Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump and Putin: Birds of a Feather

I spent this morning chatting about Trump and the strange role of Russia in the US election on radio stations across Canada. As usual, there was a basic set of questions asked over and over (eight hits this time).  What was asked?  What did I say?  While some of the hosts went off script slightly, this was the gist:

1. What do you think of the ways in which Russia is being raised in the American election campaign...How surprising is it to you that Russia has taken this sort of prominence? 

It is pretty amazing. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union played a major role in elections but only as a question: is a candidate up for dealing with the threat?  After 1991, Russia was less relevant and then people, including myself, scoffed when Mitt Romney listed Russia as biggest threat in 2012.  But since Crimea and the war in Ukraine, Russia is relevant again but now it is actually seeking to influence the election
2. How much of a preference does the Russian Government or Vladimir Putin have between the two U-S Presidential candidates?
The less covered story is that Putin apparently dislikesHillary Clinton from her time as Secretary of State
Trump, on other hand, has very visibly promised a set of policies that Putin prefers: recognizing Crimea, softening sanctions, not being so enthusiastic about supporting Ukraine, potentially breaking NATO, and that last one is one of Putin's highest priorities.  So, yes, Putin has a very clear preference.

 3. There have been accusations directed at Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, accusing him of pro-Russian ties. How  plausible is it that Russia is exerting influence through members of the Trump campaign?
[This one was slightly overcome by events since Manafort got demoted last night with word breaking this morning]
The ties between Manafort and Putin/Russia are pretty clear, as he worked for pro-Russian figures in Ukraine and elsewhere
It is hard to explain the stances of Trump on Russia without thinking that someone is pushing this as there is no real domestic constituency pushing for this AND the effort to change the GOP platform at the convention was a major exertion of political capital.  Why?  Because elements within the campaign care a great deal. 

4. There are also allegations that Russia is behind hacks of the D-N-C and the Clinton campaign's computer servers. Do you think this is the sort of thing the Russian state would undertake?

Russia has advanced cyberwarfare capability, so it definitely is something the Russians can do.  Russia engaged in cyber attacks against Estonia in 2007, and used cyber attacks as part of its campaign against Ukraine.  When the hack was originally discovered, Russians were immediately suspected, and then the emails were given to wikileaks and released a month later. 

5. What does all of this suggest about the U.S. relationship with Russia over the longer term, after the election?
HRC is going to win, and she will remember this unprecedented effort by Russia to influence a US election.  So, expect an increased chill in US-Russian relations but not that much change in substance since US is already confronting Russia over Ukraine and is already reinforcing NATO in the Baltics/Poland.

No comments: