Much has been written about Trump’s views of Putin and Russia. Even more has been written about Russian operatives, either directly or indirectly, hacking the emails of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, and releasing them to Wikileaks for public consumption.
It is illegal, of course, to steal digital communications. But Russia’s behavior is consistent with an overarching Putin strategy to engage in cyber wars as the preferred alternative to a conventional war. Using the Internet is cheaper and far less messy than actually bombing people and things, especially if your principal enemy is the U.S.A.
Zach Beauchamp, writing for Vox:
…Russian strategic leaders came to see the internal politics of other countries as a key battlefield.
Fisher points to a 2013 article, by Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, as key evidence of this new Russian thinking. Gerasimov argued that “non-military means” had eclipsed weapons in their strategic importance. Controlling the information and propaganda environment can inflict serious blows on one’s enemies.
“The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness,” Gerasimov writes. He advocates using “military means of a concealed character,” including “actions of informational conflict” in order to accomplish Russian strategic objectives.
Beauchamp rightly concludes that Putin would prefer Trump to Clinton. The biggest reason concerns NATO, which would essentially unravel should Trump occupy the Oval Office.
If Trump put his ideas into practice and actually renounced commitments that didn’t do what he wanted, it would destroy NATO. The alliance depends entirely on an ironclad guarantee on behalf of all allies to defend any one of them — that is literally what it does. If the US won’t do that, then NATO is effectively dead.
This is music to Putin’s ears. He sees the NATO alliance (correctly!) as a major bulwark against Russian expansionism in Eastern Europe, and would be thrilled if it fractured. That would make it far easier to install friendly dictators in small nearby countries, like Estonia, or even annex them entirely.