Why Would Putin Favor Trump Over Bernie Sanders?

Last week, the New York Times and Washington Post reported breathlessly that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia is attempting to interfere in the 2020 elections in favor of Donald Trump. Trump, of course, exacerbated the story by behaving like a guilty child with something to hide. But that’s not what’s weird here. What’s weird is that Vladimir Putin would think he’ll be better off with Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders. (The Post did follow with a piece the next day asserting Sanders has been briefed about Russian efforts to help him too.)

Despite the whole Russia collusion narrative and the president’s cringeworthy affection for Vladimir Putin, the truth is that team Trump has been harder on Russia than any administration since the end of the Cold War. Russia has been repeatedly sanctioned for everything from its invasion of Ukraine to human rights violations to chemical weapons use and its Nord Stream 2 gas project. Trump authorized lethal weapons transfers to Ukraine, reversing Obama administration policy. He supported the forward deployment of NATO forces to the Baltics, a major plus up and another reversal of Obama. He expelled dozens of Russian diplomats because of Moscow’s attempted assassination of Russian defectors in the U.K. And all that doesn’t include covert action taken against Russia for interference in the 2018 Congressional elections.

Individuals, companies, and Russian officials have been designated for sanctions. Take a look here if you don’t believe it. The list is long, it is broad, and while some of the designations have been under binding legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, some have been under executive order (EO). In the case of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and his aluminum company Rusal, the administration inadvertently upended the entire global aluminum market in a spontaneous effort to punish a pal of Vladimir Putin. And just so everyone understands this clearly: There are myriad ways to avoid imposing even mandatory sanctions (see Iran and Clinton, Bill), and EOs are as easily shredded as State of the Union speeches by any president who chooses to do so. 

And then there’s Bernie Sanders. His record is long; once upon a time he would have been labeled a fellow traveler, a sympathizer of the Soviet Union and communism. It’s not just the well-known and inexplicable choice to celebrate his honeymoon in the USSR. “Let’s take the strengths of both systems,” he intoned on his return from touring the collapsing Soviet state in 1988. “Let’s learn from each other.” Or his well-publicized affection for Communist-backed tyrants in Central America, an affection that persisted well past the Reagan era. 

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