10:31 Sep. 8, 2016
An American embedded within Moscow's top foreign-policy brain trust explains why Putin and his cadres are backing Trump
If Hillary Clinton is elected president, the world will remember Aug. 25 as the day she began the Second Cold War.
In a speech last month nominally about Donald Trump, Clinton called Russian President Vladimir Putin the godfather of right-wing, extreme nationalism. To Kremlin-watchers, those were not random epithets. Two years earlier, in the most famous address of his career, Putin accused the West of backing an armed seizure of power in Ukraine by "extremists, nationalists, and right-wingers." Clinton had not merely insulted Russia's president: She had done so in his own words.
Worse, they were words originally directed at neo-Nazis. In Moscow, this was seen as a reprise of Clinton's comments comparing Putin to Hitler. It injected an element of personal animus into an already strained relationship — but, more importantly, it set up Putin as the representative of an ideology that is fundamentally opposed to the United States.
Even as relations between Russia and the West have sunk to new lows in the wake of 2014's revolution in Ukraine, the Kremlin has long contended that a Cold War II is impossible. That's because, while there may be differences over, say, the fate of Donetsk, there is no longer a fundamental ideological struggle dividing East and West. To Russian ears, Clinton seemed determined in her speech to provide this missing ingredient for bipolar enmity, painting Moscow as the vanguard for racism, intolerance, and misogyny around the globe.