As Russia’s state media watch impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald J. Trump they’re loving what they see. They don’t think the man they brag about getting elected is in much danger. They listen in delight as Republicans parrot conspiracy theories first launched by Russians. And they gloat about the way Trump removed U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, because they blame her for promoting democratic “color revolutions” that weakened Moscow’s hold on the former Soviet empire. Best of all, from the Kremlin’s point of view, they see Trump pushing Ukraine back into the Russian fold.
So while the historical impeachment inquiry, after two days of public hearings, has been deemed by some pundits to lack “pizzazz,” the Kremlin is having a ball. Instead of disseminating their usual conspiracy theories, the Russians watch gleefully as the Republicans do that for them. From the long-debunked “Crowdstrike” cyber plot positioning Ukraine as the fall guy for what undoubtedly was Russian interference in the 2016 elections, to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories centering around Jewish financier and philanthropist George Soros, rivers of Russian dezinformatsiya are flowing down from the President of the United States and the GOP, through the impeachment hearings, to Trump’s cult-like devotees.
The Kremlin also enjoys the Trump-GOP treatment of the Mueller report as a colossal hoax, or even a joke, letting Russian President Vladimir Putin off the hook, and putting him in a position to make light of the whole matter.
During a public appearance for Russian Energy Week, Putin “jokingly” promised to interfere in the upcoming presidential elections in the United States. Speaking at the Paris Peace Forum, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pledged to “solve the problem” of the American elections in 2020.
When President Trump pulled a news report out of his pocket at his Louisiana rally featuring the picture of Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko denying there was a quid pro quo of security assistance for an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Olga Skabeeva, the host of Russian state television news show 60 Minutes, complained with sharp irony: “When we—here in Russia—were electing Trump, we were certain that to express his gratitude, he would carry a picture of Putin in his pocket.”
This desensitizing mirth mirrors Trump’s infamous public dare: “Russia, if you’re listening,” but treating a serious matter as a joke does not diminish its real gravity.
Russian experts and state media propagandists constantly reiterate that President Trump cannot and will not be impeached, because the Republicans are controlling the Senate. On 60 Minutes, Skabeeva mockingly told some sacrificial Ukrainian panelists: “We appointed Trump and you can’t unseat him.”
Leading Russian state media outlets repeatedly publicize the name of the alleged whistleblower. State TV channel Rossiya-1 smeared Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as a Soros-linked architect of post-Soviet color revolutions. The co-host of 60 Minutes, Evgeny Popov, warned Ukraine of the threat if faces if it does not cooperate with Trump’s demands: “If Trump gets re-elected, and you don’t investigate Biden... [Ukraine] won’t get anything from America. Not a thing.”
The Kremlin is eager to help Trump, in fact, because his presidency has proven to be exceedingly beneficial for the Kremlin—having brought chaos into American politics, undermined trust in democratic institutions, weakened transatlantic alliances, delivered Syria into the hands of Putin, Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, thereby elevating the international image of Russia as a global force to be reckoned with.
The ongoing impeachment inquiry is a twofold gift for the Kremlin. On the one hand, President Trump and the Republican Party are doing Putin’s work by assailing U.S. intelligence agencies, career diplomats and institutions. On the other hand, the impeachment inquiry revealed an unprecedented rift between the United States and Ukraine—America’s strategic partner that enjoyed decades of strong bipartisan support.
Witnesses in the impeachment inquiry laid bare President Trump’s reported indifference toward Ukraine’s plight of deterring Russian aggression—treating this fledgling democracy as a mere tool for his personal needs, while disregarding national interests of the United States.
The statement of State Department aide David Holmes revealed a candid assessment by Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, who surmised that President Trump couldn’t care less about Ukraine or its war with Russia. Holmes wrote in his opening statement that—according to Ambassador Sondland—President Trump “did not give a s--t about Ukraine,” concerning himself instead with "big stuff" that could benefit him personally, “like the Biden investigation."
In stark contrast to Trump’s ambivalence, Putin hungers after the restoration of Russia’s control and influence over Ukraine. As the late Zbigniew Brzezinski once said, "Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire." During National Security Council staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s deposition in the ongoing impeachment probe, he reaffirmed a geopolitical reality that none of Russia’s post-Soviet neighbors are of greater significance than Ukraine.
Putin could not possibly envision a sweeter gift than Ukraine falling away from the West into the welcoming—albeit bloodied—hands of the Kremlin. Popov on 60 Minutes urged all Ukrainians to “finally sober up and understand that the only country willing to lovingly cover Ukraine with its nuclear shield is Russia.”
(Note that when the Soviet empire collapsed, Ukraine was left with a substantial nuclear arsenal which it gave up in exchange for an agreement with Russia that its territorial integrity would remain inviolable—an agreement Putin trampled on when he annexed Crimea and launched the war in eastern Ukraine.)
During a press conference at the BRICS Summit (an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on Thursday, Putin told Ukrainians: “Don’t look for happiness overseas, don’t look across the oceans... but make deals with your neighbors.”
Using the treasure trove of documents released during the impeachment inquiry, Russia’s master propagandists are weaponizing the information to demoralize the Ukrainians. State TV hosts, experts and talking heads are browbeating visiting Ukrainian guests and audiences by painting a picture where the West is merely using Ukraine for its own ends—predicting Trump will soon abandon the country just as he did America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. There is a common thread permeating the Russian media blitz: Ukraine is all alone and has nowhere left to turn, except to Russia.
“Everyone is laughing at you,” scoffed Skabeeva, addressing a Ukrainian panelist on 60 Minutes. Maksim Yusin, the editor of international politics at the leading Russian business daily Kommersant exclaimed, “Ukraine is toxic, everyone will want to avoid it now.”
When Ukrainian panelist Alexander Goncharov said that his country is relying on the support of Republicans, the hosts and other panelists broke out in uproarious laughter. “Listen to Rand Paul,” said the co-host of 60 Minutes, playing the clip of the Kentucky senator bluntly stating: “I wouldn’t give them anything.” The Kremlin is poised to reap more rewards from the presidency of Donald Trump—and suddenly, Ukraine seems to be within reach.
Appearing on the Russian state TV program, The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky said that Trump is fulfilling the dreams of anti-American strategists by withdrawing U.S. forces from the Middle East and retreating to domestic affairs. Drobnitsky predicted: “If Trump manages “to defeat his enemies and gets re-elected, he will start doing whatever he wants—and the world will see ‘Trump unchained.’ He will fulfill all of his promises.” The host, Vladimir Soloviev, threw in another prediction: “And after that, his daughter will become the next president.” The Kremlin sees another trump card in its future.