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Russia Wants Trump Reelected, and May Be Making a Bet That Bernie Sanders Can't Defeat Him (They're Wrong)

Many Russian politicians and pundits are convinced that Sanders cannot win. They are wrong in this glib conclusion.

President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the White House on August 17, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Julia Arciga at The Daily Beast writes that the Bernie Sanders campaign is convinced that notorious far right wing internet troll Richard Grenell, whom Trump wants to make acting Director of National Intelligence, is the source of the leak that Russia is backing the Sanders campaign.

At the same time, Trump lashed out because a government official briefed the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is making efforts to reelect Trump. Trump seems to have fired his acting Director of National Intelligence and installed Grenell over the House briefing.

Sanders had been briefed on the allegation, which is vague and was classified, and so he was not at liberty to disclose it.

It seems to me fairly obvious that Russian president Vladimir Putin desperately wants Trump reelected, as US intelligence concluded. At Helsinki, Putin freely admitted his support for Trump.

Indeed, that desire is almost certainly the reason that Moscow might be trying to help the Sanders campaign, if it is. Many Russian politicians and pundits are convinced that Sanders cannot win.

They are wrong in this glib conclusion. They don’t understand how much Trump is hated, including by white women who are usually a Republican bedrock. They don’t understand Bernie Sanders’ appeal to the white working class in the Rust Belt and to Hispanics in Texas and California.

Russian geopolitical analysis is often a mess, frequently consisting of half-cocked conspiracy theories and poorly grounded conjectures.

Moreover, judging from what we know of Russia’s behavior in 2016, Moscow mainly just wants US society to be polarized and for Americans to fight one another over race and religion rather than to be united. They hope a divided US will be less formidable in interfering with Russian goals like reassertion in the Middle East and Ukraine. That is, Putin doesn’t care so much who is president but wants the US weak.

This is clear from the activities of the GRU hacker Guccifer 2.0 in 2016. GRU is Russian military intelligence.

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That any Russian tilt toward Sanders comes from Moscow’s profound desire for a Trump second term and a conviction that Sanders can’t win is clear from a cursory consideration of the Russian press.

BBC Monitoring reports that:

On 1 August, Igor Dunayevsky at the Rossiyskaya Gazeta discussed the debate performance of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren under the heading of “US-Style Utopia.”

On Feb. 5, RBC: Evgeny Pudovkin alleged at RosBiznesConsulting (RBC) that Sanders is a candidate of the youth, who want genuine change, but he saw Biden as the Establishment candidate.

On Feb 12, in the wake of the Senate’s refusal to impeach Trump and the chaos surrounding the Iowa Caucuses, the panel discussions at Bolshaya Igra and Rossiya 1 concluded that these two events showed that Trump is without doubt headed for a second term.

BBC Monitoring says, “On Bolshaya Igra, co-host Dmitry Simes and pro-Kremlin guest Andranik Migranyan appeared optimistic that this could result in US policy towards Russia changing for the better, arguing that upon his re-election, Trump will have a freer hand to pursue what the pair saw as his longstanding desire for rapprochement with Russia.”

Two other panelists demurred on the grounds that despite Trump’s obvious respect for Putin, the Washington Establishment will continue its anti-Russian vendetta, and Trump does not seem to care much about Russian issues one way or another. They all agree that the US is in decline as a global power, and that it is likely to lose out to China and Russia together in a strategic relationship.

On Feb. 13, on Bernie Sanders’ triumph in the New Hampshire primary, Alexei Nevelsky wrote in Vedomosti that for Sanders to have done so well increased the likelihood that Trump will be reelected.

Julia Davis at The Daily Beast comes to a similar conclusion.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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