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Do Putin And Trump Really Have Something To Gain From One Another?


Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, called Russia America's number one geopolitical foe. This year's Republican nominee, Donald Trump, appeared to invite Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails. Trump made the suggestion. He said later he was being sarcastic after software analysts concluded that Russian spy agencies were most likely behind the hack of Democratic National Committee emails. Julia Ioffe, who is a veteran reporter on things Russian, writes for Politico and Foreign Policy, joins us. Julia, thanks so much for being with us.

JULIA IOFFE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Do Russia and Vladimir Putin have a special hostility toward Hillary Clinton?

IOFFE: They do, indeed. So Hillary Clinton, back in December 2011, after a very fraudulent parliamentary election, came out and said that it was, in fact, a fraudulent election and that Russians deserve to have their voices heard. And Putin, allegedly, was furious. He actually came out and said that Hillary Clinton had given the signal to the protesters. Kremlin-owned TV was saying that the protesters were being paid by the State Department, that they were all stooges for Hillary Clinton. And these were anti-Putin protests, so he kind of sees her as having meddled in his internal politics. So to some extent, he's just giving as good as he thinks he got.

SIMON: And what do you think of this whole idea that there's some kind of mutual admiration society between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?

IOFFE: I think it's quite plausible. They're both very cynical men, very opportunistic men. You know, they seem to get each other. Although I think Donald Trump kind of underestimates Putin and doesn't quite realize that he's going to get eaten for lunch.

SIMON: Yeah. And does WikiLeaks have some kind of relationship going with the Russian government?

IOFFE: They do, indeed. So Julian Assange was portrayed as a hero in Russian media and was given a show on Russia Today, which is the Kremlin's English-language propaganda network. And Edward Snowden actually didn't end up in Russia by accident. When he left Hong Kong, he left with the editor of WikiLeaks, Sarah Harrison, and she accompanied him from Hong Kong all the way to Moscow and was with him the whole month that he was stuck in that airport. It's reported that WikiLeaks helped negotiate and arrange Edward Snowden's asylum in Russia.

SIMON: At the same time, is it possible this is all circumstantial evidence? I mean, for example, when Donald Trump says he might accept Russia's annexation of Crimea and lift sanctions, that's the kind of thing almost any U.S. president might decide to do in the next few years anyway, isn't it?

IOFFE: Oh, absolutely. I don't think that Trump is in any way a plant for Putin or that he's doing anything in collusion. I think that he's kind of playing into this image as an iconoclast. But he's also had this admiration for Putin that is almost fan girl-like When he took the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013, he kept tweeting that he really hoped to meet Vladimir Putin, that he wanted to be best friends with him. Then he lied and said that he met him in the green room when, in fact, he hadn't. So he's trying to cozy up to him, and I think Vladimir Putin would gladly have this. But I think it's just kind of falling into his lap.

SIMON: You - you've been in Russia recently, right, Julia?

IOFFE: Yeah, yeah, I was just there in June.

SIMON: What's campaign coverage like there?

IOFFE: Even before the hack, if you watched, the way they covered our presidential campaign, it was very clear very early on who they wanted to win. After it became clear that Jeb Bush was no longer the favorite, they kind of went all in for Trump. Coverage is all about how evil Hillary Clinton is, how she's a warmonger, she's - she laughed and clapped her hands when she heard that Muammar Gaddafi died, which was a very sore point for Putin who takes these things very personally when dictators are toppled and killed.

When they talk about Donald Trump, on the other hand, they talk about him as a pragmatist, as a man who understands that America is overextended in the world and that it needs to pull back in order not to destroy itself, which, of course, would be very convenient for Russia because when the U.S. pulls out, Russia steps right in to the resulting vacuum. And I think, for them, Donald Trump would be ideal because he advocates a kind of pulling back of American power, which would create more room for Russian power.

SIMON: Julia Ioffe, thanks so much for being with us.

IOFFE: Thanks so much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.