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The View From Moscow On President Trump's Impeachment Problems


The Kremlin never really tried to hide its preference for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, even as it vigorously denied trying to influence that election. Now the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is focusing on relations between the U.S. and Russia's worst enemy, Ukraine. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: For the moment, President Trump's opponents in Washington may have turned their attention away from Russia but that doesn't mean Russia's leaders aren't watching the impeachment inquiry with intense interest and a certain amount of enjoyment. Russian state television, which dominates the airwaves here, provides a direct channel into the Kremlin's thinking.


KIM: Last Sunday on state tv's flagship show "News Of The Week," the impeachment inquiry got ample airtime.


NANCY PELOSI: ...Is laid upon the table.

DMITRY KISELYOV: (Speaking in Russian).

KIM: Host Dmitry Kiselyov, an unrelenting critic of the U.S., described the congressional investigation as the greatest witch hunt in American history.


KISELYOV: (Speaking in Russian).

KIM: He said House Democrats are using every chance to pick a fight with Trump, even though the Senate is unlikely to convict him. He quoted Trump calling the inquiry a lynching, which Kiselyov said was a sad American tradition. The segment that followed named the person right-wing media in the U.S. have identified as the original whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president set off the impeachment inquiry. President Vladimir Putin, for his part, has spoken at length about the investigation.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking in Russian).

KIM: Last month, he said Russia doesn't interfere in American politics but is also not indifferent to what's happening in the world's only superpower. Whereas President Richard Nixon had spied on his political opponents, Putin said, in this case, the whistleblower was the one spying on Trump.


PUTIN: (Speaking in Russian).

KIM: Putin said he couldn't see anything wrong with the July phone call in which Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.


PUTIN: (Speaking in Russian).

KIM: He said any leader is obligated to determine whether his predecessors were engaged in corrupt schemes. So Trump really had no choice but to ask. Putin's robust defense of the U.S. president sounded very much like Republican talking points. But ironically, Trump hasn't exactly been doing the Kremlin's bidding.

MASHA LIPMAN: He may be a good guy because he says nice things about Putin. But policy-wise, I cannot see how Russia can benefit from Trump in the White House.

KIM: That's Masha Lipman, a political analyst in Moscow.

LIPMAN: Russia is still under sanctions, Trump or no Trump. Russia would be better off without the sanctions - no question about that. But there is no chance of the sanctions being eased or lifted.

KIM: Those sanctions were imposed as punishment for Russia's invasion of Ukraine five years ago. Lipman says the impeachment process is welcomed by Putin, like any political turmoil in Western democracies.

LIPMAN: Whenever there is a division, the Kremlin tries to drive a wedge. Whenever there is a weakness, the Kremlin tries to take advantage of it. The impeachment proceedings in the U.S. certainly does not make America stronger.

KIM: One thing is certain for the Kremlin - the U.S. will now be preoccupied with its own problems and less focused on what Putin does. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "LANGUAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.
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