Vladimir Putin wants to make Russia great again. For that, he may need a hand from Donald Trump.
For the Russian president, relief from crippling sanctions is a gateway to the ultimate goal of establishing Russia as the political and economic equivalent of the United States.
And the US president-elect, who extolled Putin’s leadership during the campaign and called for a tempered approach to US-Russia relations, may be a conduit to achieving that.
Despite Russia’s denials that it tampered in the US election or even took sides, Trump’s victory has been greeted as a win of sorts for Moscow, too, by members of Putin’s own United Russia party.
“It turns out that United Russia won the elections in America,” Viktor Nazarov, the governor of Omsk, Russia, declared in a radio interview.
Long before Trump was on the radar of American voters, Russia had deep interests in the outcome of elections around the world.
But 2016 presented a unique window.
Motivated by years of sanctions and decades of post-Soviet setbacks, the Russians were keen to pounce; the race for the White House, plagued by party infighting and scandal, was easy bait.
Putin “was seriously impacted by the sanctions because it targeted his closest friends and now they think Trump is going to change that,” said Robert Amsterdam, an international attorney with Russian clients.
US intelligence agencies said in October they are confident that the Russian government hacked the e-mails of US citizens and institutions, including political organizations, and handed them over to DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks for distribution.
Hacked Democratic National Committee emails in July, indicating that DNC leaders were favoring Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries, prompted the resignation of chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“Weaponizing information is really about who gets to write the truth, who gets to write the narrative and who benefits from that narrative — and that is incredibly powerful,” said Laura Galante, director of intelligence analysis at cybersecurity firm FireEye, Inc.
Russia has sought to put itself on an equal footing with the US since the collapse of the Soviet Union, extending its territory where it can, countering US military action and positioning itself as a rival to the world’s biggest economy.