National Opinions

A President Trump could be Putin appeaser

Trudy Rubin
Trudy Rubin

You can’t make this stuff up. No, you wouldn’t want to make this stuff up about a presidential candidate who could wind up running this country.

Donald Trump actually said Wednesday that he hoped Russia had hacked Hillary Clinton’s email server and would now release 30,000 emails. In other words, the GOP candidate sanctioned cyber-spying by a foreign nation in order to influence an election in his favor.

This just as U.S. intelligence agencies say they are highly confident — as are well-known cybersecurity firms — that it was Russian government spy agencies that hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s emails, 20,000 of which were released the day before the convention with the clear intent of undercutting Clinton.

“It gives me no pause,” the Republican candidate said about Russian hacking. “Now, if Russia or China or any other country has those e-mails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.” He pointedly refused to call on Russian President Vladimir Putin not to meddle in U.S. elections.

Never mind that Russian intelligence agencies are also believed to have hacked into servers at the State Department, White House, and Pentagon. This is one more example of a man who unabashedly puts personal gain above the security interests of his country.

No wonder many observers believe Russia is trying to facilitate the victory of Trump.

Of course, the Donald calls such theories “far-fetched and ridiculous.” And there’s no concrete evidence yet that Russia handed off the emails to those who leaked them. But the timing of the leaks certainly encourages that conclusion, and Putin is known to dislike Hillary Clinton (falsely blaming her for 2011 demonstrations by disaffected middle-class Russians).

Moreover, there are clear reasons for Putin to favor Trump, who openly admires the Russian’s strongman style and takes positions that serve Russian interests. So the candidate’s congrats to Kremlin hackers should spur Americans to examine his links to Moscow and question why Trump is urging Russia to do more of the same.

Trump has long-standing business interests in Russia, including oft-thwarted plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow that he still hopes will come to pass. In 2013, he held his Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and sent a personal invite to Putin (who canceled at the last minute). “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room,” Trump bragged to the media on returning home.

And indeed, since the 1980s, Trump and his family have repeatedly visited Moscow in search of business opportunities, according to a detailed Washington Post study. They have corralled a lot of private Russian investors, some of them with shady backgrounds.

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has also had extensive business dealings in Russia, as have other Trump advisers. In addition, Manafort worked as a political strategist for a Putin ally – President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine. He was overthrown by popular revolt in 2014, after which Putin seized Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine. Keep this one in mind.

One can’t surmise from business interests alone how Trump would relate to Russia, although this history gives some hints, especially given his relentless focus on deal-making. But fast-forward to the past couple of weeks and you get a few clues.

First came Trump’s interview last week with The New York Times, in which he indicated that on his watch, the United States might not come to the aid of small NATO members such as the Baltic states if Putin invaded – a statement that undercut the very foundation of the Atlantic alliance.

Then came a very strange move: Trump operatives intervened at the Republican convention to change one item in the party platform, watering down the provision that called for giving defensive weapons to Ukraine. (Language supporting sanctions on Russia for its seizure of Crimea was left untouched, probably because changing it would have set off an uproar.)

At the Democratic convention, I spoke with Hanna Hopko, a heroine of Ukraine’s democracy struggle and now chairwoman of the foreign relations committee in the Ukrainian parliament. I asked her about this Trump move on the platform and she told me: “It’s very painful. Trump’s policy is very scary for us and the Baltics.”

Ukraine, she said, gave up the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world at the urging of President George H.W. Bush “because of U.S. guarantees of our territorial integrity.” Russia violated those guarantees (to which it also signed on) with its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Hopko doesn’t expect Washington to use force (Ukraine is not a NATO member), but, she says, “We expect the West to pressure Putin.”

Trump, on the other hand, appears ready to appease the Russian leader and expresses repeated admiration for Putin’s strength. Admiration for a strongman who invaded a European country, bombs Syrian civilians, and presided over a Sochi Olympics deliberately rigged by his intelligence service. Admiration for a strongman who would run rings around Trump should he be elected.

So it’s not hard to understand why Putin would want to help elect a candidate who ignores such behavior and cheers on Russian hackers. It’s harder to understand how a GOP candidate who invokes Ronald Reagan can be such a chump.

Reach Trudy Rubin at trubin@phillynews.com.

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