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Trump, Putin and the elephants in the room

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The Kremlin prefers the Republicans over the Democrats. Or at least that is what a Russian political insider told me back in 2008, as we stood on the rooftop terrace of a hotel overlooking the Red Square on the eve of the US presidential elections.

I found it a rather surprising statement considering the times. Republican US President George W Bush had been at loggerheads with the Kremlin over several issues: The US decision to deploy a controversial missile defence system in Eastern Europe, Russia's invasion of Georgia, and the latter's prospective membership in NATO. With all that, the Russians were still rooting for a Republican foreign policy hawk like John McCain?

In the end, the advent of Barack Obama and his insistence on a "reset" in relations with Moscow paved the way for a number of agreements with then-President Dmitry Medvedev, including a nuclear deal, and resulted in the opposite impression: That a Democrat president can, in fact, be far more agreeable for Russia than a Republican one.

But "agreeableness" was never the main criteria by which Vladimir Putin, who was lurking in the premiership office at the time, judged the relationship between his country and the United States.

In the ring, Putin, the former KGB agent, prefers to be feared rather than liked. He abhors Democrats who provide hypocritical lectures about democracy, human rights, or international law.

This is why, in 2008, Putin preferred the Republicans. He liked where he stood with them - a recognised superpower, a respected nemesis. In Obama, he found an opponent who didn't seem to think he was worth the fight.

With the elections of a more confident and more popular Putin for a third term in 2012, relations began to deteriorate. They cooled when the US-led Libya campaign overstretched its mandate and overthrew former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

They went into deep freeze a couple of years later when Putin ordered limited intervention into Eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. A year after that, he sent Russia's military to support the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and refused to accommodate Washington's view over his future.

The state of Russian-US relations at the end of the combined tenures of Obama and Bush invoked an eerie resemblance to a past era, and there was much talk in........

© Al Jazeera