It is pretty well established that Donald Trump has connections to Russia. And we know with certainty that he also has connections with people like Steve Bannon, who are associated with the white nationalist (aka "alt-right") movement. But on Monday morning Russia and American white supremacy came together in a somewhat surprising way.
A Mashable story from December reported on how the Russian embassy in the UK has been trolling the U.S. on Twitter for some time. So it wasn't really a shock that they posted a tweet on Monday that took a shot at the so-called "special relationship" between Britain and America. What was shocking to many was the image they chose to attach to the tweet -- Pepe the Frog.
The Pepe character started out in a web-based comic strip. But in recent years it has been adopted as a symbol of white nationalism. Trump supporters seem especially fond of it. Drop into the Reddit group "r/The_Donald" and you'll see Pepe scattered about on hundreds of posts.
Of course, it's entirely possible the Russians didn't know the significance of Pepe to the American far-right. But don't bet on that. The agents of Putin's government rarely do anything that hasn't been calculated and strategized in advance. And the attention the tweet has been getting on sites like Reddit shows the not-so-subtle message is reaching its intended targets. In fact, they're celebrating, as indicated by this comment:
Russia has been funding far-right political parties in Europe for some time, and they have enjoyed the support of those parties on adventures such as the 2008 war in Georgia. Now, following the Brexit vote and the election of Trump, they appear to be reaching out to solidify their support in the two countries that have been among Russia's harshest critics over the years, and at the same time attempt to drive a wedge between them.
Putin knows exactly what he is doing. Signal to the people who fawningly refer to Trump as their "god-emperor" that you are on their side. Then, use their support to help defang the nations that have largely kept in check your goal of a reconstituted Russian empire, and the world is your oyster.
The tweet seems to suggest the arrival of Trump heralds a new paradigm in international relations; one where the Russia-U.S. relationship is paramount over all others. Trump has indicated that he wants closer ties with Moscow. Will he work toward those ties at the expense of our other allies? If Trump moves U.S. policy toward Russia and away from our traditional allies like Britain, democracy is going to be in for a tough time.