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This Russia expert thinks Trump is being blackmailed

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin
Russia's President Vladimir Putin
Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump is entering office dogged by allegations that he has colluded with Russia in political matters. The controversy is a large concern for many Americans, but less so for Russians.

"The Russians kind of responded with a collective shrug of their shoulders, like 'Oh really? We favor political candidates in the United States. Is that news? Oh really, we meddle in U.S. affairs?' as if there was nothing newsworthy about this," Russia expert Nick Hayes said during a conversation with MPR's Gary Eichten Wednesday.

Neither initial reports of Trump's involvement with Russia nor later reports of the country having details that leave the President-elect open for blackmail diminished the support most Russians show him, Hayes said.

Gary Eichten, left, and Nick Hayes
Gary Eichten, left, and Nick Hayes pose for a photograph.
Courtesy of St. John's University

However, the sanctions later imposed on Russia following evidence of their presidential election hacking did elicit a big response from the Kremlin.

"The sanctions are a constant source of irritation, anger and frustration," Hayes said. 

Putin has already created a path for dealing with them, though — he declined to retaliate against the U.S. after President Barack Obama expelled several Russian diplomats. 

"In other words he let Obama play bad cop, and he played good cop," Hayes said, setting the stage for negotiations with the new administration.

But will Trump play ball?

Almost certainly, Hayes said: "I believe Trump has criticized virtually every political leader I know in the world ... never an unflattering remark about Vladimir Putin. Nothing. Never a criticism of the Russian policies. That absence itself tells me that something is there."

"Do you think he's being blackmailed?" asked Eichten.

"Yes," answered Hayes.

Putin and Trump also share a similar leadership style that Hayes calls the "personalization of power."

"Everything tends to gravitate to them as a person," Hayes said.

So, while those in other government institutions might disagree with them — in Trump's case, his Cabinet picks — the chaos is encouraged because it sends the message that power lies in them as leaders and when a decision is made it is made because they chose to, not because they were influenced.

To listen to the whole conversation, click the audio player above.

Nick Hayes is University Chair in Critical Thinking at St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict. Gary Eichten is MPR News' Editor-at-large. This conversation titled "Russia's Visible Hand: Putin, Trump and Cybermischief" was recorded at St. John's University.

Further reading

• When it comes to Russia, so far Trump mostly stands alone

• Thanks to Russia, 2016 isn't really going to end for Obama and Trump

• More from MPR News Presents

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