Many in America's foreign policy and national security agencies have expressed alarm over the apparent bromance between Donald Trump. Many fear that either Putin is playing Trump for a fool - one hears constant concern over his ignorance in foreign affairs and disinclination to educate himself, always claiming to know everything. Now, a piece in Politico looks at parallels between the Trump-Putin relationship and that of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who ultimately left office amidst numerous scandals. As the piece noted, many believed that Berlusconi had personal financial benefit from his ties to Putin. With rumored Russian money propping up Trump's business empire, one needs to wonder whether Trump would sell out America and its allies to further enrich himself. Here are article excerpts:
In January 2009, the U.S. ambassador in Rome cabled Washington to raise an alarm. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the diplomat wrote, had cultivated a troubling relationship with the country’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
“Berlusconi admires Putin’s macho, decisive, and authoritarian governing style, which the Italian PM believes matches his own,” wrote the ambassador, Ronald P. Spogli. “From the Russian side, it appears that Putin has devoted much energy to developing Berlusconi’s trust.“
The ambassador noted with concern that the brash Italian billionaire, who was driven from office by scandal in 2011, was openly challenging U.S. policy toward Russia and echoing Putin’s views on issues from NATO expansion to Kosovo to missile defense.
And he shared reports from opposition party contacts of a more “nefarious” factor: talk that “Berlusconi and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely” from business ties to Russia.
Seven years after that cable, disclosed by WikiLeaks, the Berlusconi-Putin bromance has acquired a new resonance, as foreign policy analysts and even some U.S. officials see unsettling echoes in the recent long-distance kinship between the Russian leader and Donald J. Trump.
It may even suggest that Putin is applying a specific method to the GOP nominee. In recent years Putin has befriended several major Western European politicians, including former leaders of France and Germany, who openly challenge U.S. and European policies toward Russia, including NATO’s buildup in Eastern Europe and economic sanctions punishing Putin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
But Trump is most frequently compared to the 79-year-old Berlusconi. Both men are wealthy populists known for their expensive tastes, outrageous rhetoric, relationships with women and all-around showmanship. Like Berlusconi, Trump has demonstrated an unusual affinity for Putin — along with notable dissent from confrontational U.S. and Western European policies toward Russia.
To some, however, it hints at something more.
“The parallels with Trump are a little too disturbing,” says a U.S. government analyst who closely tracked Russia’s relationship with Europe when Berlusconi was in office. “Putin is very strategic. He would focus on people’s vulnerabilities — whether their vanity or greed or financial needs.”
That view echoes the analysis of former deputy CIA director Michael Morell, who recently wrote in The New York Times that Putin, drawing from his background as an intelligence officer, had made a “calculated” overture to Trump early in the presidential campaign, “playing upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him,” and turning Trump into an “unwitting agent” of Russia.
Though Trump, in recent interviews, has downplayed his affinity for Putin, the Republican nominee has also taken several policy positions that echo the Kremlin line. He has questioned the relevance of the 67-year-old NATO alliance, called for U.S.-Russian cooperation against the Islamic State, and questioned U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Moscow after Putin’s forcible March 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Trump’s relationship with Putin — whom Trump says he’s never even met — remains embryonic compared to the extraordinary kinship between the Russian leader and his Italian chum.
As the January 2009 cable noted, the officials also suspected that illicit money might be fueling the friendship. One October 2008 U.S. cable from Rome noted that “many (including his own party officials) suspect [Berlusconi] has a personally and financially enriching relationship” with Putin’s oligarch allies.
In recent weeks, allies of Hillary Clinton have fanned rumors and speculative press reports suggesting that Russian investments in Trump business ventures have influenced his views. Trump and his son Donald Jr. have made numerous trips to Russia exploring business deals there, and in 2008 Donald Jr. told an audience that Russian money makes up a “disproportionate share” of the family company’s assets. Trump has denied having financial ties to Russia, though his refusal to release his tax returns makes that impossible to verify.