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Trump may not be a paid agent of Putin but he is certainly an asset to him

Some recent conversations suggest Putin is winning the propaganda war - and he will have a willing stooge if Trump is elected

The owner of a shop in north Dublin asked me a few days ago if I had seen Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin. She watched all two hours and thought the Russian dictator was “lovely”. I would have been less alarmed if I hadn’t heard the same appraisal earlier from a caregiver. Both Irish women found Putin “fascinating”. The shopkeeper believes Putin “wants peace”.

In recent months two other Irish people told me separately that Nato provoked the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I’ve heard the same in Paris. About one quarter of Americans hold positive opinions of the former KGB agent who has staged bloody interventions in Chechnya, Transnistria, Georgia, Syria and Ukraine, and allied himself with pariah states Iran and North Korea. Can Putin really be winning the propaganda war?

What Carlson and Trump’s supporters scathingly call “the mainstream media” panned Putin’s interview as a poor performance. We must have missed something. The woman I spoke to was enthralled with Putin’s rant on one thousand years of Ukrainian and Russian history. “Zelenskiy wants you to know only one side of the story,” she said, referring to the president of Ukraine. “Why don’t the mainstream media interview Putin?”

Many news organisations have requested interviews with Putin, I tell her, but the Kremlin refuses. “That’s because they’d just cut it into soundbites,” she replies. It has not occurred to her that Putin insisted on being interviewed by a fawning “useful idiot”, as gullible western purveyors of Soviet propaganda were known during the Cold War.


Putin and the once and possibly future US president Trump have a lot in common. CIA director William Burns describes Putin in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine as “a combustible combination of grievance, ambition and insecurity” and “the ultimate apostle of payback”. An accurate description of Trump too.

Russian school manuals teach as fact Trump’s version of the 2020 election, which he says was stolen from him. These days Putin and Trump seem to be swapping talking points. Asked by Carlson about Senator Chuck Schumer’s statement that if the US does not fund Ukraine Americans will end up fighting there, Putin said: “You have issues on the border…You have nothing better to do so you should fight in Ukraine?”

Trump apparently shares Putin’s long-term goal of decoupling the US from Europe. Trump said on February 10th that far from protecting Nato allies from Russia he would “encourage [the Russians] to do whatever the hell they want” to members of the alliance who spend too little on their own defence.

For all his obnoxiousness Trump has been consistent. The idea that Nato allies are freeloaders has been his constant refrain since 1987, when he returned from a trip to the Soviet Union with his first wife, Czech model Ivana Zelnickova. Trump paid $100,000 to purchase full-page advertisements in the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe entitled “An open letter from Donald J. Trump on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves.”

Yuri Shvets, a former KGB agent who masqueraded as a correspondent for the Russian news agency Tass in Washington in the 1980s, was a main source for journalist Chris Unger’s best-selling book American Kompromat. Shvets said the Russian intelligence agency deemed Trump’s newspaper ads to be “one of the most successful KGB operations at that time”, and were thrilled to see three major US newspapers publishing “KGB soundbites”.

The Russian Internet Research Agency, a troll farm which belonged to the late Wagner militia boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, flooded the internet with material detrimental to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election. Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome”. An investigation by the Center for American Progress Action Fund found the Trump campaign and transition team had at least 272 known contacts and at least 38 known meetings with operatives linked to Russia.

Trump acted like a meek schoolboy at his July 2018 summit with Putin in Helsinki, where Trump sided with Russia against the US domestic intelligence agency FBI. Fiona Hill, who was Trump’s Russia adviser, was so mortified, she wrote in her book There Is Nothing for You Here, that she “contemplated throwing a fit or faking a seizure and hurling myself backward into the row of journalists behind me. But it would only have added to the humiliating spectacle.”

The late Senator John McCain – like Trump, a Republican – said of the Helsinki summit that “no prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant”.

Trump may not be a paid agent of Putin but he is certainly an asset to him. Trump has bullied Republican members of Congress since last October to block a foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel which would provide €56 billion in desperately needed military aid for Ukraine. The Senate finally voted the package in on Tuesday, but if House speaker Mike Johnson, a Trump stalwart, refuses to call a vote in the lower chamber it will be another victory for Trump and Putin.