The media narrative about President Donald #trump and Russia is that, at worse, Trump is a Manchurian candidate, under the thumb of #Putin, and at best much too chummy with the #Russian leader for America’s own good. However, the Washington Free Beacon recently ran an interview with one of Putin’s opposition leaders, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who suggests that Trump could be the catalyst that removes the Russian leader from power. In Khodorkovsky’s narrative, Putin is presiding over an increasingly unstable country, and it would be in the best interest of both Russia and America if he were retired to private life, the sooner, the better.
The scenario is a beguiling one, though it might also be wishful thinking. Because of Putin’s tendency to have his opposition killed, Khodorkovsky is obliged to live in London where he runs a think tank, Open Russia, which is pushing for democratic reform.
Nevertheless, Khodorkovsky’s alternate narrative about the recent American elections and Russia’s involvement in them is worthy of consideration. He suggests that the idea that Putin influenced the outcome of the presidential election is wide of the mark. Putin, Khodorkovsky suggests, was as surprised as everyone else at Trump’s victory. The Russian leader had been forming his America strategy on the idea that Hillary Clinton, for whom he has contempt, would be the American president. Trump is an unknown factor, and Putin views him with concern bordering on alarm.
Adding to that sense of concern is the fact that Trump has appointed a number of Russia hawks to his cabinet, including Matthis at Defense and McMasters as National Security Advisors. Trump may have had some praise for Putin as a leader and has suggested that an American-Russian alliance would benefit world peace. But he has also demonstrated that he is not unaware of Putin’s true nature as a ruthless tyrant who will advance Russia’s interests, as he understands it, first at all costs.
Putin is not likely to leave power easily or voluntarily. Nor is it clear that whoever follows will be for Democratic reform as Khodorkovsky believes. It is apparent that American=Russian relations are going to be more complicated in the Trump era than many believe.