What Does Putin Want From Trump?

In addition to responding to Russia’s hacking of groups and individuals involved in the 2016 election, it strikes me that we should be asking the question, “what doe Putin want from a Trump administration?” That is something Luke Harding wrote about a few weeks ago.

It’s easy to fathom what Putin might want from Trump. The Russian leader’s list of demands from America is long; his geopolitical grievances go back a long way. His relations with Barack Obama and George W Bush were torrid.

That list of demands would certainly include:

  1. Drop the sanctions against Russia that were imposed following their annexation of Crimea,
  2. Recognize Russia’s ownership of Crimea,
  3. Reverse the current U.S. demand that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria leaves power,

There is a fourth item that requires a bit more explanation.

Lastly, there’s the matter of how the world is divided in the new post-liberal era. The Kremlin feels it is entitled to a sphere of influence. This encompasses the former republics of the Soviet Union, and eastern and central Europe. Moscow ideologues talk of “civilisational spheres” and “pluri-centricism” – code for Russia being a dominant world force on equal terms with the US.

Ideally, Putin would like a new version of the 1945 Yalta treaty, in which the US, Soviet Union and Britain carved up post-second-world-war Europe. But, you suspect, he would settle for a deal where Trump implicitly acknowledges that Russia has “legitimate interests” in its former backyard. Trump has already questioned the role of NATO; he said that the US will not defend countries that fail to contribute to NATO coffers.

No wonder, then, that the Baltic states are nervous, that EU foreign ministers met in emergency session following Trump’s victory, and that a new foreboding has descended among states bordering Russia. Their fear: that “sphere of influence” means subversion or attack or interference in elections in favour of pro-Kremlin candidates. Much of this is happening already.

That is why this report from Eric Schmitt is important.

Dozens of United States Special Operations forces are now in the Baltics [Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania] to bolster the training and resolve of troops who are confronting a looming threat from Russia, and to enhance the Americans’ ability to detect Moscow’s shadowy efforts to destabilize the former Soviet republics…

The Americans bring sophisticated surveillance technology and broad sources of intelligence. The Baltic partners have a deep understanding of conventional Russian military might as well as Moscow’s increasing use of cyberwarfare, information subterfuge and other means less than all-out war to weaken the Western-backed governments.

To demonstrate Putin’s intentions, note that he is using some of the same tactics in these countries as he has in both the U.S. and Europe.

Russia has employed disinformation, a tactic dating to Soviet days, to try to discredit the Lithuanian government and NATO, officials here said. In March, for instance, one national Lithuanian exercise involved the simulated contamination of a ship with an unknown chemical weapon. A blog announced that the threat was real and that five people had died from the chemicals. Lithuanian military officials were hiding the truth, the blog said.

Although the report was patently false, it made its way into Russian-language news sites in the country, as well as antigovernment Facebook groups, which posted the reports.

“Here in the Baltics, we experience an avalanche of propaganda against our states,” said Darius Jauniskis, the director of Lithuania’s State Security Department and a former commander of Lithuanian special operations forces. “Its purpose is to subvert our political and social coherence, to spread mistrust between state authorities and society, and even to disclaim our statehood.”

So what Putin wants from Trump is the removal of sanctions, validation of Russia’s ownership of Crimea, maintenance of his ally Assad’s rule in Syria, and no interference of his attempts to exercise control over the former Soviet republics. That would be a pretty sweet deal for Putin.

The question becomes…what does Trump get in return? Will the guy who constantly berated Obama for poor deal-making on things like TPP, the Iran nuclear weapons agreement and the Paris climate accord give Putin everything he wants and get nothing in return? Surely the businessman who wrote “The Art of the Deal” won’t give another world leader all of these concessions simply because he likes and admires him. Another way to examine that question would be to consider this:

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.