Certain Russia watchers have been throwing a fit recently over a supposed bromance between Donald Trump and Putin. They have indeed made positive comments about one another, and it would seem that the Kremlin does look forward to a Trump victory, but anyone who believes that Trump and Putin will be the next Hitler and Mussolini (which was itself a troubled marriage) is clearly not looking at the bigger picture. If you need any more proof, take a look at this video on Trump’s Instagram account:
It’s pretty clearly implied that Putin is an enemy of the US, and one of its toughest to boot. The video puts Russia on the same level as ISIS, which for most Trump voters means they’re in the top tier of the rogue’s gallery that includes ordinary Muslims, Mexicans, and people who read books and think about things. It’s also implying that Hillary won’t strike fear into their hearts, which begs the question as to what Trump plans to do.
As I’ve said plenty of times before on this same topic, there will be no Trump-Putin Axis. Nothing Trump can do will stop the Putin and his media machine from shit-talking America, and a man who promises to “Make America Great Again” while insulting anyone and everyone who so much as looks at him the wrong way is not going to take that kind of verbal onslaught lying down. I’m not saying that he’s going to go to war to shut Putin up, but the rhetoric will continue to be heated, the insults will fly back and forth, and we can expect more passive-aggressive foreign policy moves on both sides.
From the Russian side, “getting along with Russia” means basically doing whatever they demand. But since doing that won’t actually lead to big improvements in Russian living standards, the Kremlin will still have a need to blame all its problems on the global American conspiracy. Meanwhile, who really expects a candidate who loves tarring his opponents as weaklings to happily give into Russian demands in a way that can be only be interpreted as unconditional surrender?
Remember, Putin can make all kind of concessions to the West and still remain relatively secure. He’s not democratically accountable and the state controls most of the press. Just like in the case of this recent withdrawal from Syria, his media machine can spin anything into a brilliant gambit. This is a luxury that Trump doesn’t have. So let’s stop with this fantasy about Trump and Putin making a pact to carve up Ukraine and Europe. It’s not going to happen.
But why is Trump making positive statements about Putin, and why does the Kremlin seem so eager for Trump to win? I cannot say for sure, but let’s start with Trump. I think Trump is very aware of what groups are supporting him. While he seems willing to say anything to anyone in order to secure their support, some of his opinions sound like dog-whistles aimed at certain people. White nationalists, who are supporting Trump in droves, have long entertained hilarious fantasies about Russia being the savior of their “race.” When Putin took power, this delusion grew even more popular as various “legends” about the man were created. Of course self-identified white nationalists are not a big enough group to influence Trump’s speeches in this way, so I’m guessing that he’s thinking about the isolationists, “paleoconservatives,” and other groups that feel so disenfranchised that they look at Russia as “the enemy of my enemy.”
As for the Kremlin’s endorsement of Trump, I can put forth a couple possible reasons. The first is that it could be a simple misunderstanding. One interesting thing about the Russian elite, and in particular their ideologues such as Alexander Dugin, is that they are utterly unaware of how little they understand about the West and the rest of the world. They all believe that Russia is so unique and esoteric that no non-Russian could possibly comprehend her, yet they simultaneously believe that they understand the mentality and culture of virtually any other country regardless of whether they’ve ever visited it or speak the language. It could be that the actually think Trump is a politician they can work with, by which I mean one that will do whatever they say.
The second possibility is that they’re actually smarter than we think. They know Trump would be an incompetent president and see him as an American Zhirinovsky-like figure. Whereas Zhirinovsky is never really considered as a serious presidential candidate in Russia, people in the Kremlin might be pleased to imagine that such a figure could actually reach the White House in the States. It’s easy to see what they would get out of this. Trump’s incompetence will lead to more domestic problems and thus more grist for RT’s mill. He won’t be able to mount any kind of defense when it comes to foreign policy. Lastly, he might be willing to go along with Russian proposals simply to make certain problems “go away.”
There is no doubt that the Kremlin has managed to forge close relationships with numerous neo-fascist and far-right parties and leaders in Europe. This does not mean, however, that they can exert the same influence over the White House, especially over such a belligerent American chauvinist. So let’s stop the hysterics about the Trump-Putin Pact of Asshattery and focus on stopping Trump, both at the ballot box and by addressing and unpacking the ideological roots of his movement.