“If our experience is any indication of what the president will find, it will be denial, hostility, blaming others and long and tedious responses,” the Kansas Republican said in an interview as he was returning home... Moreover, Sen. Moran suggests the president might want to think twice about his plan to meet privately with Mr. Putin, with no aides present. The senator and his colleagues are fuming at the way the Russian media portrayed (or, they say, baldly mis-portrayed) their own private meetings with Russian officials, suggesting the Americans only briefly and meekly raised the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election campaign... Trump, understandably, has focused instead on what he sees as the upside potential. In general, he thinks the world is a safer place if the U.S. and Russia get along. More specifically, he wants Russia to help in the effort to force North Korea to denuclearize by not providing backdoor economic relief to the regime in Pyongyang, particularly by buying North Korean coal... Russia may use the very fact of a private meeting with the president to claim the U.S. has accepted Russia’s annexation of Crimea and acknowledged its right to interfere in Ukraine. Russian media already have trumpeted statements by Mr. Trump suggesting sympathy for the Russian position on Crimea as proof the Americans have thrown in the towel on the subject.Moreover, Mr. Putin may well use Mr. Trump’s own apparent ambivalence about the value of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to portray the U.S. and Russia as moving beyond the traditional alliance that has guarded Western security through the post-World War II era... Mr. Trump and his aides are playing a good-cop, bad-cop routine, in which Mr. Trump questions the motives of America’s allies and carries on pointed spats with the leaders of France, Germay and Canada, while his aides praise the allies and their efforts. In a briefing for reporters last week, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to NATO, lauded what she called “the biggest increase in defense spending by our allies since the Cold War.”.. Finally, Mr. Putin doubtless will continue to simply deny any interference in the 2016 election campaign, a denial that Mr. Trump noted again on Twitter last week: “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!”The risk is that the Russian leader will use Mr. Trump’s seeming willingness to accept his denials as proof that any claims to the contrary—including a seven-page bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee last week—are specious.
Mr. Trump’s critics already portray him as way too cozy with his Russian counterpart. Unless Mr. Trump plays the summit well, he could allow the meeting to play directly into that critique.
In a new book, Timothy Snyder explains how Russia revolutionized information warfare—and presages its consequences for democracies in Europe and the United States.
When Westerners first began to hear of Vladimir Putin’s troll army—now some five years ago—the project sounded absurd. President Obama in March 2014 had dismissed Russia as merely a weak “regional power.” And Putin’s plan to strike back was to hire himself a bunch of internet commenters? Seriously?
.. historian Timothy Snyder observed that Russia’s annual budget for cyberwarfare is less than the price of a single American F-35 jet. Snyder challenged his audience to consider: Which weapon has done more to shape world events?.. Amid the collapse of the Soviet state, canny survivors of the old regime seized valuable assets. Yeltsin secured their new wealth; they secured Yeltsin’s power... Yeltsin elevated Putin as his deputy, then resigned in his favor. Putin faced the electorate in 2000 supported by all the power and money commanded by a Russian incumbent. Public opinion was consolidated by a conveniently timed series of murderous terrorist bombings. Number Snyder among those Western experts who strongly suspect that the bombings were organized by the Russian authorities themselves to legitimate Putin’s accession... He promoted ideologies that Snyder inventively describes as schizo-fascism: “actual fascists calling their opponents ‘fascists,’ blaming the Holocaust on the Jews, treating the Second World War as an argument for more violence.” Putin’s favored ideologist, Alexander Dugin, “could celebrate the victory of fascist in fascist language while condemning as ‘fascist’ his opponents.”.. In this new schizo-fascism, homosexuals played the part assigned to Jews by the fascists of earlier eras. Democratic societies were branded by Russian TV as “homodictatorships.”.. When Ukrainians protested against faked elections and the murder of protesters, Russian TV told viewers, “The fact that the first and most zealous integrators [with the European Union] in Ukraine are sexual perverts has long been known.”.. Putin himself struck more macho poses and wore outfits more butch than all the stars of the Village People combined... “Putin was offering masculinity as an argument against democracy.”.. it all started with the August 2012 law outlawing advocacy of gay rights... Even as Russian troops in Russian uniforms seized the peninsula, Putin denied anything was happening at all. Anyone could buy a uniform in a military surplus store. Russia was the victim, not the aggressor. “The war was not taking place; but were it taking place, America was to be blamed.”.. Snyder identifies a new style of rhetoric: implausible deniability. “According to Russian propaganda,
- Ukrainian society was full of nationalists but not a nation;
- the Ukrainian state was repressive but did not exist;
- Russians were forced to speak Ukrainian though there was no such language.”
Russian TV told wild lies. It invented a fake atrocity story of a child crucified by Ukrainian neo-Nazis—while blaming upon Ukrainians the actual atrocity of the shooting down of a Malaysian civilian airliner by a Russian ground-to-air missile.
Russia’s most important weapon in its war on factuality was less old-fashioned official mendacity than the creation of an alternative reality (or more exactly, many contradictory alternatives, all of them Putin-serving). “Russia generated tropes targeted at what cyberwar professionals called ‘susceptibilities’: what people seem likely to believe given their utterances and behavior.
.. “The Russian economy did not have to produce anything of material value, and did not. Russian politicians had to use technologies created by others to alter mental states, and did.”
.. Snyder cites repeated examples of journalists in prominent platforms, trusted by left-of-center readerships, whose reporting seemed to support Russian claims that Ukraine had become a romper room for neo-Nazis—or alternatively to “the green flag of jihad.”
.. Many of these reports cited second- and third-hand sources, some of whom disappeared untraceably after depositing their testimonies on Facebook.
Hard-left and alt-right social-media trolls then tidied up after the reporters, belittling claims that the original sources were disinformation.
.. Trump in Snyder’s telling was not the successful businessman he performed in his TV non-reality series, The Apprentice, but an American loser who became a Russian tool. “Russian money had saved him from the fate that would normally await anyone with his record of failure.”
.. . His first big foreign-policy speech of the election campaign—viewed from a reserved front-row seat by the Russian ambassador to the United States—was reportedly ghostwritten in considerable part by Richard Burt, a former American diplomat then under contract to a Russian gas company. (Burt has denied this attribution).
.. Snyder sees Trump as very much a junior partner in a larger Russian project, less a cause, more an effect.
.. slowly before Trump—and rapidly after Trump—America is becoming like Russia: a country on a path to economic oligarchy and distorted information.
.. Trump’s attitude to truth again and again reminds Snyder of the Russian ruling elite: The Russian television network RT “wished to convey that all media lied, but that only RT was honest by not pretending to be truthful.”
The former C.I.A. director John Brennan pulled no punches on Wednesday when he was asked why President Trump had congratulated his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for his victory in a rigged election, even after Mr. Trump’s national security staff warned him not to.
.. Some Trump defenders noted that President Barack Obama also called Mr. Putin when he was elected president in 2012.
But the circumstances are very different. In the intervening years, Mr. Putin has become an increasingly authoritarian leader who has crushed most of his political opposition and engineered a deeply lopsided re-election this week.
.. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, is waging war in other parts of Ukraine and is enabling President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
.. While the administration recently imposed its first significant sanctions on Russia for election interference and other malicious cyberattacks and has faulted Russia for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain, Mr. Trump has refrained from criticizing Mr. Putin or calling him to account. The phone call reinforced that approach.
.. What Mr. Trump didn’t say to Mr. Putin was as significant as what he did say. He did not demand that Mr. Putin stop meddling in American elections or others, he did not even raise Moscow’s role in the poisoning... A senior administration official told The Times that Mr. Trump didn’t want to antagonize Mr. Putin because fostering rapport is the only way to improve relations between the two countries. On Tuesday, the president said he hoped to meet Mr. Putin soon and discuss preventing an arms race — an arms race both leaders have encouraged with loose talk and investment in new weapons.Engaging Russia and preventing an arms race are undeniably important. But it’s hard to see how praising and appeasing a bully will advance American interests. That’s not the approach Mr. Trump has taken with adversaries like North Korea or Iran, or, for that matter, even with some allies... John McCain, Republican of Arizona, slammed Mr. Trump, saying “an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.” Even the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who rarely crosses Mr. Trump, said calling Mr. Putin “wouldn’t have been high on my list.”
“I remember him as a snake-oil salesman,”
.. He did not exhibit any special interest or expertise in Russia until 2014, when his academy was beginning to stumble financially. It was at that time a 24-year-old Russian intern, Natalia Kutepova-Jamrom, turned up in his office with an improbably impressive résumé.
Fluent in Russian, English, German and Chinese, Ms. Kutepova-Jamrom had worked in the Russian government as a legislative aide and would move on to a Russian state newspaper.
Ms. Kutepova-Jamrom introduced Mr. Mifsud to senior Russian officials, diplomats and scholars. Despite Mr. Mifsud’s lack of qualifications, she managed to arrange an invitation for him to join the prestigious Valdai Discussion Club, an elite gathering of Western and Russian academics that meets each year with Mr. Putin.
Mr. Mifsud’s inclusion in the group was “very, very strange,” said James Sherr, the former head of the Russian studies program at Chatham House in London and a member of Valdai for nearly a decade. It “might suggest he does have connections,” Mr. Sherr said.
Mr. Mifsud suddenly became a popular pundit with state-run news outlets in Russia, praising the country and Mr. Putin. At his first Valdai conference in 2014, he argued against Western sanctions that punished Russia for its annexation of Crimea that year.
.. In a recent interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Mr. Mifsud said the Russian woman who met Mr. Papadopoulos was “a simple student, very beautiful.” He suggested Mr. Papadopoulos hoped for a romantic involvement, adding, “Putin had nothing to do with it, a lovely invention.”