreign thinker I know,” says Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.
“He is departing radically from Ronald Reagan, something never done by any Republican Party presidential candidate.”
It’s easy to see why Putin views Trump’s ascendancy as a godsend — and why he mobilized his cyberspies and media assets to his aid, according to security analysts.
“Trump advocates isolationist policies and an abdication of U.S. leadership in the world. He cares little about promoting democracy and human rights,” continues Mcfaul. “A U.S. retreat from global affairs fits precisely with Putin’s international interests.”
Putin has been relatively reserved in his public support for Trump — calling him “colorful and talented,” which in Russian comes across as faint praise — but Kremlin-sponsored propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) have lavishly praised Trump, tweeted #Crookedhillary memes and supported Trump’s assertion that Barack Obama “founded ISIS,” and Russia’s world-class army of state-sponsored hackers has targeted Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
What’s in Project Trump for Putin is clear. But the more puzzling question is how Trump became Putin’s man in Washington.
Former CIA Director Mike Morell wrote in The New York Times that Putin “recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation” with flattery. But the truth is more nuanced.
Trump’s pro-putinism goes back to at least 2007, when he told CNN that the Russian strongman was doing “a great job” rebuilding Russia.
Trump was pushing real estate deals in Moscow at the time and, according to one Moscow-based American businessman who negotiated with him, Trump’s admiration for Putin was rooted in “pure self-interest….
He was looking to make friends and business partners” among Russia’s politically connected elite.
“Oligarchs aren’t going to do business with anyone who bad-mouths the boss,” explains the real estate developer, who requested anonymity because of his ongoing Russian investments.
Trump’s affinity for the Kremlin deepened after he launched his political career in 2014. Trump has surrounded himself with advisers with deep connections to the Putin regime.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has longstanding ties to Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed former President Viktor Yanukovych, advising on campaigning for his Party of Regions in the 2006 parliamentary elections and paving the way for Yanukovych’s ascent to prime minister and then the presidency, from which he was ousted in 2014 amid massive pro-eu protests.
According to The Washington Post, Trump campaign staffers gutted a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that called for the U.S. to provide “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression, defying a strong GOP consensus on the issue.
Temperamentally, Putin and Trump don’t have much in common. Putin is a steely, shy, highly controlled career KGB man who has spent his life in disciplined institutions and got his break not through public politics but by being a perfect courtier to Boris Yeltsin.
The other is a freewheeling dealmaker with a taste for the trappings of wealth, beautiful women, publicity of any sort and a deep need for the acclaim of crowds.
But both are brilliant opportunist tacticians with a cynical attitude about the truth, willing to cherry-pick facts to build narratives that suit their purpose.
Trump more closely resembles Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs — though he is much poorer than most of them — insofar as he has hijacked a political movement to fuel his personal ambition and boost his business interests.
The Kremlin’s support of Trump — offered in the form of backing from propaganda channels like RT and Sputnik — is electorally insignificant. Even the covert revelations of the DNC hack didn’t make much of a dent in Clinton’s ratings (though Wikileaks founder and RT contributor Julian Assange promises devastating new findings in October).
What’s truly disturbing is the cyberwar methods used by the Kremlin to disrupt the election — and the wider and more sinister political program that the Kremlin is pursuing.
“The target of the hacks wasn’t just Clinton,” Eerik-niiles Kross, the former head of Estonian intelligence, wrote in a recent essay in Politico. “Nor is Moscow much interested in supporting Trump (willing useful idiot though he may be).
What the Russians have in their sights is nothing less than the democratic fabric of American society and the integrity of the system of Western liberal values….
The political warfare of the Cold War is back — in updated form, with meaner, more modern tools, including a vast state media empire in Western languages, hackers, spies, agents, useful idiots, compatriot groups, and hordes of internet trolls.”
Russian President President Vladimir Putin at the state-funded television network RT which lavishly praises Donald Trump.