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Kremlin has long used ‘kompromat’ to manipulate both allies and enemies

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'Putin’s favourite weapon against Western politicians is unpredictability. But he loses that against Trump, as he has to deal with a bully like him.' Photo: REUTERS

'Putin’s favourite weapon against Western politicians is unpredictability. But he loses that against Trump, as he has to deal with a bully like him.' Photo: REUTERS

REUTERS

'Putin’s favourite weapon against Western politicians is unpredictability. But he loses that against Trump, as he has to deal with a bully like him.' Photo: REUTERS

It wouldn't be a surprise if Russia had compromising information on Donald Trump. He first went to the Soviet Union in 1987 to talk about building hotels in Moscow and other cities. And he was willing to be exposed.

World leaders have their bodyguards and own intelligence to keep them safe, both of which he lacked.

His bodyguards wouldn't have been able to operate in the country, so he would have had to rely on Russians.

He may have thought he was never going to be a politician, so didn't need to bother about being careful.

But the president-elect is not stupid. Even though he boasts about not listening to advisers, surely someone told him about the KGB? If he went to have meetings with Politburo, he would have been screened and observed by KGB members. They have always gathered compromising information - "kompromat" - on anybody who they think would be of interest so they can later manipulate them, whether they're allies or not.

The gathering of kompromat is the hallmark of Russian intelligence. It has worked for them for years. Opposition politicians have repeatedly been tape-recorded. On several occasions, actors would play those being targeted. The event doesn't need to be real, so long as the film can be leaked to discredit them.

A good example of this happened in 1999, after Russia's chief prosecutor Yuri Skuratov threatened to go after members of Boris Yeltsin's family. Photographs surfaced of him fooling around in bed with two prostitutes. He was fired after the director of the FSB vouched for their authenticity. Who was head of the security service at the time? Vladimir Putin.

Fire inspectors could come by a Russian hotel and tell the owner that their hotel is violating safety regulations, and would need millions spent on it to be in with a chance of not being shut down. There would be one solution for them of course, which is to let the intelligence agencies have access to the rooms where certain individuals are staying. Once the authorities have something, more soon follows as they know what weaknesses to go looking for.

The Russians don't just know how to gather kompromat, but how to use it to influence their target. A middle-man could be asked to meet with them, and might innocently allude to what had been captured on the film. "By the way, Tania and Natasha send their best" perhaps.

Critics argue that Trump's warmth about Putin is a sign that he is in Russia's pocket. But he isn't defending Russia with such rhetoric. He is defending himself and his legitimacy.

President Trump will still be useful to Putin, but just for the first six months while the Russians try to work him out. Putin's favourite weapon against Western politicians is unpredictability. But he loses that against Trump, as he has to deal with a bully like him.

Donald Trump was a private individual when he visited Russia, but now nears presidential office. He may not worry much about what kompromat Russia has on him, but he'll know everything he does now is in the public eye. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Dr Igor Sutyagin is senior fellow in Russian Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London

Telegraph.co.uk