Make Russia Great Again

December 2, 2016


Make Russia Great Again

For several weeks now, conversation in Russia has focused solely on Trump.


You hear the US president-elect being discussed in the street, on public transport, at rush hour, on benches in front of apartment blocks, in shops, banks and, basically, everywhere. Recently, a colleague of mine, making himself a cup of tea in the office kitchen, was complaining that his mum had rung him from the far-off town in Siberia where she lives, to tell him how good it was that Trump had won, because before that the world had been on the brink of war. She had never shown any interest in politics at all, not even Russian politics.

Trump himself has sort of become Crimea. This year the whole might of the Russian propaganda machine was brought to bear on ordinary people throughout the country, with the message that the eccentric American billionaire with the strange hair-cut was Russia’s best friend in the whole wide world.

The idea of the “American who has the sympathy of the whole Soviet people” is not new. But this is more nuanced: during Vladimir Putin’s youth, in the 70s and 80s, these people were marginal US Communist Party activists – mad professors on hunger strike in front of the White House, or even the Black Panthers. They were promoted for domestic consumption only inside the USSR with the message that even in the much-lauded democracy over the ocean there are political prisoners, demonstrations are brutally broken up and anti-nuclear campaigners are expelled from their colleges. After that it seemed only natural that the TV should show reports from New York and Los Angeles with a heavy slant on the numbers of homeless.

Mother Russia hasn’t offered her support to such an important American politician since the Second World War, when, for tactical reasons, Soviet newspapers went over the top praising Franklin D. Roosevelt for having thrown his support behind Winston Churchill. One year later they would have learnt to write the exact opposite: Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia, as parodied so neatly by George Orwell.

But that’s not what this new-found praise is about. During the war with Hitler almost everything was justifiable, but now there’s no Hitler, and try as he might, Vladimir Putin just can’t get Russians to hate ISIS in the same way. So why, then, would he go all out for Donald Trump, not only stoking his own domestic audience but actively interfering in American politics? Firstly, Hillary could have won and then what would have happened? Secondly, by now it is already clear that Trump’s people working on foreign policy and intelligence did not in their youth take part in competitions declaiming the poetry of Pushkin.

Aah! Still not quite clear? I’ll save you some time, as looking for positive logic in the Kremlin’s frantic support for Trump could really drive you mad. There simply is no positive logic – at all. The only logic is destructive and aimed at destabilising the entire world order. For the same reason that Russia actively supported Brexit and, before that, the (unsuccessful) referendum on independence for Scotland, not to mention Catalonia, Quebec and all other separatist and extreme-right parties from Bulgaria to the Netherlands to Syriza in Greece and Yobbik in Hungary, or basically anyone prepared to challenge the world and national Establishments.

The chop logic underpinning TV channel RT is exactly the same. Similar Chinese, Arab and French channels concentrate primarily on broadcasting their country’s national position on key world issues, whereas RT’s main objective is to sow chaos and confusion, trying to convince people that that’s just how everything is. Come on, you didn’t think (did you?) that the left-wing radicals and right-wing conspiracy theorists had fallen naturally into line with the Kremlin’s position. No, of course not. They are all convinced they’re completely free to work to their own agenda. It’s just that it turns out their positions suit the Kremlin. It’s the same story with Trump: so far as we know, he’s not a Moscow agent – albeit his many Russian investors make it look as if he might be – but it’s not quite as straightforward as that.

For President Putin, thinking about his bid for re-election in 2018, that anti-Establishment position of President-elect Trump looks like something he could emulate. Why not borrow The Donald’s rhetoric, if not his hairstyle? If you want to Make Russia Great Again, apparently all you need nowadays is a fair degree of popularity, a big fat bank balance and a Twitter account.

For The Vlad, there are certainly many advantages in the role of shadow leader of the world struggle against the Establishment. For a start, there’s something wonderfully infantile about it, which appeals to him and strikes a chord in the hearts of many; it is noteworthy that the Trump majority in Russia is bigger than Putin’s own – approximately half of Putin’s domestic opponents support Trump, motivated by the teenager-like idea of doing battle with the System.

But can we really imagine Putin in the role of anti-Establishment caped crusader? To us, he looks more like a paid-up member of the System; I mean, he doesn’t even know how to tweet. No, the danger for all today’s demagogues is the same: where is the guarantee that at one point he himself will not be overthrown in the same way that those voting for Trump (and for Brexit) won the day?

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