Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House
by Luke Harding (Guardian / Faber. £14.99)
It’s no secret that Vladimir Putin supported Donald Trump in the recent presidential election. The two men are kindred spirits, white nationalists who dream of returning their countries to past greatness. They have cooperated, and more closely than is commonly realised, according to The Guardian’s former Moscow bureau chief Luke Harding.
It is not a relationship of equals. Harding describes Trump as being ‘weirdly deferential’ towards a vicious autocrat. Trump was reluctant to reinforce sanctions on Russia this year, as he had been reluctant earlier to condemn a massive Russian hacking operation which lead to the release of thousands of emails sent and received by Democratic officials. He surrounds himself with people who have Russian connections.
What explains Trump’s ‘strange fealty’ to Putin? Harding draws extensively on a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 operative who is now a highly-respected corporate consultant. Steele’s sources in Russian intelligence have told him that Trump’s activities during visits to Moscow have included ‘perverted sexual acts’ which the Russian secret service helped arrange and was of course careful to record.
Steele’s sources also say that Trump’s team co-operated with Russia on the hacking operation against Hillary Clinton, and that the American side secretly co-funded it.
As Harding notes, Steele is a methodical, cautious analyst who offers a wealth of detail in support of his claims. The author’s independent research bears them out.
He has established for instance that loans arranged by Russia helped Trump through the recession, tiding him over at a time when banks would not lend him money, for the good reason that he tended not to repay loans. His receipt of large amounts of Russian money may in fact go further towards explaining that ‘strange fealty’ than claims of perverted sexual acts in a Moscow hotel.
The author has also made the fascinating discovery that Trump’s plane has often been on the same tarmac, at the same time, as that of Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, a cats-paw of the Kremlin.
Trump’s association with Moscow goes back years. Since at least 2011 Russian intelligence has been secretly cultivating him as part of a wider strategy of sowing discord in the West.
More recently Putin has come out in support of Brexit and Catalan independence. He has also bankrolled the anti-Semitic far-right Front National in France.
Russia’s relationship with Trump serves another goal of the country’s foreign policy, which is the lifting or relaxation of the sanctions applied after Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.
The Russian economy is struggling under the weight of these sanctions. The day of widespread hunger and discontent has not come yet, but it may not be far off. Putin fears it and wishes to avert it with the help of his ally in the White House.
Harding is convincing. He presents solid evidence that President Trump is at best compromised, at worst a tool of Russian foreign policy. His story makes Watergate and Iran/Contra look like very minor affairs indeed.