No world leader has done more to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin and Russia than President Trump. I write this as a former student of the Russian language (in which I am still semi-fluent) and thus as a student of the Soviet Union and now Russia. I traveled to Moscow and Leningrad in 1978 as part of an MIT alumni trip, and again in 1986, 1987 and 1988 on “citizen diplomacy” trips under the auspices of the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue in Bellingham, Washington. My last trip was to Vladivostok, the Pacific port and terminus of the Trans-Siberian railroad, in 1995, on a tour of China, Korea, Russia and Japan.
First, let’s consider Putin’s interests. As a former KGB officer for the Soviet Union, Putin watched helplessly as the Soviet empire disintegrated under Gorbachev. When Boris Yeltsin resigned as Russian President and appointed Putin acting president on December 31, 1999, Putin made it his goal (after pardoning Yeltsin) to return his country to its former glory as a super-power and to bring as many of the former Soviet republics as possible, including Ukraine, back into Moscow’s orbit.
Key to strengthening Russia was the weakening of NATO and the European Union, and annexing strategically important Crimea. Although that annexation occurred before Trump took office, he helped Putin succeed in weakening NATO and the EU. As a candidate, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and, as president, he hesitated to endorse Article 5, which states that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members. The only time Article 5 has been invoked was in connection with the Sept. 11th attack on the United States. Trump’s reluctance to support it must have made Putin very happy. He was made even happier when Trump enthusiastically supported the Brexit campaign to leave the European Union, and encouraged other European countries to follow Britain’s example.
Withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and from the Paris Accord on climate change, combined with other international actions, have contributed to a reduction in America’s standing on the global stage, allowing for a bigger role by Russia.
Trump’s criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its ongoing aggression against Ukraine can be described as half-hearted at best. The entire theory of Ukraine interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, as recounted under oath by Fiona Hill, was a Russian narrative adopted hook, line and sinker by President Trump. It is fair to say that Trump has been duped by the Kremlin in this and other ways. Why wouldn’t Putin want to keep him in the White House for another term?
Forget about collusion — it wasn’t necessary for Trump to collude in 2016, and it’s not necessary for him to collude now. Putin saw in Trump the perfect man to become President when he was the Republican nominee, and is happy to join the chant, “Four More Years!”
What, you might ask, about Russia helping the Sanders’ campaign? I suspect that is also in support of Trump, since Sanders would be easier for Trump to defeat as a “socialist.” If true, you can expect Russian social media postings that trash Sanders' opponents to help him win the nomination. Then their posting would trash Sanders as a socialist to help Trump.
The lingering question is why Trump wants to advance Putin’s interests. A cynic might say that there's a Trump Tower Moscow in Trump's post-presidency future.