Trump’s attacks on the US justice system after a guilty verdict could prove useful to autocrats like Putin

Following his historic guilty plea in his hush money case, Donald Trump attacked the US criminal justice system, making baseless claims of a “rigged” trial that echoed the Kremlin’s comments.

“If they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone,” Trump said Friday from his namesake tower in New York. Thousands of miles away, Russian President Vladimir Putin was probably “rubbing his hands with joy,” said Fiona Hill, a former senior White House national security adviser to three U.S. presidents, including Trump.

Hill and other analysts say Trump’s attacks could be useful to Putin and other autocrats as they look to strengthen their standing among their own citizens, potentially influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election, in which Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, and shape global could undermine the position of the United States. influence.

Some autocratic countries responded quickly in support of Trump.

Moscow agreed with Trump’s assessment of Thursday’s verdict, calling it the “elimination of political rivals by all possible legal or illegal means,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. In September, Putin said Trump’s prosecution was an act of political revenge that “demonstrates the rottenness of the American political system.”

After the verdict, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called Trump a “man of honor” and urged him to “keep fighting.”

Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times suggested that Trump’s conviction contributes to the “farcical nature” of this year’s US presidential election, adding that it will worsen political extremism and end in “more chaos and social unrest.”

Putin in particular will see the latest unrest as an opportunity, analysts say. He has long sought to deepen divisions in Western societies in an effort to promote a Russian worldview. Since invading Ukraine, and ahead of crucial elections across the West this year, Russia has been accused of carrying out multiple sabotage attacks and targeting dissidents abroad to stoke fear and sow division.

Moscow was accused of meddling in the 2016 US election that Trump won by setting up a troll factory, hacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign, spreading fake news and trying to influence officials linked to Trump.

“What kind of mischief does he have to get up to when there are people within the American system itself who are denigrating and tearing it down?” Hill said about Putin.

Political chaos can benefit autocratic leaders by distracting Washington from important issues, including the war in Ukraine. Russia’s goal is to move voices from the “fringes of political debate to the mainstream,” said David Salvo, managing director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, DC.

The Kremlin does this in part by advancing Russian views under the guise of news and social media posts that look as if they come from the West.

Salvo noted that disagreements in Congress that delayed an aid package to Ukraine were the result of a Russian social media campaign targeting Americans. This led to Russia gaining the upper hand on the battlefield.

The attacks on the U.S. justice system by Trump and his allies are “perfect fodder” for a new “major propaganda and influence operation,” Hill told The Associated Press, suggesting that Russia could use itself ahead of the November election targeting swing voters in battleground states.

For generations, U.S. presidential administrations have portrayed America as a bastion of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights and encouraged other states to adopt these ideals. But Trump suggested the legal system is being used to prosecute him – something that happens in some autocratic countries.

Leaders, including Putin, “must love” Trump criticizing “the most important institutions of democracy” the way autocratic states have done for years while legitimizing them in the eyes of their own people, said Graeme Robertson, a political professor sciences at New York University. North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Trump sees himself as a “strong ruler” and looks to Putin for inspiration, Hill said. His attacks encourage every nation — from those with mild complaints to the openly hostile — to “have their moment to take down the behemoth,” Hill said.

The message to Chinese and Russian citizens watching the tragedy unfold in the US is that they are better off at home. The message to the countries that Russia and China are reaching out to as they try to expand their influence in Africa, Asia and Latin America is that Moscow and Beijing can offer more reliable partnerships.

The threat from the “new axis of authoritarians,” including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, is “daunting” as these states work more closely with overlapping interests, said Matthew Kroenig, a former defense official and vice president at the Atlantic Council. Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

Moscow in particular, Kroenig said, is likely to try to use the political turmoil in the US to divide the NATO security alliance. It could try to turn the public in NATO countries against the US by encouraging them to ask whether they “share values” with the Americans, he said. If successful, it could lead to a fundamental overhaul of the global security architecture – a goal of Russia and China – since the end of the Cold War.

Some Western governments, meanwhile, are caught in a delicate dance between not wanting to exclude Trump as the potential next American president and the need to respect the American legal system. Others, such as EU member Hungary, are openly courting him.

“For Putin, it has to be perfect because it creates a mess that he can try to take advantage of,” Hill said.

Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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