"... when he sees one."
David Remnick of the New Yorker writes about Trump and Putin: A Love Story. "The attraction is mutual, but history shows who’s really using whom. Trump sees strength and cynicism in Putin. Putin sees in Trump a grand opportunity."
Remnick's lengthy article provides a historical context for the Trump-Putin affair. I'm quoting the opening and ending snippets. But if you are a history buff, the middle contains lots of history of the breakup of the Soviet Union and how that, and other actions by the West, influenced Putin's world view.
"locked in a humid political embrace"
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Donald J. Trump are locked in a humid political embrace, which seems, at first glance, unlikely. Putin grew up in postwar Leningrad. In the dismal courtyard of his building on Baskov Lane, a hangout for local thugs and drunks, he and his childhood friends pursued their favorite pastime: chasing rats with sticks. His father, a wounded veteran, beat him with a belt. Putin’s way up, his dream, was to volunteer for the K.G.B. Donald Trump encountered few rats on his lawn in Jamaica Estates. Soft, surly, and academically uninterested, Donald was disruptive in class—so much so that his father, a real-estate tycoon of the outer boroughs, shipped him off to military school when he was thirteen. He did not set out to serve his country; he set out to multiply his father’s fortune. “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same,” Trump has said. “The temperament is not that different.”
Decades later, Trump has praised Putin as a forceful leader, a “better leader” than Barack Obama; Putin hardly conceals his hope that Trump will win election to the White House. What would be more advantageous for Putin than to see the United States elect an incompetent leader who just so happens to be content to leave the Russian regime to its own devices, particularly in Europe? Even as non-Democrats have variously described their own nominee as a “con,” a “bully,” and a “borderline” 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Putin has acted as a surrogate from afar, dropping clear hints at his preference, slyly declaring Trump “bright” and “talented without doubt.”
The Times has reported that hackers who broke into the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail trove—a cyber version of the Watergate burglary—were likely agents of the Russian Federation. We shall see if that suspicion holds up. But what’s undisputed is that the gathering of kompromat—compromising material—is a familiar tactic in Putin’s arsenal. For years, the Russian intelligence services have filmed political enemies in stages of sexual and/or narcotic indulgence, and have distributed the grainy images online. Last April, state TV broadcast a black-and-white film of Mikhail Kasyanov, Putin’s former Prime Minister but now a potential opposition leader, exchanging carnal favors and playing “Name That Tune” with his political assistant, Natalya.
Even if the Russian government is not responsible for the hack on the D.N.C., Putin’s affinity for Trump is clear. Some part of it may be a matter of kindred temperament. Just as Trump talks ominously about Mexican “rapists” and tens of thousands of “illegal immigrants … roaming free” in the land, Putin won early popularity by vowing to dispense with terrorists from the Caucasus: “We will ice them in their shithouses.” Trump is, after all, a kind of parody of Putin: the bluster, the palaces. As the historian Timothy Snyder puts it, “Putin is the real-world version of the person Trump pretends to be on television.”
The fellow-feeling between the two is complex, but it is not hard to see who gets the better of whom. Trump sees strength and cynicism in Putin and hopes to emulate him. Putin sees in Trump a grand opportunity. He sees in Trump weakness and ignorance, a confused mind. He has every hope of exploiting him.
[Snip] Lots of good history here about the fall of the Soviet Union and Putin's emergence from it.
Putin's benefit of "having the United States led by an unlettered narcissist"
In “Putin’s Puppet,” in Slate, Franklin Foer suggests, with the benefit of original reporting, that one reason for Trump’s attitude has to do with his business ambitions. Perhaps. He is also right when he dismisses the cartoonish notion that, somehow, Trump is a “Manchurian candidate.” But it is also quite clear that Putin has an interest in Trump’s success.
“Putin wants the United States to be taken up with its own problems, and forget about things like Ukraine and Crimea,” Sergei Parkhomenko, an activist and broadcaster for Echo of Moscow, told me. “It seems to him that, if the United States elects Trump, all of America will be taken up for at least a year trying to ‘digest’ him.
But there is a second reason,” Parkhomenko continued. “Putin is convinced that absolutely everything in this world is done for money. He is a religious fanatic and money is his god. With money, it is possible to solve any problem, buy any interlocutor. He bought the Olympic Games, he bought the World Cup. It will be easy to deal with Trump. He won’t need to use words in negotiations, only figures. When they don’t agree, it will only be necessary to find the right price.”
Vladimir Putin is a cunning and cynical reader of his adversaries. He notices that Trump does not know the difference between the Quds Force and the Kurds, or what the “nuclear triad” is; that his analysis of Brexit was based in part on what might be good for his golf courses in Britain; that his knowledge of world affairs is roughly that of someone who subscribes to a daily newspaper but doesn’t always have time to get to it. Overwhelmed with his own problems at home, Putin sees the ready benefit in having the United States led by an unlettered narcissist who believes that geostrategic questions are as easy to resolve as a real-estate closing. Putin knows a chump when he sees one.