Russia is kind of an important country for the U.S. president, so when Donald Trump said, "I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia," we at The Washington Post's Moscow bureau decided to help him out. And while we're at it, we'll reach across the aisle and lend a hand to Hillary Clinton, too.
What Trump said: "I don't know [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."
The inner workings: To understand the inner workings of Russia, you have to understand your relationship with the most important man in Russia. Back in May 2014, Trump said he “spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin.” In November 2015, Trump said he “got to know him very well because we were both on '60 Minutes.' We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.” And then in July, Trump told George Stephanopoulos, “I have no relationship with Putin.”
Why, then, say he had? "Because he has said nice things about me over the years,” Trump said.
What Trump said: Putin “called me a genius. He said, 'Trump’s a genius.' ”
The inner workings: Putin did not say “Trump’s a genius.” He said Trump was “bright,” in the colorful sense, the flashy sense, the flamboyant sense (not in the smart sense, though he did call Trump “talented.”). Putin went so far as to publicly deny that he ever called Trump a genius. “Why do you always change the meaning of what I said?” Putin asked Post columnist Fareed Zakaria in St. Petersburg in June. "I only said that he was a ‘bright person.’ Isn’t he bright? He is. I did not say anything else about him."
What Trump said: "I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia."
The inner workings: This is more complicated than whether Trump knows Putin. But there is all kinds of evidence, including statements from his advisers and family members that Trump has done business with Russia. Donald Trump Jr. said in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” Alan Garten, general counsel of the Trump Organization, told our colleagues in May: "I have no doubt, as a company, I know we’ve looked at deals in Russia. And many of the former Russian republics.” We'll leave it at that because there are bigger fish to fry.
What Trump said: "Our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they've gone wild with their nuclear program," and “Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We're tired. We're exhausted in terms of nuclear."
The inner workings: While Russia has indeed been modifying its nuclear forces, it's also true Moscow has had a lot of catching up to do: In the economic turmoil that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russian nuclear arsenal was falling apart. Both sides have since slashed their nuclear arsenals, but the Pentagon could spend as much as a trillion dollars on modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal — including $108 billion over the next five years. Moscow recently accused the Pentagon of nurturing an aggressive nuclear strategy threatening Russia. So the Kremlin knows, even if Trump doesn't.
Clinton has also played fast and loose with the truth about the inner workings of Russia.
What Clinton said: “Russia has decided that it’s all in, in Syria. And they’ve also decided who they want to see become president of the United States, too, and it’s not me.”
The inner workings: By that, she means Trump. And her rival does line up with Moscow on key issues, saying he might accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea and be more open to teaming up with Russia in Syria. But some Russian policymakers also see Trump as “unpredictable," someone who could “change the current situation both for the better and for the worse. Trump is not predictable enough,” according to one senior Russian lawmaker. What the Kremlin does like to see is a brutal, dirty election campaign that makes Americans question the integrity of their civil institutions and the sanity of their candidates. As Putin told Zakaria: “America tries to teach everybody else how to live with lessons on “Democracy”… but do you actually believe that the U.S. elections are democratic?”
Sorry, Mr. Putin. Those are our inner workings. We'll get back to you next time you run for president.