David Remnick writes: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Donald J. Trump are locked in a humid political embrace, which seems, at first glance, unlikely. Putin grew up in postwar Leningrad. In the dismal courtyard of his building on Baskov Lane, a hangout for local thugs and drunks, he and his childhood friends pursued their favorite pastime: chasing rats with sticks. His father, a wounded veteran, beat him with a belt. Putin’s way up, his dream, was to volunteer for the K.G.B. Donald Trump encountered few rats on his lawn in Jamaica Estates. Soft, surly, and academically uninterested, Donald was disruptive in class — so much so that his father, a real-estate tycoon of the outer boroughs, shipped him off to military school when he was thirteen. He did not set out to serve his country; he set out to multiply his father’s fortune. “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same,” Trump has said. “The temperament is not that different.”
Decades later, Trump has praised Putin as a forceful leader, a “better leader” than Barack Obama; Putin hardly conceals his hope that Trump will win election to the White House. What would be more advantageous for Putin than to see the United States elect an incompetent leader who just so happens to be content to leave the Russian regime to its own devices, particularly in Europe? Even as non-Democrats have variously described their own nominee as a “con,” a “bully,” and a “borderline” 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Putin has acted as a surrogate from afar, dropping clear hints at his preference, slyly declaring Trump “bright” and “talented without doubt.”
The Times has reported that hackers who broke into the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail trove — a cyber version of the Watergate burglary — were likely agents of the Russian Federation. We shall see if that suspicion holds up. But what’s undisputed is that the gathering of kompromat — compromising material — is a familiar tactic in Putin’s arsenal. For years, the Russian intelligence services have filmed political enemies in stages of sexual and/or narcotic indulgence, and have distributed the grainy images online. Last April, state TV broadcast a black-and-white film of Mikhail Kasyanov, Putin’s former Prime Minister but now a potential opposition leader, exchanging carnal favors and playing “Name That Tune” with his political assistant, Natalya.
Even if the Russian government is not responsible for the hack on the D.N.C., Putin’s affinity for Trump is clear. Some part of it may be a matter of kindred temperament. Just as Trump talks ominously about Mexican “rapists” and tens of thousands of “illegal immigrants … roaming free” in the land, Putin won early popularity by vowing to dispense with terrorists from the Caucasus: “We will ice them in their shithouses.” Trump is, after all, a kind of parody of Putin: the bluster, the palaces. As the historian Timothy Snyder puts it, “Putin is the real world version of the person Trump pretends to be on television.” [Continue reading…]