Trump is already helping Putin consolidate control of Ukraine

In short, the rhetoric in the U.S. election campaign—especially Trump’s—is already altering policy in the region, hardening Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine and at the same time frustrating and confusing the Ukrainians who want to stand up to Putin. This is partly because the U.S. campaign is happening against the backdrop of rising tensions between Kiev and Moscow. Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko put his army on combat alert after Putin accused him of sending “saboteurs” into Crimea. State television showed footage of the Russians capturing the suspects under a full moon. Russian intelligence claimed that the Ukrainian military had killed a Russian officer and soldier. Kiev called the allegation “a fantasy.”…

Many Ukrainians, torn by their own political scandals and conflicts, say they’re shaken by the level of discourse in the United States, whose democracy many Ukrainian revolutionaries once saw as their compass. The GOP nominee’s laissez-faire attitude toward Ukraine’s future is a particular contrast to the two previous Republican standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and John McCain, both of whom made strident statements in support of Ukraine’s independence and opposed Putin’s aggression. “Trump’s contradictory decisions and the illogical views of some of his supporters resemble a mirror of Russia,” Natalia Gumenyuk, head of a Ukrainian TV channel called Hromadske, told me. She added that the GOP candidate reminds her of the self-exiled former Ukrainian president and Putin puppet, Viktor Yanukovych, who, like Trump, often made incoherent speeches.

In Russia, meanwhile, everything is reported through a pro-Trump lens. On Aug. 14, State Channel One broadcast video footage of burned remains of Syrian children in Aleppo province, saying they’d been killed by U.S. forces (though Russian planes have been flying in the region as well), then segued directly to the U.S. election and Hillary Clinton’s supposed violation of democratic principles as revealed in the leaked DNC emails. The show aired part of a CNN interview with Clinton in which she asserts that Russian intelligence and the Russian government were behind the leak. “Here we go, they primarily like to say ‘we know,’” the Russian presenter said sarcastically. She then added that “the scandal around the fraud of Democrat emails increased popularity for Donald Trump, who promised to improve the relations with Russia.”