Why is Putin saying he wants Biden reelected?

International Putin presser 121423 AP Alexander Zemlianichenko Pool

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a mind-bending statement on Wednesday that he preferred President Joe Biden to win reelection over Donald Trump because Biden is “more experienced, more predictable.”

Putin, whose primary means of interfering in our last two presidential elections was bot-driven social media disinformation, has turned to a new tool — gaslighting America in his own voice.

Gaslighting, according to Psychology Today, “is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are … fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves.”

In other words, it’s a sophisticated form of lying, done with psychological bank-shots designed to confuse us, our memory and our inner sense of order in the world. Fortunately, lies and gaslighting don’t work if we recognize and expose them for what they are.

We know who Putin is. He is a tyrant who jailed and killed Alexei Navalny, his most powerful political opponent, at age 47 in a Siberian prison colony. Putin is the foreign meddler who interfered in our elections in 2016 for Trump against Hillary Clinton and again in 2020 for Trump against Biden.

Putin hasn’t changed his stripes. He doesn’t now prefer President Biden, the world leader who, by unifying NATO behind Ukraine, has blocked Putin’s primary goal of “conquests” in Ukraine.

No, Putin wants Trump to win. It’s obvious why. Twice last week, Trump said that if elected, he would tell Putin to do “whatever the hell he wants” to every NATO country that does not pay its share in defense spending.

That’s music sweeter to Putin’s ears than any Tchaikovsky violin concerto.

So when Putin says he prefers Biden, what you hear is not what you get. Instead, it’s a monumental head fake designed to make us lose our footing in the reality-based world.

Then there’s that other lurking question: Are we witnessing an early sign of “Trump-Russia collusion 2024?” According to the AP, Trump “immediately hailed [Putin’s] statement at a campaign rally Wednesday night, calling it a ‘great compliment’ to him.”

Trump welcoming Putin’s endorsement of Trump’s opponent? Now we’re all Alice in Wonderland.

The two men have been in a “bromance” for years. In 2018 at Helsinki, Trump famously took Putin’s word over that of American intelligence agencies when Putin denied charges that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. In 2022, Trump heaped praise on the Russian strongman when his army invaded Ukraine.

Trump seems to think Americans are rubes who will accept at face value that he truly believes Putin’s blessing is a curse on Biden rather than pure political manipulation.

Does Trump’s profession of pleasure at Putin’s putative preference strike you as off-key for a needy, narcissistic man who likes whoever likes him and attacks whoever is disloyal? Remember how, in 2019, before his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump stated that the dictator “likes me,” so “why shouldn’t I like him?” In 2020, Trump had nice things to say about QAnon “because they like me very much.”

Politico reported last year that Trump “revels in praise from Putin.” Trump reveling in Putin’s praise for Biden also seems a tad inconsistent with a former president who “comes after” anyone — from judges to prosecutors to his own vice president — if they oppose him.

In politics, timing tells you a lot. Putin’s eye-raising “endorsement” of Biden and Trump’s completely out-of-character response arrived the day after Biden’s campaign issued this statement: “Donald Trump just gave Vladimir Putin the best possible Valentine’s Day present: his pinky-promise to give Putin the green light to mow down our allies in Europe if he’s elected president.” Putin’s announcement 24 hours later about favoring Biden has the obvious look of a timed political countermeasure meant to undercut that statement.

Indeed, one could be excused for thinking of Putin’s bizarre declaration as a coordinated Trump-Russia campaign tactic, especially given Trump’s quickly unveiled attempt to spin Putin’s pronouncement against Biden.

Yes, Virginia, we’ve seen this movie before — Putin working in conjunction with Trump to get him elected, as a Republican-led Senate committee report confirmed happened in 2016.

To stay out of the infinite loop that Trump and Putin would have us in, we only need to stay firmly grounded in facts. In the months ahead of the election, we can continue to recognize and express the truth about the longstanding Trump-Putin partnership against self-determination for Ukraine and against democracy in America.

It’s up to us to expose and reject Putin-Trump gaslighting and attempts to interfere in our elections.

Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor and civil litigator, currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

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