Analysis: For Putin, Trump’s Presidency Has Been The Gift That Keeps On Giving

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President Donald Trump’s actions during his first term in office “read like Vladimir Putin’s wish list,” The Washington Post wrote last month, from attacking democratic institutions at home to antagonizing America’s allies abroad.

In his two decades as Russia’s autocratic leader, Putin has systematically sought to grow his nation’s influence at America’s expense by breaking up its long-standing alliance structure and discrediting its democratic institutions and values.

Over the past four years, Putin has succeeded to a remarkable degree, aided by the credibility and support on the world stage that Trump has given him, according to national security and foreign policy experts, some of them Trump’s most strident critics.

Trump has “eroded public faith in the Justice Department, the State Department and the intelligence community” and has “demeaned the military leadership; threatened the freedom of the press; and challenged the courts.”

He continues to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 election — in which his own intelligence agencies say Russia is actively interfering — by making baseless claims about mail-in voting fraud and asserting that he will only lose if the election is rigged.

“One of Putin’s primary objectives is to utterly discredit democracy as a model, and on that he’s getting an A-plus because in Donald Trump, you have a would-be authoritarian who is deliberately and overtly taking a wrecking ball to the underpinnings of our democracy,” said Susan E. Rice, a former ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser in the Obama administration.

“The more dysfunctional, polarized and erratic the United States seems at home, the more beset by domestic problems, the more ineffective in demonstrating leadership and dealing with them, especially during the pandemic, the better that is for Russia because they benefit from a world in which the United States is seen as unreliable and unpredictable,” said William J. Burns, a former deputy secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to Russia under George W. Bush who now leads the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Trump has sought to befriend Putin, placing his trust in the Russian leader over his own intelligence community.

In 2018, Trump publicly accepted Putin’s assurance that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 election.

“National security experts say Putin’s greatest triumph in the Trump years has been on the foreign policy front, and specifically the U.S. president’s methodical denigration of NATO,” The Post wrote.

Trump has publicly suggested he might withdraw from NATO and repeatedly attacked NATO allies.

Over allies’ objections, Trump also has insisted that Russia be re-added to the Group of Seven, after the country was booted in 2014 over its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

Additionally, Trump has “praised far-right, pro-Russian leaders in Europe — a U.S. embrace that is seen as a threat to some in the NATO alliance.”

“This president has been the most extraordinary gift to the Kremlin,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “Across every field, in terms of America’s standing in the world, in terms of America’s cohesion at home, no president has done more to damage the United States or to advantage the Kremlin than Donald Trump. That will be his lasting legacy.”

Read the full analysis.

Image credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead / Public Domain

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