February 15, 2024 - 4:15pm

Having reportedly ordered an extensive influence campaign aimed at securing Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election, it appears that Vladimir Putin may have suffered a degree of buyer’s remorse afterwards. Speaking yesterday to Russian state television, Putin said that his government would “work with any US leader who wins the trust of the American people” but, if forced to choose between Trump and Joe Biden, he would favour the current President for being “more experienced, predictable, an old-school politician”. 

Any expression of support from Putin for Biden seems, at first glance, highly surprising. Not only has Biden publicly labelled Russia’s leader “a murderous dictator” and “a pure thug”, but he has also sent vast quantities of aid to Ukraine to fulfil his pledge of supporting Kyiv for  “as long as it takes”.    

By contrast, Putin has been known to sing Trump’s praises, describing him as “outstanding” and “talented”. What’s more, the Republican frontrunner is the candidate more likely to help Putin achieve his revanchist ambitions — on Saturday, Trump made his now-infamous comments that he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to any “delinquent” Nato members who were not meeting defence spending targets. 

Those remarks drew swift condemnation from both Democrats and Republicans, with White House spokesman Andrew Bates castigating them as “appalling and unhinged”, while Trump’s rival for the Republican nomination Nikki Haley told him not to “take the side of a thug who kills his opponents”. Several critics painted Trump as pliantly in thrall to a foreign leader — Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff slammed Trump for being “more interested in […] pleasing Putin than protecting our allies” and, just one day before Putin’s endorsement, Biden accused Trump of having “bowed down to a Russian dictator”. 

Putin’s support for Biden, therefore, has in fact proven a boon to Trump in the current political climate, helping him fend off accusations of being weak on Russia and instead portray himself as the strongman candidate Putin truly fears. Yesterday, addressing a South Carolina rally, Trump eagerly seized upon the Russian President’s comments, saying they constituted “a compliment” and “a good thing”. Further asserting his hardline credentials, he claimed that his sanctions on Nord Stream 2 mean Putin is “not a fan”, whereas a Biden re-election would constitute the Russian leader being “given everything he wants, including Ukraine. That’s a gift.”

Despite this newfound avowed toughness on Russia, Putin will not have forgotten that Trump suggested letting Russia “take over” parts of Ukraine in a negotiated deal to end the war and boasted that he could, if re-elected, end the conflict within 24 hours. More recently, Trump has pressed Republicans to thwart the foreign aid package which would give Kyiv an additional $60.1 billion. This week, he was condemning US foreign aid as “stupid” and admitting that he and Putin get along. 

Biden may be more experienced and predictable, but Putin knows Trump is his best hope of US aid to Ukraine being cut off. His claim to favour Biden serves purely to help Trump portray himself as a hawk who is tough on the Russian President rather than in his pocket. Don’t be fooled by his latest comments: Putin is doing all he can to get Trump back in the White House.