01:01 - Source: CNN
Donald Trump directly addresses Russia

Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. Follow her @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

Story highlights

Donald Trump invites Russian intelligence operatives to locate and leak Hillary Clinton's 30,000 missing emails

Frida Ghitis: This invitation helps cement Trump's alliance with Vladimir Putin, who now has reason to meddle in the election

CNN  — 

On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump stood at a podium in Florida, looked straight into the camera and addressed Vladimir Putin’s intelligence operatives: “Russia, if you’re listening,” he shot, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” With that, the Republican presidential candidate urged Russia, a country with a history of antagonistic relations with the United States, to break U.S. law and interfere in the most important part of this country’s democracy, its presidential election.

Trump was referring to the emails that Hillary Clinton says her staffers deleted from her private server because they were “personal and private.” Whatever voters think about Clinton, we should recognize that Trump’s baiting of Russia reaches a new level of outrage.

Trump is flirting with treason, encouraging, perhaps even conspiring, with a foe of the United States.

Frida Ghitis

One can only imagine the Republican’s reaction if Clinton had been the one urging a frequently hostile foreign government to spy on her political foes. As it is, countless Republicans are caught between disbelief and exasperation with the party’s standard-bearer. The spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, Brendan Buck, pushed back angrily against Putin’s creeping interference after Trump encouraged it. “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug. Putin should stay out of this election,” Buck said, lashing out against Putin when he probably wished he could say a few choice words about Trump as well.

In an election season marked by one unprecedented development after the next, it’s easy to become numb to the outlandishness of it all. But we should pay special attention to the growing convergence of interests between Trump and Putin.

Putin may just be poised to decide the outcome of the American election. The events so far are alarming, and what lies ahead could mark the ultimate victory for Putin, the former KGB spy.

In the hours before the Democratic National Convention was called to order, WikiLeaks hijacked the news cycle by releasing a trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee, which revealed that Democratic Party officials were hoping Clinton would beat her rival, Bernie Sanders. While the revelations did not directly involve Clinton, they dealt a harsh blow to her campaign. They caused a commotion, forced the resignation of party head Debbie Wasserman Schultz and embittered Sanders supporters, some of whom may now refuse to vote for Clinton.

While the revelations came from WikiLeaks, the hacking, carried out months earlier, had already been revealed in June. Growing evidence suggests the perpetrators were Russian. And now the FBI and other security agencies are also saying there is evidence the Russian government may have been behind the infiltration.

02:41 - Source: CNN
Hear Donald Trump's comments on world dictators

It’s no secret that Putin despises Clinton, who was sharply critical of his crackdown on the democratic opposition, his suppression of the free press and his aggressive military moves against Ukraine. Putin’s media infrastructure and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have cooperated in the past. Assange even asked that Russian security manage his protection while he takes shelter at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. But this latest leak may be their greatest collaboration yet, one that could alter the course of world history.

Back in February, Assange fulminated against Clinton, saying he sees her as a personal enemy and writing that “she certainly should not become president of the United States.”

Clearly, there is a convergence of interests among Putin, Trump and Assange. But Putin will try to keep a low profile. Direct interference in the U.S. election would constitute a grave violation of international norms. Politicians often try to influence other countries, speaking out in public about their views, as Obama recently did ahead of the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote. Doing it through espionage is another matter.

Assange, on the other hand, has already warned “a lot more material is coming.” And the material most likely will be, or already has been, supplied by Russia.

American voters should anticipate more releases of illegally obtained private communications, timed perfectly to sway the outcome of the election. But voters should remember that regardless of what the content says about Clinton, it is a clear power play by Putin.

In the meantime, Trump is already showing how much he can do to return the favor.

Putin views the United States, Europe and NATO as Russia’s adversaries, even enemies. Anything that undermines them, weakens and divides them, is a gift to the Kremlin. Opposition to Russia’s invasion and annexation of parts of Ukraine has been strongly opposed by all three, and remained a bipartisan point of agreement in the United States. But the Trump campaign, led by Paul Manafort, a man with close connections to Putin’s controversial oligarch friends, managed to remove from the GOP platform criticism of Russia’s “ongoing military aggression in Ukraine,” as well as “admiration and support” for the struggle of Ukraine against Russian interference.

Trump has already said he might recognize Putin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, a violation of international law that outraged the world.

The GOP candidate’s recent comments, which called into question Washington’s future willingness to defend its NATO allies, has rightly caused alarm among America’s European friends. His statements paint a picture of an unreliable and unpredictable ally across the Atlantic, who can easily be swayed by the Kremlin, among others.

And there is already evidence that Trump will stand idly by while autocracy reigns supreme. He turned a blind eye to human rights violations and curtailments of democracy, when he refused to criticize the post-coup crackdown in Turkey. But his message was no doubt heard by another regional strongman: Putin.

As Western leaders fret about what a Trump presidency might bring, American voters are receiving new and critical pieces of information. Trump is increasingly promising the kind of foreign policy that Putin could only imagine in his wildest dreams. That may be reason enough for the Russian president and his friends to tip the scales in Trump’s favor.

That, of course, is enormously troubling – almost as troubling as hearing Trump, a major presidential candidate, disloyally tiptoe toward treason by calling on a U.S. foe to spy in America.