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Trump’s Foreign Policy Helps Putin’s Reelection Plan

When the Kremlin decided to meddle in the U.S. election in favor of Trump, it nurtured the hope of a reset in bilateral ties with Western Europe and the United States. The idea of a U.S. President as the leader of the populist movements rising in the West was seen as an advantageous scenario for Moscow.

As disillusionment over Trump’s alleged pro-Russian view is growing at home, Putin might return to the  “besieged fortress” narrative domestically in order to secure his upcoming reelection.

In Russia, the wave of populism throughout Europe and the United States was considered as a victory over the West.  Brexit, the rise of right-wing parties across the EU and Trump—all seem to be proof that the conservative ideology originated in the Kremlin to take on “false” liberal democratic values is partly shared with Western countries. As liberal values in the West were defeated, rise of populism was depicted as people’s rebellion against own corrupt governments thanks to Russia’s efforts.

The strike on al-Shayrat air base and Washington’s sudden interventionist approach to Syria caught the Kremlin’s strategists off guard. It seemed that Trump had distanced himself from his “America First” isolationism and for many in Russia it appeared as if Trump had reneged on his campaign promises.

Trump’s decision to get tough on Russia would be the ultimate failure of the Kremlin’s foreign policies goals and a personal defeat for Vladimir Putin. This is particularly worrisome considering next year’s presidential elections next year and the growing protests with already brought people on the streets last March.

Nevertheless, Trump’s policy towards Syria might bring both nations together, for a cause of a good war against ISIS, the scenario of a proxy conflict now seems more plausible. Many in Russia actually fearing that Syria might turn into another Vietnam when the Soviets fought along the Viet Cong against the Americans. With more American strikes possibly following, and presence of US ground troops expanding – the Kremlin grows cautious of avoiding a quagmire that will not go well domestically.

For the past year, Russian state-media consistently depicted Trump as a friend and one of “ours”, while its recent statements and actions put it into hot water. Regardless speculations that Trump decided to strike Syria because of its collapsing ratings domestically and sweeping accusations of his assistants’ connections to the Russian government – the new image of Trump is taking over the country’s media landscape.

State-media now draws Trump as incompetent in handling Russia and other global issues; while genuinely unfit to serve as a president. He is likewise presented as a victim of the neoconservatives such as Steve Bannon, or falling under the influence of America’s “deep state” or his democratic-leaning daughter – Ivanka.

During the recent evening with Vladimir Solovyev, Russia’s major and state-controlled political talk show, some of the participants even expressed feeling of missing Obama’s days while describing Trump.

Switching depiction of Trump goes along with new messages resurrecting for the Putin 2018 presidential campaign. As most of the media agenda is heavily regulated by the state, it is vital to stop presenting Trump as “one of ours” but rather as an incompetent president who might trigger the world war three, as also betraying Russia’s sincere hopes and benign efforts for better bilateral relations.

For the Russian state-media there are few options left now but to return to the “besieged fortress” imagery. In fact, the choice is a blessing in disguise for Putin.

Image of being a victorious leader could have secured an easy reelection but likewise made Russians to stop rallying around the flag and instead scrutinizing other troubling issues such as rampant corruption. Recently, Alexey Navalny’s, Russia’s major opposition figure, disclosed a massive corruption scheme of the Prime-Minister Dmitriy Medvedev by posting findings on YouTube. The public response was massive and caused a heated wave of protests countrywide that rattled the Kremlin.

If the West is finally defeated, it is going to be harder to deter attention from domestic problems. In contrast, resumed hostility augments opportunities for self-victimization and emergence of a public narrative of being under attack. Expressing the unquestionable support for the experienced commander-in-chief remains the sole option for withstanding enemies while fighting corruption could be postponed.

 

Author

Dmitriy Frolovskiy
Dmitriy Frolovskiy

Dmitriy Frolovskiy is a Moscow-based writer and analyst of Russian politics. His writings have been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Forbes, and elsewhere.

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