Mikhail Zygar writes: The year 2005 was a turning point in Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy and worldview. Until then, he’d had the sense that he was in control on the world stage, that he knew the rules of the game, that he understood whom he was dealing with and who his partners were. But in 2005, everything changed, and slowly the ground started moving out from under his feet.
That was the year Putin’s friend and partner Gerhard Schroeder lost the German elections and resigned as chancellor. Schroeder and Putin, who spoke German after serving in the KGB in East Germany, understood each other well and established close diplomatic and personal ties. But in 2005, Schroeder was replaced by Angela Merkel, whom Putin didn’t understand — and doesn’t understand to this day. In the intervening 12 years, he started suspecting Merkel of deceiving him, spinning intrigues and weaving conspiracies against him. He showed his distrust by bringing his dog to meetings with Merkel, knowing full well that she had an intense fear of canines.
Now, Putin seems to be experiencing déjà vu: In the upcoming U.S. election, the battle is, once again, between a Gerhard Schroeder and an Angela Merkel—but with the differences and the stakes hugely amplified. The American Merkel is even more unpleasant to Putin. Hillary Clinton is already inclined to dislike him and Russia from her experience as secretary of state. Their personal interactions have not been positive; there is no love lost between the two. And then you have the American Schroeder, who seems to be an even better fit for Putin than the German one, and better even than Putin’s favorite international partner, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Donald Trump, in the Kremlin’s view, is extremely pragmatic, extremely unprincipled and extremely cynical — which makes him easier to reach an understanding with. Not to mention that Trump, unlike Clinton and just about the entire rest of the Washington foreign policy class, has explicitly expressed admiration and sympathy for Putin.
This is the kind of relationship with a US president the Kremlin has dreamed about, and has been unable to attain, for years. [Continue reading…]