That's Vladimir Putin, along with Russia's propaganda arm RT (Russia Today), a channel shown across cable-and-satellite networks in the US and worldwide, and funded directly from Moscow.
The fawning between Putin and the Donald is public, and mutual. On Sunday's Meet the Press in December, Trump boasted to Chuck Todd, Putin "called me brilliant. He said very nice things about me. I mean, I accept it." Then the Republican then-future nominee returned the compliment to President Putin: "He's a strong leader. And I'm not going to be politically correct. He's got an 80% of approval rating done by pollsters .... And it would be very nice if we got along with Russia, Chuck."
The Leningradian Candidate
It goes far beyond mutual admiration. Trump employs and consults with top advisors who hold mysterious ties to Moscow. And Donald and son Donald, Jr. have flown to Russia multiple times trying to launch mega-hotel projects.
Mixing business with politics and appealing to Putin is a strategic danger to the U.S. and to our longest standing allies.
1/ In April while campaigning, Trump dismissed our central NATO alliance, calling it "obsolete".
2/ In pre-convention maneuvers last week for the RNC convention in Cleveland, the Trump contingent stunned the GOP establishment by upending the platform foreign policy plank on Russian intrusion in the Ukraine.
Trump campaign guts GOP's anti-Russia stance on Ukraine
The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has been dismissive of calls for supporting the Ukraine government as it fights an ongoing Russian-led intervention. Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, worked as a lobbyist for the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for more than a decade.
Trump staffers intervened in the platform committee's meeting and inserted an amendment that rolled back language to provide defensive weaponry to Ukraine to resist Russian-backed aggression and substituted mushier wording for "appropriate assistance." Putin has his first win already.
3/ In an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, Trump backed off of the NATO guarantees that underlie our alliance with the 28 countries of NATO, making our support of their defense against aggression conditional on those countries' adequate payments, whether they "fulfilled their obligations to us." Our 7-decade commitment to mutual defense under Article 5 of NATO ironically has benefited the U.S., after we were attacked on 9/11 by al-Qaeda operating from Afghanistan. When we counterattacked those safe havens, our NATO allies in 2002 sent one-third of the troops that fought Afghanistan. More than 1,000 non-American troops lost their lives, including from the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland and other European countries, though it was our country that was attacked.
As Lindsay Graham said today, after hearing Trump's remarks, Putin is now a "very happy man."
4/ Key advisors to Trump seem to have unusual ties to Putin, and have received fees from Russian interests for image boosterism, either lately or going back years. The first Trump ally to turn heads is a U.S. military man, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to April 2014, who was forced out of his position at the Pentagon over disagreements with the Obama administration. But he turned up in Moscow in December for a 10-year anniversary gala dinner for the Russia Today network, at the 5-star Metropol hotel, seated 2 chairs away from Vladimir Putin.
The presence of such an important figure at Putin's table startled current and former members of the Obama administration. "It was extremely odd that he showed up in a tuxedo to the Russian government propaganda arm's party," one former Pentagon official told me.
"It's not usually to America's benefit when our intelligence officers--current or former--seek refuge in Moscow," said one senior Obama administration official.
Next is Paul Manafort, introduced to the electorate as a politico and delegate wrangler for Trump, brought in to help the businessman overcome a rigged primary system. But Manafort has an inglorious history of serving tyrants overseas, rebuilding their images, helped Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych return to power in the Ukraine in 2010, until he was ousted in that country's revolution in 2014. He's had financial deals with other pro-Russian oligarchs, and Manafort has advised despots of the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, and Somalia.
Slate's Frank Foer covers the political and business ties of Trump's advisors in depth.
More recently, Richard Burt, a Reagan administration official, has begun advising Trump on foreign policy. His criticisms of NATO and pleas for greater cooperation with Putin grow from a deeply felt realism. Yet his ideological positions jibe with his financial interests. Burt is on the boards of Alfa-Bank, the largest commercial bank in Russia, and an investment fund with a large position in Gazprom.
Trump's advisers have stakes in businesses where the health of the Russian state is the health of the firm--where, in fact, the state and the firm are deeply entangled.
The campaign isn't just one man with an aesthetic affinity for Putin and commercial interests in Russia; his sentiments are reinforced and amplified by an organization rife with financial ties to the Kremlin.
KEYWORDS: Donald Trump
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