Trump-Putin 2016: Russia plunges into US elections
Trump’s rise and rhetoric is music to Moscow’s ears, while seeing him in the White House would be a sweet revenge for Putin, the former KGB operative
The events of the last few days in the US presidential race should leave no room for doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin has effectively emerged as a manipulator in US politics, helping to elect his like-minded right wing populist Republican nominee Donald Trump to the White House.
With the FBI coming close to confirming the Russian government’s direct role in hacking the server of the Democratic National Committee last June, and releasing thousands of emails on the eve of the convention to nominate Hillary Clinton, the Kremlin’s is seeking to sow discord within Democrats' camps and therefore help elect Trump.
Trump, the Kremlin’s favorite
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Donald Trump is a fan of Vladimir Putin, and Russia's strongman favorite horse to win the White House. Trump has showered Putin with praises, even prefers him to America’s President Barack Obama, saying last September that Putin “ in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well.”
This is the same Trump that hired Paul Manafort -known for his thick Russian ties- as campaign manager back in March. Manafort’s last client was former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych now exiled in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. While this could be a mere coincidence, actions that the Trump campaign has taken since Manafort took office indicate otherwise.
Trump’s rise and rhetoric is music to Moscow’s ears, while seeing him in the White House would be a sweet revenge for Putin, the former KGB operativeJoyce Karam
The GOP platform was gutted from any anti-Russia stance on Ukraine ahead of the convention, hours before Trump backtracked on a major commitment to NATO refraining from defending Eastern European allies if they were to face Russian aggression. Added to the Republican’s nominee isolationist policy on trade, threats to Latin American and European partners, praise for the Brexit vote, Trump is an ideal candidate for the Russian government whose priority is weakening Europe and dismantling NATO.
Trump’s rise and rhetoric is music to Moscow’s ears, while seeing him in the White House would be a sweet revenge for Putin, the former KGB operative, to flex his muscle and promote a Russian-driven agenda in Washington.
Trump the opportunist
For an opportunist like Trump, appeasing Putin to win the White House in November fits the narrative and style of his campaign. So far Trump has refrained from condemning the hack into the DNC, and instead dug deeper to exploit the emails in a fashion that would deepen divisions between the Democrats.
Opportunism and winning at any cost is Trump’s signature of this campaign, flip flopping on policy positions to sway the polls, and shifting attacks and alliances against his rivals to score victories. Trump’s son even offered his former rival John Kasich a pledge to make him “the most powerful Vice President”, knowing that such ticket (now declined) could secure the father the presidency. Even with mounting evidence that the Russian government hacked the DNC to break the ranks within the Democrats, Trump sees such claim as a simple “joke”. Reports that one of DNC officials was hacked by a “state-sponsored actor” while doing opposition research on Manafort, exposes the depth of the Trump-Putin network and promises an expanded FBI investigation.
The Russian scheme to prop up Donald Trump also involves the media where a deliberate positive coverage of Donald Trump is prevalent on Russia’s global network RT. General Michael Flynn, one of Trump’s advisers is a frequent guest on RT. Pro- Russia lobbyists in Washington are seen more active in the Trump campaign with interests aligned in weakening NATO and bringing forth a more anti-immigration agenda.
Putin’s meddling in the US elections serves two purposes, one as a payback time against Clinton and the Obama administration that rallied Europe to put sanctions against Russia after it annexed Crimea. And the second purpose is to display a more defiant Russia on the global stage, while helping a right wing pro-Kremlin persona in reaching the White House.
As the polls draw closer between Clinton and Trump, Russian involvement will only increase in the US race. It’s a win-win situation for Moscow to meddle in Washington’s politics and prop up the rise of its new anti-NATO rightwing ally.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam