President Trump has worked hard to hold key elements of his electoral coalition, and today his campaign received a major though expected boost when Russian president Vladimir Putin announced his support. “I don’t think Trump will be voted out of power on made-up charges,” the Russian strongman told reporters in Moscow Thursday. “Democrats lost the last election, and now they want to win by other means.”
Putin effectively runs a pro-Trump super-PAC. In 2016, his government developed a strong preference for Trump’s election, which it supported through targeted social media, a spattering of rallies and, most effectively, an email-hacking operation against his opposition. A close ally of Putin’s has reportedly financed efforts by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, Trump’s leading opponent at the moment.
Putin obviously stands to lose a great deal if Trump fails to win a second term. While Trump was only able to delay but not stop a package of military aid to Ukraine that passed by veto-proof margins, he has taken a number of pro-Russian positions out of character with other U.S. politicians. Betsy Swan reports that Trump is currently opposing a bill sanctioning Russia for its attacks on Ukraine and interference in the U.S. election. He has also withheld diplomatic support for Ukraine, which would give that country leverage in its peace negotiations with Russia, and pleaded the case for readmitting Russia at G7 summits. Trump has previously repeated strange Russian talking points, such as that NATO is a bad idea because Montenegro is aggressive and might attack Russia, and that the USSR had to invade Afghanistan to repel terrorist attacks.
Trump has closely guarded his relations with Russia, so the precise extent of his connections remains somewhat mysterious. He has refused to disclose financial information that would reveal the extent of his reliance on money-laundering by the Russian Mafia and notes of his discussions with Putin that he confiscated; he also helped persuade former campaign manager Paul Manafort not to cooperate with an FBI investigation on such questions as why he gave 75 pages of detailed polling to a Russian spy during the campaign.
It is possible those questions have innocuous, boring answers. It is possible they don’t. But even the most innocent possible interpretation of all these facts would have to concede that Trump’s loyalty to Putin is no less corrupt than his loyalty to any other supporter.