How Putin is us­ing Trump

Lesotho Times - - International -

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.

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