Putin spies an opportunity for some sorely-needed conversationsby Mary Dejevsky / November 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Guess who was one of the first national leaders to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory? Why Vladimir Putin, of course. Never one to hang around when opportunity calls, the Russian President found the necessary accoutrements of national flag, crested lectern and microphone, and expressed his best wishes for Trump in his new high office and his hopes for establishing a “constructive dialogue” between Moscow and Washington.
Now there are some good reasons why Putin was so quick out of the blocks. Moscow is eight hours ahead of New York time, and he had just attended an unrelated event in the Kremlin that supplied both the media audience and the backdrop appropriate to such a message. Putin is a stickler for protocol, especially when it serves to remind everyone that Russia is the equal of the US (sort of). Putin was the first leader to ring George W Bush with Russia’s condolences after 9/11, a gesture Bush remembered with due gratitude and Putin traded on ever after.
But there are other explanations of a more conspiratorial nature—favoured perhaps by Hillary Clinton in her defeat, and certainly by Cold Warriors the world over. According to these, a Trump victory was not merely desired, but maybe even engineered, by former agent Putin and his operatives in the FSB. Hence his rush to claim the credit. Supporters of this view say there is “evidence” that the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails was carried out by Russian intelligence, and that Russia effectively accompanied Trump on his lonely way. And the supposed motive? The fear that, as president, Clinton would be tougher on Russia and its many misdeeds than a crassly politically inexperienced Trump, whose naivety would soon turn him into appeaser-in-chief.
Personally, for all the intrigue of allegedly Russian-backed groups with names like “fancy bears,” I find such a theory hard to buy. This is not because my family name (by marriage to an American) ends in a suspect “-sky.” Nor is it because Putin himself has ridiculed the idea. Denials about intelligence are never worth anything, and—for those with the power—it will always be tempting to delve into a foreign election campaign. Betting on the next “leader of the free world”, if you were able to make the punt with condifence, could supply an advantage in the great political game. So I do not dismiss the cyber-malice possibility out of hand; if, when the archives are eventually opened, it turns out that Trump’s success was the crowning achievement of Russian intelligence—the capture of the world’s most powerful state, then I will be dazzled, but not in denial.