Moscow (CNN)It’s a familiar plot line: Top intelligence officials deliver a warning to lawmakers that Russia wants to interfere in the upcoming presidential election — and that the Kremlin’s preferred outcome is a win by President Donald Trump.
But Russiagate 2 may not be a straightforward sequel for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Why would Putin want to put his finger on the scales of American democracy again? For starters, it’s not clear that the Trump presidency has been a consistent foreign-policy win for Russia.
The Trump administration delivered lethal aid to Ukraine, which is locked in a proxy war with Russian-backed separatists. Washington is at odds with Moscow in a range of foreign-policy crises, from the conflict in Syria to political turmoil in Venezuela. And Trump withdrew the US from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a move that drew condemnation from the Kremlin.
Russia continues to bear the costs of confronting Washington. The Treasury Department under Trump has continued to aggressively sanction Russia for its election meddling in 2016 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014. And the US joined with its allies in booting out dozens of Russian diplomats in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom.
It’s worth remembering two things, however. In 2016, Russia had to contend with the prospect that Hillary Clinton would win the White House, not Donald Trump — something of major concern for the Kremlin. And regardless of how frosty relations between Moscow and Washington may be, Trump still appears to have a warm spot in his heart for Putin.
Putin’s animus toward Clinton was a matter of public record. In 2011, then-Prime Minister Putin blamed the United States — and then-Secretary of State Clinton — for stirring up anti-government protests that followed allegations of widespread fraud in parliamentary elections.
Clinton’s general hawkishness on Russia also riled the Kremlin. Candidate Trump, by contrast, was an open admirer of Putin, even publicly expressing the hope on Twitter that the Kremlin leader would become his “new best friend.”
That pattern has not changed during Trump’s presidency.