President Donald Trump fumed in his remarks to the press last week: “What they’ve done is a disgrace, and I hope a big price is going to be paid. A big price should be paid. There’s never been anything like this in the history of our country...”
Trump’s fury wasn’t directed at Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections, but instead at the Obama administration’s efforts to investigate the Kremlin’s malign operations. And his account of a phone call earlier in the day with Russian President Vladimir Putin suggests—as the Kremlin quickly inferred—that as Trump confidently wraps up the “Russia hoax,” Putin can be confident Trump’s in his corner, if not in his pocket.
During that phone call, as Trump told reporters, he told Putin the investigation of Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller was a “Russia hoax.” And since Russia is under heavy economic U.S. sanctions for its election-meddling, such a dismissive description would seem a clear signal Trump wants that restrictive regime to come to an end. If there was no meddling and it was all part of a conspiracy by Barack Obama, why would you punish the falsely accused Putin?
Trump’s remarks, coming amid a flurry of questions about COVID-19 at a press opportunity with the governor of Texas, had started with a musing about sharing ventilators with Moscow, then Trump pivoted to elaborate on a theme mentioned nowhere in the official readouts of the call by the White House or the Kremlin.
“And that was a very nice call,” said Trump. “And remember this: The Russia hoax made it very hard for Russia and the United States to deal with each other. They’re a very important nation. We’re the most powerful nation; they’re a very powerful nation. Why would we not be dealing with each other?”
“But the Russia hoax is—absolute, dishonest hoax,” Trump continued. “Made it very difficult for our nation and their nation to deal. And we discussed that. I said, ‘You know, it’s a very appropriate time.’ Because things are falling out now and coming in line, showing what a hoax this whole investigation was. It was a total disgrace. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a lot of things happen over the next number of weeks. This is just one piece of a very dishonest puzzle.”
One of those “things” that are “falling out” is the attempted dismissal of criminal charges against Mike Flynn—Putin’s dinner companion at a gala for the Kremlin propaganda organ RT television in December 2015.
Trump’s overtures sounded very good to Kremlin ears. The upending of an investigation into the Russian election interference implies the end of sanctions against the perpetrators, if Trump can work his will on Congress.
While the tidbits revealed by the American president were notably absent from the White House and Kremlin readouts, which also omitted any mention at all of the said commentary about Russia’s election interference, the Kremlin did note the “satisfaction” of both presidents at the conclusion of the phone call.
Exchanges between the two leaders have become, in fact, unusually frequent in 2020, and Russian analysts have taken notice. Indeed, they have offered up some extremely ambitious predictions, anticipating that the standoff between the United States and Russia eventually will play out bigly in the Kremlin’s favor.
Vitaly Mankevich, international-relations expert and the president of the Russian-Asian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, told Komsomolskaya Pravda—one of the most popular newspapers in Russia—that “the United States will abandon excessive pressure on Russia, since it does not pose an existential and ideological threat to Trump’s America (unlike the USSR during the Cold War). The White House will probably even try to pull Russia over to the U.S. side, offering investments and lifting sanctions.” Mankevich further predicted “a decrease in American activity in the Baltic states, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East.”
Perhaps the tastiest bargain of all would be the anticipated handover of Ukraine to the Kremlin, in exchange for Russia’s support of the United States in its brewing conflict with China. Komsomolskaya Pravda concluded: “The United States may give Ukraine to Russia in an exchange for an alliance against China.”
While Ukraine obviously is not Trump’s to give, the country is heavily dependent on the U.S. assistance for its very survival. Information revealed during the impeachment proceedings laid bare President Trump’s callous disregard toward Kyiv, combined with his overt longing to cozy up to the Kremlin.
On a larger scale, Vitaly Mankevich predicted the disintegration of NATO and the opportunity for Russia to re-establish a hold over Eastern Europe unseen since the times of the Soviet Union. Of course, Mankevich emphasized, “this scenario is relevant only if Donald Trump is re-elected for a second term in November of 2020.”
The ongoing motivation for Russia’s continued election interference explains why the English-speaking Kremlin-controlled networks have latched on to reports that aim to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, while also presenting the U.S. democracy as “a sham,” with no one worth voting for.
Destroying faith in the U.S. electoral process is one of the most important goals of the Kremlin’s anti-American propaganda. Another aim is to exacerbate the divisions in American society, but Trump is aptly accomplishing that—with or without Russia’s help. Trump’s re-election would provide a bouquet of benefits for the Kremlin and Biden’s considerably higher poll numbers are discussed with concern in the Russian state media.
While the English-speaking bullhorns of the Kremlin have zeroed in on Tara Reade’s allegations against the highest-polling presidential candidate, the Russian state media back home quietly acknowledged that the timing of Reade’s disclosures clearly indicates an effort to undermine the candidacy of Biden. During his eponymous evening news show, host Vladimir Soloviev dismissively described Reade’s disclosures as a typical pre-election ploy, designed to erode Biden’s support (crude even by Kremlin standards). But that has not deterred the English-language state media from pushing the Reade accusations in hopes they’ll successfully torpedo Biden’s chances.
The main incentive for the Kremlin’s ongoing support of the Trump presidency was eloquently summed up by Karen Shakhnazarov, CEO of Mosfilm Studio and a favored pundit on Russian state television: “Trump is a weak leader—and that is great for Russia. It’s also good for China.” Describing Trump as a synthesis of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin—Russian leaders of the past associated with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the weakening of Russia— Shakhnazarov expressed his hope that Trump would bring about the destruction of the United States of America, akin to what happened to the USSR.
But let’s return to the matter of ventilators that segued into Trump’s musings about his phone call with Putin.
“I suggested if they need—because we have a lot of ventilators—if they need ventilators, we’d love to send them some, and we will do that at the appropriate time. We’ll send them some ventilators.”
Question: “Did he take you up on it? Did he say—”
Trump: “Yeah. We’ll be doing that.”
On this matter, the Kremlin’s commentators were far from enthusiastic. The absurdity of buying ventilators from Russia in April, only to offer U.S. ventilators to Russia in May, laid bare the propagandistic nature of such exchanges. And there’s this: Faulty Russian ventilators of the same make and model have caused fires and killed coronavirus patients in at least two Russian hospitals to date. It is unclear whether the potentially faulty Russian ventilators are currently being utilized in American hospitals, or sitting in storage as dormant metaphors of the Kremlin’s Trojan gifts.