Dana Milbank of the Washington Post writes, As Trump prepares his kissy face for Putin, a glimpse into the dictator’s soul:
“Spare us the kissy-face.”
It was June 2001 and I was covering President George W. Bush’s trip to Slovenia, where he had just met Vladimir Putin for the first time. I and others were struck by Bush’s praise for the Russian leader as “trustworthy.” Said Bush: “I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
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In retrospect, that moment in Slovenia defined the Russia relationship for years to come. Putin had seduced Bush, who only slowly came to understand he had misjudged this adversary’s soul. Putin opposed Bush in Iraq and was unhelpful with Iran. He shut down independent television, sent business leaders who criticized him into exile and prison, ousted democratic parties from government, canceled the election of governors and invaded Georgia.
* * *
Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn for kissy-face, and the president-elect is practically groping the Russian dictator. After Putin gloated Friday that Democrats need to learn “to lose with dignity,” Trump tweeted Putin a sloppy kiss: “So true!” he said of Putin’s comments.
Trump also celebrated a letter he received from Putin calling for more collaboration between the two countries. “His thoughts are so correct,” Trump said.
Trump’s blush-inducing embrace of the strongman has included repeated praise of Putin’s leadership, deflected questions about Putin’s political killings, and disparagement of U.S. intelligence for accusing Russia of election meddling. (See, Trump, Dismissive of Hacking, Says Americans Should ‘Get on With Our Lives’).
In three weeks, Trump will assume the presidency, and we’ll learn what his embrace of Putin really means. Perhaps Trump is just a dupe and he’ll realize over time that Putin is no friend. The alternative, supported by Trump’s choice of Putin-friendly advisers Michael T. Flynn and Rex Tillerson, is that Trump really is pro-Putin and will grant the Russian dictator more latitude internationally and will emulate his autocratic tendencies at home.
The former would require us to endure some policy failures as Putin proved himself again to be an adversary. The latter would test the limits of our democratic institutions.
The Kremlin’s candidate, Putin pal Donald Trump, has a pro-Putin inner circle. Stephanie Akin at CQ Roll Call reports, Donald Trump and the Russian Connection:
Donald Trump’s inner circle is studded with links to Russia — from a potential secretary of State who received a medal from Vladimir Putin to a campaign adviser who worked for Russian-backed Ukrainian politicians.
Those connections, combined with Trump’s own expressions of admiration for Putin, have fueled speculation that a Trump administration would forge an unprecedented alliance with the Russian government. Some critics have warned that the president-elect’s stance toward Russia could be swayed in part by the business interests of his advisers.
Here’s a look at some of the people in Trump’s orbit whose Russian ties have sparked concerns.
Resigned as Trump’s campaign manager in August amid questions about his foreign lobbying work and alleged ties to pro-Russia forces in Ukraine. He is reportedly in close contact with the Trump transition team, though transition officials have downplayed his role.
Served as an adviser to Russian-backed political leaders in Ukraine, from 2007 to 2012.
His main client was former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in 2014.
His business associates included Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Documents found after Yanukovych’s ouster showed $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Manafort, The New York Times reported in August.
Briefly worked as the Trump campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee and is now “working behind the scenes on inauguration activities,”
Worked for Manafort’s political consulting firm, where he arranged meetings between Ukrainian officials and American members of Congress. He also worked to undercut sympathy for Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned rival of Yanukovych.
The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency is Trump’s pick to be his national security adviser.
Has advocated forging closer ties with Russia.
Attracted criticism for a series of paid speaking engagements he did for RT, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel. Those appearances included a 2015 trip to Moscow to attend a banquet celebrating the network. Flynn was seated next to Putin.
Trump’s choice for secretary of State.
Chief executive of Exxon Mobil with a long history of business transactions in Russia.
Was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin in 2013. The designation is one of the highest honors Russia gives to foreign citizens.
Is a close personal friend of Putin’s.
Trump’s pick for secretary of Commerce
Billionaire investor whose specializes in buying and turning around troubled companies
Was a board member of the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund under President Bill Clinton.
Reportedly a business partner of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
Was a foreign policy adviser to Trump early in the campaign.
The Trump team distanced itself from Page last fall after he attracted scrutiny for his alleged communications with Russian officials.
Has extensive business connections in Russia, where he spent three years as an investment banker in the early 2000s.
Reportedly traveled to Moscow in July, just before the Republican National Convention. He allegedly met there with a former Russian security official “believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election,” according to Yahoo News.
He was reportedly “scrutinized” by the FBI over the summer because of his alleged private communications with Russian officials. Page called the investigation a “witch hunt,” The New York Times reported.
Dana Milbank continues, “This, Mr. President-elect, is the man you are embracing. Please spare us the kissy-face.”
Here’s a quick glimpse into Putin’s soul to get us started:
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed outside the Kremlin as he walked home one night last year. Putin’s regime blames Chechens, but Nemtsov’s is one of a dozen high-profile murders of opponents widely thought to have been sanctioned by Putin’s government.
Another Putin opponent, Alexander Litvinenko, was killed in London by polonium poisoning in 2006. The British government said Putin “probably” approved the hit. That same year, opposition journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed outside her apartment.
In 2009, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in prison after being denied medical care. Others working on his investigation of corrupt Russian politicians also died suspiciously.
Among the many business leaders imprisoned or ousted under Putin are Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was head of the oil giant Yukos, and associate Platon Lebedev. The Russian human rights group Memorial says there are 102 people held in Russian prisons for their political or religious beliefs.
The Kremlin has provided funding and training for far-right nationalist parties in Europe, and it used its state media and an army of hackers and social-media trolls to spread disinformation in the United States, in continental Europe and in Britain before the Brexit vote. The goals: to weaken European unity and the NATO alliance and to keep Europe dependent on Russian energy.
Russia also used disinformation to destabilize the Ukrainian government as Russia annexed Crimea. In Syria, where Russia propped up the Assad regime with indiscriminate bombing in Aleppo and elsewhere, Britain, France and the United States have blamed Putin’s government for the mass slaughter of civilians.
An Amnesty International summary of Putin’s rule leaves no doubt about his totalitarian state: “Journalist Killed . . . Human Rights Lawyer Killed . . . Gay Rights Protesters Attacked . . . Exhibition Organizers Sentenced . . . Activists Beaten and Detained . . . Opposition Leader Held in Detention . . . Repressive Laws Enacted . . . Fines for ‘Promoting Homosexuality’ Imposed . . . President Putin Signs Law to Re-criminalize Defamation . . . USAID Expelled . . . Federal Treason and Espionage Act goes into effect . . . Prominent NGOs are Vandalized . . . Moscow Authorities Detain Protesters and Opposition Party Members.”
For a truly terrifying prospect, see Martin Longman at the Political Animal blog. Reagan, Trump, and the Nuclear Codes (snippet):
There’s probably a little bit of Alex Jones in each of us, but I don’t think it’s entirely crazy to worry that Vladimir Putin might conclude that our country would be helpless to retaliate against a nuclear first strike with a captured buffoon like Donald Trump on the other end of the strike response. In 1982, when it was determined that Reagan was woefully under-informed about how to conduct a retaliatory response, it was his National Security Adviser who addressed it.
Reagan’s aides did not believe that he knew enough about the SIOP and related procedures in a nuclear crisis, so during February 1982 the new national security adviser, William Clark, made arrangements for the president to receive a fuller briefing. In addition, the dates for a high level nuclear command post exercise, IVY LEAGUE 82, were approaching (1-5 March 1982) and national security officials believed that Reagan needed more information on the SIOP so he could better understand the exercise when he sat in on some of the sessions.
But, in this case, the National Security Adviser [Michael Flynn] is a man who was recently on Putin’s payroll and sat at his right hand during a dinner celebrating the anniversary of the launch of Russia Today or RT, the Kremlin’s propaganda news agency.
I don’t think Putin wants to blow up the United States, but he’s arranged things so that he might be able to do so with impunity. Let’s just say that the mutually assured part of mutually assured destruction (MAD) is looking a little frayed around the edges.
We’re seriously about to give the nuclear football to a narcissistic and revenge-minded simpleton, whose disposition and top advisers are more aligned with Russia’s interests than our own.
Who could have ever guessed that the Kremlin’s fifth column in the United States would turn out to be Putin-loving authoritarian Tea-Publicans who used to be red-baiting cold warriors?
Oh, “Ronaldus Magnus,” this is not your GOP. This is no longer your country.
UPDATE: The Obama administration today has imposed sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the U.S. election. The Obama administration said it was tossing out 35 intelligence operatives and imposing sanctions on Russian intelligence services and officers. Obama Strikes Back at Russia for Election Hacking. It will be telling indeed to see how the pro-Putin Trump administration moves to undermine these sanctions after Inauguration Day.
UPDATE: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released a joint statement Thursday calling President Barack Obama’s new sanctions against Russia a “small price” for the country to pay:
“The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama Administration today are long overdue,” Graham and McCain said in the statement. “But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”