The term “useful idiot” (полезные дураки) is attributed to Lenin, meant describe westerners who, through naivety or stupidity, advance soviet national interest and contribute to their own downfall, unintentionally acting as soviet agents[i]. Trump is Putin’s useful idiot. From supporting Brexit to denying Putin’s role in assassinations, Trump embodies the perfect American presidential candidate for the Kremlin.

Evidence in recent events, including the hacking of the DNC and connections to Wikileaks, suggest that Russia is actively supporting Trump’s candidacy through covert intelligence means[ii]. While this does not mean that Trump is an active Russian agent, it does show that without his direction, the Kremlin believes that he can unknowingly advance a brighter future for Russian interests. Even if these covert actions cannot be attributed to the Kremlin, overt actions in Putin’s support of Trump, such as repeated praises of Trump by Putin and other Russian leaders, are equally telling. Trump’s platform benefits them, rather accidentally or not.

Putin’s effort to undermine western institutions through candidates like Trump is not a recent development. Putin has a history of boosting right-wing populists in the West, including Marine Le Pen in France and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy[iii]. These candidates profited from Russian relations and fought against the European Union and NATO. Trump has stated that, if president, he would not necessarily come to the aid of NATO states threatened by Russia[iv]. Additionally, he has celebrated Britain’s exit from the EU and openly denounced western institutions on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, he has applauded Putin for “rebuilding Russia.[v]

There is a clear potential for pro-Russia business policies stemming from Trump’s presidency. Trump has a history of appeasing Russian leaders to advance his interests, as seen through his multiple attempts to do business in Russia[vi]. Even after the failure of all five of his attempts at various projects, Trump continued to be invited to Russia by government officials and businesses for potential deals, seeing Trump as a super premium to Russian markets[vii]. Trump has repeated stated that “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.[viii]” Not surprisingly, his praises of Putin have been correlated to infusions of Russian capital into his real estate projects.

Furthermore, the Trump campaign staff is rife with aides with a history of financial ties to Russia. In fact, Trump’s platform towards Ukraine changed after he hired Manafort, who has worked for Ukraine’s deposed pro-Russian president, and received council from Henry Kissinger[ix]. Trump has now stated that he would support recognizing Crimea as a Russian territory and lifting sanctions against Russia. His forgiving nature towards Putin’s aggression would allow the Russian government and businesses to thrive while undermining the work of the UN, NATO, and EU.

Trump’s presidency has the capability to allow authoritarianism to increase in Russia and post-soviet space. Turning a blind eye to or completely denying Putin’s role in the assassination of political opponents and journalists exemplifies this threat. Journalists, political opponents, and human-rights activists in Russia have repeatedly faced difficultly in investigating the murders of their peers, such as Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko[x]. Despite the powerful evidence of Putin’s role in the assassinations, not only did Trump attest that Putin was not responsible for the murders, he added that, in terms of leadership ability, Putin’s ability to rise out of opposition was commendable[xi]. The growth of Putin’s authoritarianism is not a problem in Donald Trump’s eyes. This would allow Putin to continue to divide civil society and control post-soviet space without being checked by the United States.

Putin and Trump’s authoritarian styles promote a common interest: Putin’s interest. Their shared ideology promotes Russian national goals while dividing American civil society. Trump’s bully persona, which many see as a check to Putin’s power, only serves Putin’s goals. As a useful idiot, Trump’s rise to power advances the geopolitical ambitions of Russia while undermining those of western institutions. Rather or not Trump’s decisions will positively impact US foreign policy is unclear; however, the benefit they have on Russian interests in unmistakable.

[i] Hennessey, Susan, and Benjamin Wittes. “Is Trump a Russian Agent? A Legal Analysis.” Lawfare. N.p., 27 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[ii] Hennessey, Susan, and Benjamin Wittes. “Is Trump a Russian Agent? A Legal Analysis.” Lawfare. N.p., 27 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[iii] Foer, Franklin. “Vladimir Putin Has a Plan for Destroying the West—and It Looks a Lot Like Donald Trump.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 21 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[iv] Foer, Franklin. “The Real Winner of the RNC: Vladimir Putin.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 21 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[v] Foer, Franklin. “Vladimir Putin Has a Plan for Destroying the West—and It Looks a Lot Like Donald Trump.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 21 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[vi] Hennessey, Susan, and Benjamin Wittes. “Is Trump a Russian Agent? A Legal Analysis.” Lawfare. N.p., 27 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[vii] Foer, Franklin. “Vladimir Putin Has a Plan for Destroying the West—and It Looks a Lot Like Donald Trump.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 21 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[viii] Kessler, Glenn. “Trump’s Claim That ‘I Have Nothing to Do with Russia’.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 27 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[ix] Crowley, Michael. “Trump Changed Views on Ukraine after Hiring Manafort.” POLITICO. N.p., 03 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.

[x] Satter, David. “Who Is Murdering Russian Journalists?” National Review. N.p., 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 3 Aug. 2016.

[xi] Foer, Franklin. “Vladimir Putin Has a Plan for Destroying the West—and It Looks a Lot Like Donald Trump.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 21 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016.