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How The Trump-Russia Scandal Is Playing In Russia

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

How do Russians and their government feel about all of the sudden American interest in Russia? The charges of meddling and collusion; the photo of Russian officials grinning and chuckling with President Trump, reportedly while the president let slip some confidential information and, according to The New York Times, referred to James Comey as crazy, a real nut job. Julia Ioffe is a staff writer at The Atlantic, who, of course, is a Muscovite by birth and who often writes about Russia. Julia, thanks so much for being back with us.

JULIA IOFFE: Oh, thanks for having me.

SIMON: Are these stories as big in Russia as they've been here?

IOFFE: Not really. I think - you know, the Russians and the Americans are quite similar in the sense that they, you know, to quote Carly Simon, think the song is about them.

(LAUGHTER)

IOFFE: But, you know, it does get some coverage in Russia. But I think - in large part, the Russians think both - you know, and these are people who don't like Putin, people who like Putin. Basically, people across the spectrum think that we've really overblown this and that there's not much there there. And...

SIMON: You - you mean overblown the story of Russian meddling in the election, or what?

IOFFE: Right. They don't believe that this is what - you know, if there was meddling, they don't believe that it swayed the election. They think Comey - former FBI Director James Comey swayed the election by issuing two letters in the final stretch of the race. And they think that - basically what President Trump thinks, that this is Democrats trying to cope with a historic loss, and that instead of blaming themselves, they're blaming Russia.

SIMON: Does Russia consider - do a lot of Russians, let me put it that way, consider President Trump, in a funny way, their advocate or a voice of - a voice of reason?

IOFFE: They do. I think it's the latter, that they consider him a voice of reason. They consider, you know, in a quite gendered way, considered Hillary Clinton this crazy, old woman who was going to start a war with Russia. And ironically, given the way a lot of people feel about Donald Trump, they think Donald Trump is the sane, calm person who understands that there's no reason to pick fights with people, understands that American foreign policy is what Russians say has been a failure for decades and that it's time to turn the page, to try something new, and maybe even get Russia's advice. They believe that Russia's foreign policy has been far more successful than America's. And as one person who is quite close to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, you know, you guys keep getting it wrong, and we don't, so don't you think it's time to ask Moscow for some advice? And they would love us to ask for their advice.

SIMON: Well, what - what does Vladimir Putin want out of this relationship at this moment, do you think?

IOFFE: I think a few things. First of all, I think he really believes that - or Russians really believe that he couldn't - Donald Trump could improve relations with the U.S. and that Donald Trump respects Putin, that he doesn't consider him the head of a regional power, as Barack Obama famously said, and it angered the Russians to no end. A lot of Russian officials then scolded American officials for calling Russia a regional power. Putin - Trump thinks that Putin is the head of a great power, a great - he's a great leader of a great power. And that's music to Putin's ears, to Russians' ears. They want to be taken seriously. They want to be at the big boy's table.

The other thing is that it's for internal consumption too, that a lot of the people who are against Vladimir Putin apply - Russians apply, to some extent, Western standards to Russia. They think, you know, the corruption that prevails in Russia under Putin is bad, that elections being rigged and engineered is bad, him controlling the media is bad. You know, he's bad by Western standards, and they want to be a, quote, unquote, "normal country." They want to - they want to be like the U.S, like Western Europe. And Putin is effectively showing them that the West and - is not that great. That it's as corrupt, as chaotic, as - that elections are as much of a mess, if not worse, than Russia. If anything, Russia is, you know, it's boring inside, but it's stable.

SIMON: Yeah.

IOFFE: We have the same people running the country. You don't have this thing where every four years people come in who have no idea what they're doing.

SIMON: Julia Ioffe, thanks so much for being with us.

IOFFE: Oh, thanks for having me, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.