The case being made that Putin successfully swung the U.S. election to Trump isn't proven yet– at least not for a court. But it is for me. And it has nothing to do with claims from Hillary Clinton and her campaign operatives. Putin's interference in European elections and the tactics that he's used there to help destabilize NATO and to bolster the cause of far right extremists isn't a secret, although many Americans– including progressives– can't imagine that it could happen– could have happened– here. In January, Congress asked James Clapper to investigate clandestine Russian funding of extremist parties and politicians over the last decade with any eye of promoting disunity in Europe. Significant amounts of Russian money has found its way into far right parties in France, Holland, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldava and the Czech Republic. Last February's feature in Foreign Policy woke up many Americans to what the Russians were up to in this regard and why, although not everyone agrees and some naively see it as old fashioned, anti-Russian propaganda.
Prior to 2010, one would be hard-pressed to find public statements in praise of Putin by far-right leaders. Today, they are commonplace. UKIP’s Nigel Farage is a self-proclaimed fan of the Russian president. Jobbik’s head, Gabor Vona, is a frequent invited guest in Moscow. And, of course, Madame Le Pen, whose party was the beneficiary of a 9.4 million euro loan from a Russian-owned bank, is a consistent voice of support for Russian foreign policy in Ukraine and the Middle East.
…As European far-right leaders openly voice their support for Moscow, it would be wise to remember that Putin’s Russia is not just another “meddling power” lobbying for its interests. It is a government hostile to the West and the value system– democracy, freedom of expression, political accountability– that it represents. For proof, one must look no further than Russia’s national security strategy, in which the Russian government explicitly names NATO as a threat and accuses the U.S. and its allies of operating “military-biological” labs on Russia’s border.
Calling the West’s response to the love affair between Putin and the far right an overreaction greatly underestimates the extent to which the Kremlin and its state-controlled media use support of European politicians to legitimize Moscow’s explicitly anti-western foreign policy agenda: far-right politicians not only vote for pro-Kremlin policies in the EU parliament, they also take part in election observation missions– most notably the referendum for the annexation of Crimea and the “elections” in Ukraine’s Russian-controlled “people’s republics.” The Russian media uses these events and far-right leaders’ visits to Moscow to tout European support for Putin. Even Le Pen was an unknown in Russia until the Ukraine crisis and her outspoken public support for Putin. Now she is paraded as proof that there is some support for Putin’s policies in Europe.
…[T]here is no evidence that these parties’ pro-Putin stance is hurting them at the polls or that it has discredited them in the eyes of voters. If anything, their pro-Russian turn has coincided with their rise in the polls.
It certainly seems to have worked out for Putin in the U.S., spectacularly so. This morning, McClatchy reported that since his election, the easily-manipulated buffoon who is now President-elect has talked to Putin more than any other world leader. Trump has spoken with Putin twice since Nov. 8 and the two leaders' aides are in more more contact, including Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Russian news outlets reported Wednesday that Trump and Putin already are negotiating how Russia and the United States will act in the Middle East next year.
Putin cultivates an image as a stern-faced tough guy with a black belt in judo who rides horses bare-chested and exiles political foes. But it appears he can hardly contain his joy at Trump’s ascension to the presidency.
Putin discussed his most recent talk with Trump at a briefing in Lima, Peru, on Sunday.
“The president-elect confirmed he is willing to normalize Russian-American relations,” Putin told reporters. “I told him the same.”
Putin said he and Trump had not set a date for a personal summit, but he noted that their representatives will be meeting soon.
At a meeting of the 21 member nations in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, Putin also met with President Barack Obama, inviting him to Moscow after he leaves the White House.
Putin, however, noted the two countries’ ties have been strained under Obama.
“We acknowledged that despite the fact that our dialogue was not easy– if truth be told, it was difficult to work with each other,” Putin said.
…On Wednesday, Russian officials continued to push the line that Trump would lead to better, more cooperative relations between the two nations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that Russia wants ties with the United States “to return to a constructive course,” adding “it would be hard to make them worse.”
He voiced support for Trump’s own disparagement of the “reset” with Russia that Clinton had promoted in 2009 after becoming secretary of state with a symbolic red button that she gave Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, her Russian counterpart.
“As for a reset, we can only agree with the president-elect because this word has embarrassed itself, since the consequences of that reset are not the ones we would like to see,” Peskov said.
Peskov’s comments came as the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Donald Trump Jr., the president-elect’s eldest son, had held private discussions in Paris last month with about 30 diplomats, business leaders and politicians who support Putin, including several who have close ties with the Kremlin.
Among them was Syrian-born Randa Kassis, who leads a Russia-backed Syrian opposition group that is not demanding the immediate ouster of Moscow ally President Bashar Assad. She told the Journal she’d pressed the younger Trump to work with Russia to help defeat the Islamic State.
“We have to be realistic,” Kassis was quoted as saying. “Who’s on the ground in Syria? Not the U.S., not France. Without Russia, we can’t have any resolution in Syria.”
Some of Putin’s domestic critics have expressed dismay at Trump’s election, suggesting it would embolden the Kremlin leader.
“Winter has come,” tweeted chess champion Garry Kasparov, who published an anti-Putin book earlier this month called Winter is Coming. In a separate tweet, he called Putin “Trump’s idol.”
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis