Magazine article Newsweek

How Vladimir Putin Is Using Donald Trump to Advance Russia's Goals; Trump Is Moving the Republican Party Away from Its Traditionally Anti-Russian Stance, and the Kremlin Is Relishing in Its Newfound Role as a Meddler in U.S. Politics

Magazine article Newsweek

How Vladimir Putin Is Using Donald Trump to Advance Russia's Goals; Trump Is Moving the Republican Party Away from Its Traditionally Anti-Russian Stance, and the Kremlin Is Relishing in Its Newfound Role as a Meddler in U.S. Politics

Article excerpt

Byline: Owen Matthews

Not since the beginning of the Cold War has a U.S. politician been as fervently pro-Russian as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Just four years after his predecessor Mitt Romney declared Russia to be Washington's greatest geopolitical threat, Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin as a real leader, "unlike what we have in this country." Trump has also dismissed reports that Putin has murdered political enemies ("Our country does plenty of killing also," he told MSNBC), suggested that he would "look into" recognizing Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula and questioned whether the United States should defend NATO allies who don't pay their way. When Russian hackers stole a cache of emails in July from the Democratic National Committee's servers, as security analysts have shown, Trump called on "Russia, if you're listening," to hack some more.

"Trump is breaking with Republican foreign doctrine and almost every Republican foreign thinker I know," says Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. "He is departing radically from Ronald Reagan, something never done by any Republican Party presidential candidate."

It's easy to see why Putin views Trump's ascendancy as a godsend--and why he mobilized his cyberspies and media assets to his aid, according to security analysts. "Trump advocates isolationist policies and an abdication of U.S. leadership in the world. He cares little about promoting democracy and human rights," continues McFaul. "A U.S. retreat from global affairs fits precisely with Putin's international interests." Putin has been relatively reserved in his public support for Trump--calling him "colorful and talented," which in Russian comes across as faint praise--but Kremlin-sponsored propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) have lavishly praised Trump, tweeted #CrookedHillary memes and supported Trump's assertion that Barack Obama "founded ISIS," and Russia's world-class army of state-sponsored hackers has targeted Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

What's more, it's increasingly clear that after the DNC hack the Kremlin is relishing, even quietly flaunting, its newfound role as a meddler in U.S. politics. After years of U.S. influence over Russian affairs, especially in the chaotic 1990s, it is sweet revenge for the Kremlin to be cast once again as global puppet master. And most fundamentally, the Kremlin's support for Trump is part of a longstanding strategy to sow disruption and discord in the West. Whether it's by backing French ultra-nationalists, Catalan separatists or the Brexit campaign, or boosting Donald Trump's chances by blackening the Democrats, the Kremlin believes Russia benefits every time the Western establishment is embarrassed.

Russia's brazen cyberattack on the DNC servers was "a cyber psy-op," according to Brian Whitmore of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "At least one of Moscow's goals is apparently to force the United States to treat it as an equal superpower," Whitmore wrote in the influential Power Vertical blog. "Suddenly, for the first time since the Cold War, Russia occupies center stage in a U.S. election. Suddenly, there are global headlines about the threat of Russian hackers."

The forensics of the DNC hack point to two things--first, that two well-known Russian hacker groups with connections to that country's intelligence services were responsible for the break-in, and second, that when the material was released through WikiLeaks, the Russians made little effort to disguise their hand in the heist. A detailed report in July by the hacker-watcher collective CrowdStrike stated that one group, Fancy Bear (or APT 28), gained access to the DNC database in April. The other, Cozy Bear (or APT 29), broke in as early as June 2015. According to Alexander Klimburg, a cybersecurity expert at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies and author of the forthcoming book Dark Web, APT 28 is associated with Russia's GRU military intelligence and APT 29 with its Federal Security Service, or FSB. …

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