Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How Vladimir Putin Is Using Donald Trump to Advance Russia's Goals

John Moore/GettY
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 more, it’s increasingly clear that after the DNC hack the Kremlin is relishing, even quietly flaunting, its newfound role as a meddler in U.S. politics. After years of U.S. influence over Russian affairs, especially in the chaotic 1990s, it is sweet revenge for the Kremlin to be cast once again as global puppet master. And most fundamentally, the Kremlin’s support for Trump is part of a longstanding strategy to sow disruption and discord in the West. Whether it’s by backing French ultra-nationalists, Catalan separatists or the Brexit campaign, or boosting Donald Trump’s chances by blackening the Democrats, the Kremlin believes Russia benefits every time the Western establishment is embarrassed.
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