Russia-born journalist Julia Ioffe has covered both President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and when it comes to the developing situation between the two countries, she said, “I’m very scared."
In a conversation with The Global Politico podcast, Ioffe explained her fear “is because… in the Cold War there were kind of protocols and rules developed and lines of communication, and there were just—the way things were done."
Today, however, there are merely two people: Trump and Putin, "who are both painted into a corner, strategically, both at home and geopolitically, who are very prideful. Both very kind of emotional knee-jerk decision makers, to an extent. And I worry that they’re both going to start clawing their way out of their respective corners and that that’s going to lead to a lot of collateral damage.”
Up against Putin, Trump will falter simply because he isn't a smart enough leader on the global stage.
“You know, this isn’t [Putin's] first rodeo, and this is not his first U.S. president, whereas Trump is still kind of getting his sea legs,” Ioffe explained. “And this is kind of the built-in advantage of an autocratic system, where Putin already knows how to do all this, and he’s kind of a better tactician, and kind of a better strategist. And I worry that in this showdown Putin’s going to outmaneuver Trump and the U.S.”
She further warned that a reason for concern is that Trump isn't the only ignoring the important threat. Indeed, all of Washington seems ignorant in the way the country is discussed, Ioffe said.
"I think it’s not just about pride of intellect and expertise; it’s about accurately diagnosing the problem and knowing what it is you’re dealing with, right? You don’t want to treat a broken leg with chemotherapy," she said. "And I think we have to understand that Russia is going to continue throwing sand in the gears, or weightier objects, and that they’re going to be a force that is constantly going to push back—often just to push back."
She brought up Trump's congratulatory message to Putin after his "election" and the invitation to the White House. She explained the nots that Trump was given on the call, which specifically told him not to congratulate Putin, in all capital letters.
"The talking points say, please scold him for the poisoning. He doesn’t scold him. In fact, he invites him to a White House visit—not just a visit. And the Russians are very ably playing off of this split," Ioffe told Politico. "You know, he’s basically given them a big opening to walk right into, and they’re very ably playing the administration off the president that heads it to their own advantage, because the Russians, like the Chinese, love protocol."
She explained that state visits are important to Russia because optics are critical for them and specifically to Putin.
He "wants to make Russia great again, who wants Russia to be seen as a peer to the U.S., and not as a junior partner in the relationship that is to be punished for things," Ioffe said. "What better image is there for him, after all of these diplomatic expulsions, after all of these sanctions, after—again—a poisoning on U.K. territory with a crazy nerve agent—that he gets a photo op with the president of the U.S., in the White House that the president of the U.S. invited him to? But there is nothing more legitimizing than that, for the Russians. They’re getting exactly what they want out of it."
Listen to the full interview at Politico Magazine.