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  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is manipulating Donald Trump to further Russian influence in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. (Photo: Getty)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is manipulating Donald Trump to further Russian influence in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. (Photo: Getty)

    Vladimir Putin played a dangerous game when he interfered in the U.S. election to elect Donald Trump as president. The move brought into the open what our European allies have been warning us about: Russia’s campaign to undermine and ultimately destabilize the West.

    The campaign is taking modern asymmetrical warfare to a new and dangerous level, melding politics, diplomacy, militarism, cyber-warfare and disinformation into a coordinated assault on democracy.

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) rightly called it an “act of war.”

    Putin’s strategic goals are nothing less than the goals of 19th century Imperial Russian Tsars. They strove to make Russia an economic power, secure its national borders and expand its influence across Western Europe.

    As Napoleon and Hitler proved, however, the wide open plains leading to Moscow are ideal for invasions. Stalin created the Eastern Bloc following World War II, specifically to prevent the next war from being fought on Russian soil.

    But the collapse of the Soviet Union removed that buffer and opened the door to NATO encroachment into Eastern Europe. Now Putin is facing the same vulnerability as Peter the Great, which is defining his long-term strategic goals.

    He wants to re-establish Russian hegemony, if not outright domination, over the old Eastern bloc for security and economic reasons.

    At the moment, however, his options are limited.

    Russia is economically weak and faces hostile nations on its borders, backed by Western Europe and the United States, both of which are militarily and economically superior.

    If Putin ever hopes to achieve his goals, his first step must be to destabilized and crack the Western alliance. So far, he’s found willing accomplices in nationalist political parties. He’s trying to use them as “cat’s paws” to obtain his larger strategic objectives.

    But what does Putin see in Trump and how does it play into Russia’s hands?

    Instead of kicking over individual pillars of the Western Alliance, represented by European states, Putin can pull down the whole house if he has the United States in his pocket.

    He knows Trump has no moral or political center and has little understanding of history. That makes him an easy target for manipulation. Trump, in that sense, is the perfect “useful idiot.”

    Russia went to great lengths at considerable risk to undermine the U.S. election. In the process, it awakened a sleeping giant that is just now beginning to grasp the significance of what’s going on both here and in Europe.

    The risk will be worth it, however, if the propaganda line Russia is pushing becomes the official U.S. narrative once Trump takes office. So far, Trump is playing his part to a tee.

    Over the holiday, Trump, again, played down Russian interference in the election, despite a joint report released last week by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security directly blaming Russian intelligence services.

    The same narrative was echoed today (Jan. 2) by his White House spokesman.

    “The way the mainstream media is playing this up is that they had an influence in the election,” said Sean Spicer on Fox News. “There is zero evidence they actually influenced the election.”

    Putin may already have accomplished his second objective, convincing Trump that U.S. and Russian interests are aligned. He’s simply appealing to Trump’s baser instincts.

    Trump doesn’t see the world in strategic or historical terms, he sees it in economic terms. In the 1700s, that outlook was known as “Mercantilism.” Wars for profit, under the Mercantilist banner, became the foundation of colonialism.

    A clear indication of Trump’s world view was expressed by his puzzlement over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq without seizing its oil and exploiting it for economic gain.

    Putin knows that Trump will pursue economic interests over strategic or political interests to burnish his reputation as the “businessman” president. That explains Trump’s negative view of NATO nations, which he sees as welshers living off Uncle Sam’s dime.

    Russia, on the other hand, is rich in natural resources, the kind that make men, and nations, rich. Mention fossil fuels and Trump becomes animated.

    If Russia has the resources and the United States has the means (read capital) to exploit them (read ExxonMobil), then Trump needs no convincing about aligned interests.

    So Putin may have already put his cards on the table: Lift U.S. economic sanctions once in office and forget about this hacking nonsense. Then, Russia will grant U.S. corporations lucrative concessions to develop Russian and Syrian natural resources.

    The deal will come with one caveat: The United States must pledge to say out of Russian “affairs” in the neighboring Balkans and Ukraine. Since the United States has little or no economic interest in those regions, he’s counting on Trump to gladly oblige.

    The agreement will be historic, on the scale of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. That deal also set aside political differences in the name of mutually beneficial economic interests, paving the way for the joint invasion of Poland and World War II.

    That was a pact made in hell. This one may take us there again.