In a stunning turn of events, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is ready to offer former FBI director James Comey political asylum in Russia, according to The Independent.
“If there is some kind of persecution, we would be ready to offer political asylum to Mr Comey if he is persecuted in the US,” Mr Putin told a live audience.
Putin then compared Comey to the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden who currently has asylum in Russia for leaking state secrets in 2013.
With this action, Putin achieves multiple goals that rival President Donald Trump in manipulative ingenuity. No one can criticize him for his statements because he is hiding behind the moral shield of being a defender of human rights. Within that untouchable moral framework, he can communicate several messages to the American public at once.
First, officially he is expressing criticism of the Trump administration, which makes claims of collusion between Trump and Russia appear even more tenuous than they already are. Putin is criticizing Trump for interfering in the investigation into alleged connections between the two world leaders.
Second, Snowden is by many in the United States regarded as a traitor who has placed the interests of the republic in jeopardy through his leaks. By comparing him to Snowden, he may be indirectly indicating that Comey is a traitor to the United States.
Third, should Comey reject the asylum offer in Russia, he would be indirectly admitting that Trump is not engaged in political persecution. This debases the seriousness of the allegations made against Trump.
Fourth, and most impressively, anyone who wants to criticize Trump for overstepping his bounds as president in this matter must now align themselves with the very same Putin that they claim Trump’s campaign team has colluded. One must admit this last one is quite ingenious and carries a manipulation rate of ten out of ten.
So, the absurd situation is as follows: Trump is being criticized for wanting to end an investigation into something that FBI admits they know he is innocent of, and Putin, who is supposed to be the alleged partner in crime, is now joining the chorus of critics. He is offering to come to the aid of the investigator in the alleged connection between Trump and himself and has thereby marked Comey with something akin to a kiss of death, by marking him as a traitor to the United States which he is willing to offer assistance.
Under normal circumstances, this would be a story you would expect to read in the Onion: perfectly unbelievable and ridiculous, except for the hilarious fact that it appears to be true. Even more amazingly, it seems to be done entirely on purpose, to be funny. Dilbert-creator and political pundit Scott Adams has commented extensively on the persuasion abilities of both Trump and Putin and has noted that in the last year, Putin has branded himself as a funny person. In interviews, he tends to smile and laugh a lot and always cracks a joke. His intentions, however, are no joke. They are part of his weapons of mass persuasion.
Putin’s intentions are unclear, but he is evidently trying to manipulate public opinion and even influence U.S. politics, not through hacking but through his spoken word. Given that Russia is our favorite frenemy, it may be worth listening to what he is trying to communicate, and what he is trying to accomplish.