• What’s In It for Putin?

    As Donald Trump starts to sink into that quicksand of his own making that the vexed issue of Russian involvement in his election has now become, one question – among the many others that arise in this context – may not have an obvious answer.  If Vladimir Putin really did intervene in the election campaign with the intention of increasing the chances of a Trump victory, what was in it for him?

    A number of possible answers to that question suggest themselves.  It may be that the Russians have something on Trump – perhaps arising from one of his frequent visits to Russia, either to promote a Miss Universe contest or to pursue one of his other business interests – and are looking to bend him to their will with threats of disclosure.

    Or, perhaps, there was a genuine meeting of minds and Putin saw the chance to advance Russia’s interests by installing a President in the White­­ House who sees the world as he does.  But there is a simpler, and altogether more likely explanation.

    It must never be forgotten that Putin is an old-fashioned Russian nationalist and imperialist.  In his early career, he served what was then the Soviet Union as a senior figure in the KGB and, as many observers testify, was deeply unhappy at the Soviet Union’s demise – an observation strongly borne out by his subsequent efforts, as in Crimea, to rebuild the Russian empire.

    It is a safe assumption that Putin’s personal history has strongly affected his world view, and there is no doubt that he regrets the passing of the Cold War era when Russia, in its role as the prime mover in the Soviet Union, could slug it out with the USA in the battle for world domination.  The last few decades, when Russian power has been seen as greatly diminished, while the US has enjoyed its role as the only true super-power, have been keenly felt as a blow to Russian influence and prestige.

    Anything that would reduce American hegemony, therefore, particularly if it could be engineered by Russian intervention, would have seemed to be extremely welcome – and Trump’s frequent visits to Russia would have provided ample opportunity to the Russians and Putin in particular to make an assessment as to Trump’s personal qualities – the intolerance of criticism, the self-obsession, the vindictiveness – and what a Trump presidency might mean to America’s world role.

    What pleasure Putin must now derive from the success of his ploy.  Donald Trump’s ability to tarnish everything he touches has led to an immediate and catastrophic slump in America’s standing in the world – and this phenomenon is not “fake news” but is well attested to by reliable opinion polling across the globe.

    And what extra pleasure must be gained from the realisation that not only has the Trump presidency produced in spades and virtually overnight the desired and planned outcomes, but that even the mere (and delightfully satisfying) possibility that it was engineered by the Russians has embroiled the Trump administration in a miasma from which it seems there is no escape.

    Little wonder that Putin, almost alone among world leaders, was happy to spend time with Trump at the recent G20 meeting in Hamburg.  As Trump struggles for respect, Putin’s stock has risen.  Russia is again seen as a world power while American influence has withered away.  And there is of course another dimension which represents an enormous gain for Putin.

    Leading as he does an authoritarian regime, and criticised as he is for the ersatz democracy and subservient media over which he presides, Putin will always, by way of excuse, be quick to point out to his domestic critics the downsides and drawbacks of democracy as a form of government.

    How sweet to be able to demonstrate, through helping to engineer Trump’s election, the bizarre outcomes which democracy is capable of producing.  “Look,” he is able to say to the Russian public, “what would you rather have?  A strong leader like me, even if there is a small price to pay in the absence of civil liberties and a free press, or a dangerously deluded  buffoon like Donald Trump who is apparently the best leader that the much-admired American democratic process can produce?”

    Vladimir Putin may never have dared to dream that his stratagem would succeed so brilliantly.  He will enjoy every moment of that success – and he will go on enjoying each day that passes and that leaves the Americans lumbered with and incapable of reversing what they have done.

    Bryan Gould

    23 July 2017

1 Comment

  1. mikesh says: July 23, 2017 at 8:13 amReply

    I think he may just have preferred Trump, who, in the campaign, expressed a desire to establish a cordial relationship with Russia, to Hilary Clinton, a known russomise. I think Trump still would like such a relationship but is fighting a losing battle against the neocons in his own administration.
    Incidentally Putin made no “efforts” in Crimea since he didn’t need to. The Crimean people were overwhelmingly in favour of rejoining Russia, as was shown in the referendum on the issue held a few days before the Crimean government applied to do so.