With the victory of Trump, the allegedly “pro-Putin” candidate, there has been a lot of hysteria about how Putin is allegedly “winning” on the world stage. A lot of this comes from cherry-picking evidence about various candidates and parties around the world. Even in Trump’s case, higher ups in Russia almost immediately started to curb their enthusiasm for Cheeto Benito within days of the election.
There are several reasons for Russia’s leadership to fear Trump. His energy policy alone could wreck Russia’s economy by driving oil prices down even further. He promised to make Putin “respect” the US, which implies threats of force. The most common reason for Russian concern about Trump is unpredictability. As Mark Galeotti has pointed out, Putin has gotten away with a lot of antics because he knows that Western leaders tend to follow predictable rules and are thus unable to adequately respond when someone refuses to play by them. Trump, of course, is bound by no rules.
Yet while those at the top are concerned about Trump, much of the Russian propaganda machine is still kissing his ass, no doubt hoping that flattery will make Trump more amenable to their imperialistic designs. But this then leads to another problem- already people are wondering what happens when the Kremlin can no longer blame America for Russia’s problems. If even Alexander Dugin (who contrary to popular Western belief, isn’t Putin’s ideological mentor) has said the time for anti-Americanism is over, who will serve as a scapegoat to explain Putin’s long list of failures?
One Newsweek column asks exactly that. It’s generally a good read, but I must say the author is just a bit naive about the regime’s propaganda narrative. Whatever the US-Russia relationship after Trump takes office, Putin’s political technologists will easily find a way to pin their boss’ failures on America in spite of a friend in the White House.
How do I know this? Just look at the almost immediate response to the recent assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. Both dictators- Putin and Erdogan, called the killing a “provocation” to upset Turkish-Russian relations. Now I’m not going to suggest that Turkey’s government was behind the killing, but remember that roughly 6-month period when Russia’s media suddenly “discovered” that Turkey had been helping ISIS and other jihadi groups, coincidentally after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet? Well guess what- that’s one of those rare occasions when they weren’t pulling claims straight out of their asses- there is plenty of evidence to show that Turkey has cooperated with and aided groups like ISIS, Al-Nusra, etc. Of course both sides kissed and made up after the attempted coup in Turkey earlier this year, but apparently the assassin was one of those fundamentalist types who didn’t get the memo about Russia being a friend again.
The assassination was a logical side effect of the Turkish government’s flirtation with religious fanaticism, and thus the regime does bear some responsibility for the killing. Yet Russia and Turkey want to work together, so naturally they find a way to pin it on America and promptly move on.
Such will be the case if Trump turns out to be Russia-friendly. Not much is going to change for Russia because naturally the elites aren’t going to suddenly stop stealing. If sanctions are lifted, and they will be lifted only if Putin also lifts his counter-sanctions, the effect on Russian agriculture and small business may be devastating. While “import substitution” hasn’t been nearly as successful as the government claims, Russian producers have benefited from the lack of foreign competition. The end of counter-sanctions will hit them hard, and there may be no money to bail them out. A culprit will have to be found, and they’ll find it.
Expect to hear about a secret 5th column within the American political establishment that is sabotaging Russia in spite of Trump in the White House. They’ll go the whole four to eight years with that explanation if they have to.
If you doubt me you need only to look at how the regime explains its own failures already- Putin is this great and wise leader, yet it’s the evil “6th column” that’s sabotaging him at the behest of the US. These are various government bureaucrats and high level officials who steal from the Russian people. Of course you should pay no attention to the fact that many of these people were often appointed by Putin. He’s a great leader but he’s utterly powerless.
With logic like that, don’t expect the Kremlin and its media machine to be painted into a corner just because Trump promises a thaw in relations.