In its search for political allies far outside of the mainstream establishment, the Kremlin has been quick to embrace political figures such as U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump. It remains to be seen, however, what happens if Trump actually becomes President.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump steps up to the stage during a campaign stop in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Wednesday, December 30, 2015. Photo: AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin's praise of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at his December press conference made the news on both sides of the Atlantic. However, these seemingly unwarranted compliments for the contender for the White House are a part of Moscow's strategy.
To this day, there has never been a U.S. presidential campaign that has evoked the name of a Russian leader quite so frequently. Trump repeatedly commented on Putin's laudatory words. At a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he claimed that fellow Republicans are "jealous as hell" of Putin’s praise because "he's not mentioning these people. He's not going to mention them."
Trump stated yet again that he was willing to work with Putin, "I feel, frankly, good about him. I think that we can do things with Russia that are to our advantage... It's a mutual advantage.”
"An ideal leader" for Russia
In spite of huge differences between Russian and American political systems, if Trump were a Russian politician, he would be quite popular with Russians. Ukrainian political scientist Ivan Siyak conducted an interesting survey where he compared Trump's platform and the results of Russian opinion polls.
The Republican frontrunner notoriously took a firm stand on immigration and even proposed to deny all Muslims entry to the U.S. According to a Levada Center poll conducted in August 2015, 68 percent of Russians also believed that the government should curb the inflow of immigrants.
Trump supports the death penalty. According to a 2015 poll of the Public Opinion foundation, 60 percent of Russians agree with him.
Trump advocates limited military involvement outside the U.S. borders. He refers to the Crimean issue as a "European matter," doubts that those who shot down the Malaysian Boeing over Donbas will ever be found, and suggests that America pull out of Syria. Levada Center’s September and October polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of Russians (71 percent) think that the U.S. has a negative global impact.
The U.S. presidential candidate speaks in favor of a ban on abortions, except when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or when the woman's life is in danger. According to Levada Center, over the past 17 years the number of Russians who think that abortion should be legal and performed upon a woman's request has gone down from 65 percent to 51 percent.
Trump is against gay marriage. All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (WCIOM) polls show that Russians are even more negative towards same-sex marriage than 10 years ago: 59 percent in 2009 v. 80 percent in 2015. And this list is far from complete. As Siyak ironically points out, Trump would be an ideal Russian presidential candidate.
Russia's eclectic group of friends
It seems that Moscow's support of Trump is part of a unified strategy of making allies out of anyone who is willing to work with Russia, disagrees with its isolation and speaks up against economic sanctions.
Paradoxically, Moscow's friends include politicians and parties that are polar opposites, such as the far right National Front in France led by Marine Le Pen, leftist Syriza in Greece and leftist Podemos that won a resounding victory in the last election and became the third major political force in Spain.
What do they have in common? Podemos' leader Pablo Iglesias is against sanctions on Russia and believes that Moscow should be reinstated in the G8 and the Russia-NATO Council.
"It makes sense for Europeans to maintain peaceful relations with Russia. There is no need to get involved in a military confrontation with Russia, which is what is happening in Ukraine," Iglesias told Die Zelt.
"Russia is an integral part of the European space from the Atlantic to the Urals," emphasizes Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister and leader of Syriza. He states that, “Sanctions against Russia are backfiring. The EU is rocking the boat. We are against any kind of military action and want to facilitate international dialogue in order to find a diplomatic solution."
Related: "Greece: A new Trojan horse of the Kremlin?"
Putin as a politician does not adhere to a particular ideology and is ready to work on Russia's relations with any friendly political forces. So, the Kremlin seems to seek to weaken the EU by establishing and supporting rebel parties in Europe. Likewise, backing Trump is an attempt to apply the same approach to the U.S.
By propping up marginal or rather influential but non-mainstream political forces, the Kremlin is trying to break its isolation and overcome some of Putin's complexes, especially since over the past several years the Russian President lost many good European friends and sympathizers among top world politicians.
A clash of ambitions
However, Russian political scientists believe that Putin and Trump may run into serious psychological issues if the latter becomes President of the U.S.
According to the research conducted by Ekaterina Egorova, the president of the Niccolo M Strategic Communications Agency, and Elizaveta Egorova, the general director of the Political Profiler, "Putin easily reads his partners by observing the way they communicate. All he ever needed to do was take a look at the Republican candidate's public appearances and see how vulnerable and fragile Trump is. Moreover, once Putin senses weakness, he is going to push Trump aside and press his advantage. That is just a natural political reflex, nothing personal."
The researchers believe that, "Trump's biggest issue is his serious lack of experience in foreign affairs and even more so in defense policy. Sophisticated Putin, who learned from his opponents' mistakes, is not likely to pass on an easy prey. He will capitalize on every misstep and faux pas of amateur Trump. As for Trump himself, he enjoys the part of being an enfant terrible in the presidential race. Putin will appreciate that. Especially the "enfant" part.”
Also read: "How Russia views Donald Trump's presidential bid"
The majority of American political scholars think that the over-the-top Trump is not going to win the election, and his ratings will drop after the first primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa. Egorova sees Jeb Bush, another Republican candidate, as the most suitable option from the Russian perspective.
According to her research, he "is more like his father than his brother. Jeb Bush could be a worthy leader and international partner for many heads of state, including Putin." However, a thoughtful, well-educated and calm politician, Bush is not a great fit for the election campaign and is not likely to receive the Republican nomination.
Presently, Old Europe and the New World prefer political candidates who are not part of the system. They favor candidates who offer radical solutions to all problems. With the world increasingly engulfed in chaos, these new trends can yield sizable dividends for the Kremlin, which is generally frustrated with traditional conservative leaders and the global political establishment.