The Trump-Putin ‘bromance’

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin in his year end press conference commented on the American presidential race.  Putin praises ‘bright and talented’ Trump:

trump-putin_website-800x430Putin offered high praise for the billionaire businessman-turned-Republican presidential front-runner on Thursday during an annual news conference with reporters.

“He is a bright and talented person without any doubt,” Putin said, adding that Trump is “an outstanding and talented personality.”

And in remarks closely mirroring Trump’s assessment of the campaign, the Russian leader called Trump “the absolute leader of the presidential race,” according to the Russian TASS news agency.

‘Make tyranny great again!’: Ohio Gov. Kasich trolls Trump with hilarious Trump/Putin 2016 parody website.

It apparently has never occurred to any of the media villagers that Putin said this tongue-in-cheek and was punking Donald Trump. This was his way of mocking Americans: “Can you believe that this guy is the leading candidate of one of America’s major political parties? Bwahahaha!” In the past, a Russian leader praising a candidate would have been a death hug for his campaign.

But not for “The Donald,” one of the most egotistical narcissists to ever run for president. He needs constant reassurance of praise regardless from whom it comes. And Trump returned the praise to the brutal autocrat Putin. Donald Trump lavishes praise on ‘leader’ Vladimir Putin:

Donald Trump on Friday praised Vladimir Putin and appeared to defend the autocratic Russian president when pressed about his alleged killing of journalists and political opponents critical of his rule.

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Trump hailed Putin as a “leader” and pointed to his high favorability numbers in Russia. [Trump is obviously clueless about state-run propaganda media in Russia.]

“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump said when asked by “Morning Joe” Republican host Joe Scarborough about Putin’s alleged killing of journalists and political opponents.

“I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity,” he said.

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Finally, when asked whether he would condemn Putin’s alleged brutal tactics, Trump responded: “Sure, absolutely.”

Trump noted that Putin had called him smart, which Trump said is “always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.”

While Republicans have hammered President Barack Obama for failing to do enough to halt Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, Trump called for decreased U.S. involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.

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Trump pointed to his experience as a dealmaker and said that while some see Russia as a problem for the United States — most in the Republican Party have described Russia as the U.S.’s top global adversary — Trump said one “could also see Russia being a really big asset to our country.”

So all Putin has to do is stroke Trump’s ego by whispering sweet nothings into his ear and Russia can do whatever it wants in the world? Yeah, this is an emotionally stable and rational individual.

The Washington Post explains The complicated reality behind Trump’s claim that there’s no proof Putin had journalists killed:

The idea that a man vying to be the U.S. president could openly express admiration for a world leader accused of killing journalists left many feeling deeply uncomfortable.

On Sunday, Trump took the opportunity to defend himself. “Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone. … He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody,” the American billionaire explained during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” He added: “You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”

Trump has earned a reputation over the past few months as someone who is willing to say outlandish, sometimes patently untrue things. However, Russia watchers would have to begrudgingly admit that his latest comments about Putin and Russian journalists do not fall into this category. In fact, on the face of it, he is right: There really is little evidence to suggest that Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.”

No one denies that journalists critical of Putin have been killed in Russia. There have been a number of cases over the years. The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Russia as “one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists,” with 36 journalists killed since 1992.

Perhaps the most well-known case is that of Anna Politkovskaya, a writer who was critical of Putin’s role in the second Chechen war. Politkovskaya was fatally shot in her apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006 – the same day as Putin’s birthday. Opposition politicians also have been killed: Boris Nemtsov, a high-profile figure in post-Soviet politics, was shot just steps from the Kremlin in February.

There are plenty of people who suspect that Putin ordered the killings. The evidence, however, isn’t there. Although it’s certainly possible that he did play some role, it might be more likely that individuals loyal to him acted without his knowledge or permission, or that another group in the complicated, multifaceted world of modern Russia was behind the acts. After Politkovskaya’s death, Putin played down her influence on Russian politics, describing her as a “minimal” figure and suggesting that her killing hurt his government rather than helped it. “In my opinion, murdering such a person certainly does much greater damage from the authorities’ point of view, authorities that she strongly criticized, than her publications ever did,” he said.

Given that few of these cases ever find closure in Russia’s flawed justice system (five men have been sentenced in Politkovskaya’s killing, but it’s still not known who ordered it), we may never know whether Putin had any involvement. Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, says that about  90 percent of killings of journalists in Russia go unpunished. “A fact that stands in stark contrast with a 2014 statement by Russia’s top investigator, Aleksandr Bastrykin, that 90 percent of all homicides in the country are solved,” she says.

Scarborough’s suggestion that Putin kills journalists is evidence of a widespread misunderstanding of Putin’s Russia — that he is directly responsible for every bad thing that happens in the country. That idea of Russia desperately lacks nuance: Putin may set the tone for everything that happens in the country, but he doesn’t necessarily order every politically charged murder.

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There’s a key difference between ordering the murder of a journalist and creating an environment in which journalists can be murdered. And while Putin may not be guilty of the former, he is certainly guilty of the latter. “Trump is technically right but wrong in spirit,” says Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies the Russian security state. “There is indeed no proof Putin has journalists killed. But he presides over a regime in which journalists are beaten, harassed and murdered, often with impunity.”

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Violence is not the only threat Russian journalists face. Their attackers are often emboldened by official hostility to independent journalists and the aforementioned weak justice system, but Russian journalists also find themselves squeezed by a media world in which the state plays an increasingly large role. Independent outlets that dare to criticize Putin are increasingly rare. Prominent critics, such anti-corruption blogger and activist Alexei Navalny, can find themselves entangled in costly and time-consuming legal cases that have the potential to land them in jail for lengthy periods.

That’s why Trump’s comments remain galling, even if vaguely accurate. It may be true that there’s no evidence that Putin plays a direct role in state killings. It may be true that Trump would never support state-ordered killings of journalists. But journalists living in the Putin-led Russia that Trump admires can have their lives and careers threatened in several ways. There’s a reason that groups such as Freedom House consistently rank Russia as “not free” in its rankings of press freedom: The bar for that freedom is higher than just “the head of state doesn’t directly order the murder of journalists.”

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