For his part, though, during the summit Putin will certainly lean on the knowledge built up in his own intelligence services from years of studying Trump and the U.S. political landscape. He will fawn on Trump and play to his ignorance. He can easily appeal to Trump’s predilection to save money, antagonize allies, and disconnect from NATO obligations. Along with Putin’s tiresome history lessons on Russian victimhood and recitation of grievances against the West, we can expect commentary such as: “NATO has nothing to fear from Russia, so why are you wasting money on that Cold War relic?” “Just like in Korea, your constant war games are a useless and expensive provocation.” “Let us handle Syria. It’s just a waste of U.S. money to support people who are terrorists.” “As a savvy businessman, you know that sanctions are hurting the West more than they hurt us. Think how many jobs we could create if only we could reinvigorate our commercial ties.” He will probably blame poor relations on Barack Obama.
It’s almost too easy for Putin. It does not take a trained intelligence officer to exploit Trump’s ego and ignorance. Trump’s vulnerabilities are on frequent public display. He is quick to anger, unable to control his impulses, loyal to no one, easy to flatter, easily influenced but loath to accept advice, a serial bluffer, and fully transparent about his vanity and congenital need for approbation.
This is not a meeting of equals but a summit between a con-man and a man who is easily conned. One orders his opponents killed; the other tweets at his.
Indeed, Putin has the survival instincts of a mobster, and the subversive skills built up from a career in the KGB. He knows how to play a weaker hand to his best advantage. Domestically, he has destroyed Russian independent media, as well as judicial and economic institutions that might have constituted a threat to his personal power. In the process he has made himself one of the richest men in the world and coopted his country’s elite by including them in the spoils. Those who have threatened this arrangement can find themselves dead. On the international stage, Russia does little to facilitate the smooth diplomatic and commercial interaction between states and is instead satisfied to seek attention through subversion and bullying. For Putin, “win-win” means “I beat you twice.”
For the intelligence collector, the worry is that the more Trump denigrates Western values and displays a sense of personal dishonesty, the less the U.S. looks like the better option. Why risk your life to provide information to a U.S. president who doesn’t understand the stakes and doesn’t respect the work of his security professionals?