Russian President Vladimir Putin, July 5, 2022 (Image: AAP/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, July 5, 2022 (Image: AAP/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin Pool/AP)

Vladimir Putin spent America’s Independence Day in 2018 with eight Republican politicians. In Moscow. Those proud patriots skipped the July 4 parades and fireworks to celebrate freedom with a Russian dictator.

Russia was hosting FIFA’s World Cup, with billions of viewers tuning in. Construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline had commenced. When completed it would allow Russia to send more natural gas direct to Western Europe, tightening its grip on Europe’s energy supplies. These exports would bypass existing pipelines in Ukraine and Poland, shrinking transit revenues to both nations. Two weeks later Putin met with then president Donald Trump in Helsinki for their now infamous summit.

Putin’s power was at its peak. His furtive forays into US domestic politics contributed to the defeat of his nemesis Hillary Clinton and the installation of his longtime sycophant Trump. Trump was singlehandedly disrupting American democracy, destabilising global alliances, and threatening to decapitate NATO. The table was set for Putin to realise his grandest ambitions.