During a New York Times interview. presidential nominee (ugh) Donald Trump suggested that he would consider holding back military aid to the Baltic states in the event of a Russian invasion. Stating that he would only help “if they fulfill their obligations to us”. The remark drew in intense criticism from all sides, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, John Kerry, Mitch McConnell, John Kasich and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Trump doubled down this remarks during his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, implying that all allies, not just the Baltics, would be subject to the same reservations.
I doubt Putin is planning on attacking the Baltics. As it stands now he is completely outgunned and outnumbered by the NATO alliance by a factor of more than five to one. That said, a Trump presidency would certainly help Putin change that reality.
Trump’s views represent the essence of Putin’s NATO strategy on the diplomatic front. Putin has a history of supporting Kremlin friendly candidates both financially and using his state controlled propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik.
In Trump’s case, there is evidence that Putin is now actively supporting him. The trove of DNC emails released by WikiLeaks (now actively supported by the Kremlin) were obtained by Russian agents who breached the DNC’s network in June.
Putin’s favored candidates are usually far right nativists and isolationists like Farage, Trump and LePen. The reason for this is simple: Putin wants leaders who are ideologically or politically inclined against globalism and European institutions like NATO and the EU. With leaders like this, he can begin to break up these institutions from within, sowing doubt and crisis. While Putin cannot tear NATO apart by rolling tanks into Estonia, he can destroy them from within with extremists like Trump.
A Trump presidency world helping Putin in his goal of dividing and conquering Europe. A NATO fragmented by Trump’s isolationism would allow Putin to deal with each state individually, rather than as a block. He could then use coercion and intimidate to bring some of them back into Russia’s sphere of influence. Russia could also begin to reassert it’s soft influence across Europe, allowing it turn the smaller and relatively weaker European nations into full client states.
Trump’s case in particular is especially frightening. Putin sees a leader he can not only exploit but control. A small man who is vulnerable both because of his lack of intellectual substance, authoritarian tendencies and heavy financial ties and reliance on the Russian state and it’s Oligarchs. Combine this with his enormous ego and Trump is someone an ex-KGB agent like Putin could play like a balalaika.
The results of a Trump presidency then, would be catastrophic, sending Europe back to a pre-war configuration where countries are not bound together by alliances , but again compete against each other in the same powder keg that started both World Wars. In the chaos, Russia would reassert itself, fighting not just over Ukraine or Belarus, but over nations like Poland and Romania as well.
Such an outcome would also be disastrous for homeland security and American interests. While America is the world’s leading military power, it is incapable of maintaining it’s global standing without strong alliances with other powers. The collapse of the postwar order would open the floodgates of war as nations, now unrestricted by postwar institutions, would be free to settle their disputes by force, leaving an isolated America increasingly poorer and less powerful as it’s global mastery of trade is threatened and it’s alliances disintegrate.
Imagine an America where markets for goods and services are restricted and a Europe where nations again engage in complex alliance systems that set the continent up for another great war. This is what Europe would look like without American security guarantees, and without America’s domination of global trade. This is the world Trump would create.
Right now, Trump is a bigger threat to European security and American power than the Armata tank and the Tu-160 bomber. NATO’s strength lies in it’s ability to assure it’s adversaries that it will respond collectively to any provocation. A Trump presidency would put that guarantee into doubt, opening up a path for Putin to tear apart the alliance. Trump then, is truly the Kremlin candidate, a vehicle for Putin’s political goals driving straight into the heart of the alliance.