Is Putin Breaking Up With Trump?

Regardless of whether or not a smoking gun ever appears to prove that the Trump campaign collaborated with Russian interference in the 2016 election, it’s clear that we’ve been witnessing what some have called a “bromance” between Trump and Putin.

While Trump has felt free to attack both our foreign allies and opponents, he has gone to great lengths to avoid saying anything negative about the Russian president. On the other hand, Putin has been open about his admiration for Trump. But to the extent that Russian media is a reflection of their leadership, Michael Crowley reports that Putin really isn’t into Trump anymore.

Kremlin-controlled news outlets used to root for Donald Trump’s election. Now they’re reveling in the chaos and division of his early presidency.

“Sessions Scandal: ‘U.S Headed to Constitutional Crisis,’” reads a March 3 headline on the website of the Kremlin-funded English language network RT.

“Immigrants See American Dream Fade in Wake of Surge Hate Crimes,” Sputnik News, another English language outlet bankrolled by the Kremlin, reported the same day.

“America is in the grips of hatred,” the Russian television commentator Dmitry Kiselyov told viewers of the Rossiya 1 network on Sunday night. The popular host, appointed directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested the political discord could lead to violence in gun-friendly America — “a dangerous combination with free-flowing firearms,” he said.

Were there irreconcilable differences that led Putin to walk away? Probably not. It’s more likely that he already got what he wanted out of the affair.

It’s not that the Kremlin-controlled outlets which all but explicitly rooted for Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton last fall have changed their view of the New York mogul. It’s that Moscow’s main goal was always to undermine the U.S. political system, regardless of who is in the White House, experts said.

“The Russian government is savoring the severe damage to America’s international image a result of the tumultuous first weeks of the Trump administration’s tenure,” said Andrew Weiss, a former Clinton White House National Security Council official for Russian affairs.

That is a good reminder of what Putin has always wanted from Trump. How does a weakened country with a failing economy that has become dependent on fossil fuels reassert itself as a global leader? The answer Putin chose to that question was to destabilize the world order that had left the one remaining superpower as the leader of an increasingly democratized globe. As NBC News reported:

Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.

Michael McFaul, ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 said, “He [Putin] wants to discredit American democracy and make us weaker in terms of leading the liberal democratic order.”

In other words, electing Donald Trump as president was actually Putin’s plan to “make Russia great again.” Now that he’s been elected, Russia is free to point to the chaos being unleashed as proof that this country can’t be trusted to lead.

To the extent that Putin’s criticisms of the current administration actually reach Trump’s ears, it will be interesting to observe how he reacts. If he continues to praise the Russian president and do his bidding, the question Sen. Franken alluded to on Sunday becomes more central.

Here’s what I want to get to. His own son, Donald Trump’s son, has said in 2008, that Russia did an inordinate amount of business with them. And we don’t know what they have over him. We don’t know what the Russians have on Donald Trump.

I am reminded of this important observation.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.