How US Republican right found allies in Russia

WASHINGTON[/ ] • Growing up in the US in the 1980s, Mr Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place.

But Mr Brown, a leading anti-gay marriage activist, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits.

Mr Brown, president of the National Organisation for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip when he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.

"What I realised was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union," he said. "There was a real push to re-instil Christian values."

A significant shift has been underway in recent years across the Republican right in the United States. From gun rights to terrorism to same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country's leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see the country's authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin as a potential ally.

To the alarm of some in the GOP's national security establishment, support in the party base for then presidential candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney - who called Russia America's No. 1 foe - and repeatedly praised Mr Putin.

To the alarm of some in the GOP's national security establishment, support in the party base for then presidential candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney - who called Russia America's No. 1 foe - and repeatedly praised Mr Putin.

The burgeoning alliance between Russians and American conservatives was apparent in a series of events in late 2015, as the Republican nomination battle intensified.

Top officials from the National Rifle Association, whose annual meeting last Friday featured an address by Mr Trump, for the third time in three years, have travelled to Moscow to visit a Russian gun manufacturer and meet government officials.

About the same time in December 2015, evangelist Franklin Graham had a private meeting with Mr Putin for 45 minutes, securing from the Russian President an offer to help with an upcoming conference on the persecution of Christians. Reverend Graham was impressed, telling the Washington Post that Mr Putin "answers questions very directly and doesn't dodge them like a lot of our politicians do".

But the apparent increase in contacts in recent years, as well as the participation of officials from the Russian government and the influential Russian Orthodox church, leads some analysts to conclude that the Russian government likely promoted the efforts in an attempt to expand Mr Putin's power.

"Is it possible that these are just well-meaning people who are reaching out to Americans with shared interests? It is possible," said Mr Steven Hall, who retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2015 after managing Russia operations for 30 years. "Is it likely? I don't think it's likely at all."

"There has been a change in the views of hardcore conservatives towards Russia," said Republican lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher. "Conservative Republicans like myself hated communism during the Cold War. But Russia is no longer the Soviet Union."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'How US Republican right found allies in Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe