Russia falls out of love with Trump as reality sinks in
US president all but vanishes from state TV news as hopes of detente begin to fade
Matryoshka dolls with images of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who no longer features prominently on Russian TV. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin
Russians glued to their television screens over the past week or so have become increasingly aware that Donald Trump is no longer the golden boy that pro-Kremlin media once made him out to be.
It’s not that state TV, the main source of news for most of the population here, has begun bashing the new US president – at least not yet.
But while Trump received even more coverage than Vladimir Putin in January, he has now all but vanished from Russian TV news reports.
To an outsider it might seem odd that Russian media would blank out Trump at a time when the future of his plans to mend ties between Washington and Moscow are hanging in the balance.
But for Russians who just one month ago were rejoicing with state media over the inauguration of a pro-Kremlin US president, Trump’s unaccounted-for disappearance from their TV screens explains itself.
“There’s a growing awareness in Russian society that relations with Trump’s America will be no less difficult than with Obama’s America or Clinton’s America.”
Putin, who has said little about Trump in public, probably always had doubts about the new Washington administration’s ability to push through with plans suggested during the election campaign – the easing of US sanctions, a block on Nato enlargement and recognition of Russia’s right to Ukraine’s Crimea.
But many traditionally conservative Russians, encouraged by state media to see the US as the source of most of their country’s problems, viewed the prospects of a Trump presidency as a boon.
Doomed love affair
Trump was liked in Russia for championing traditional values and questioning the values of western liberal democracy widely rejected here, according to sociologists at the Levada Centre, an independent pollster in Moscow.
Russia’s love affair with Trump ignored the reality of entrenched anti-Russian attitudes in the US Congress and was doomed from the start, Mikhail Taratuta, a Russian journalist specialising in US affairs, wrote this week.
“Why did everyone forget that Trump is not Putin, [that] he does not have such authority or power?”
Some Russian commentators suspect that state television has been ordered to cut back coverage of Trump and manage public expectations about the shrinking prospects of a political thaw. The Kremlin, however, says it does not interfere with media policy.
A turning point came in mid-February after Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, was forced to resign over his contacts with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington – an event that made headlines around the world but was barely mentioned on Russian TV.
In the days since then, as members of the new US administration issue increasingly negative signals on Russia policy, pro-Kremlin media has largely ignored Trump or has begun giving airtime to sceptical officials.
One US political news story that received wide Russian coverage this week was the result of a survey indicating that fewer people in the United States see Putin as a bogeyman than before.
The Gallup poll found that 22 per cent of the American public now viewed of Putin favourably – up from 13 per cent in 2015 and the highest rating the Russian president received since 2003.
Of course there are still plenty of Putin-haters in the US, but rather than greeting the poll’s findings, Russian state media stuck the knife in American propagandists for encouraging Russophobia.
“In recent years the Obama administration and its affiliated media regularly launched a steady stream of smear campaigns against Russia,” wrote the Tass news agency.
“The new Trump administration has expressed willingness to get along with Russia, but Congress and the US media still continue to whip up anti-Russian rhetoric.”
Some Russians hope that a face-to-face meeting between Putin and Trump could yet bring about the much-awaited detente.
However, when the Kremlin confirmed this week that Putin would attend the G20 summit in Hamburg in July, it made no mention of a possible Trump tete-a-tete.
“Russia has become a sort of banana skin for Trump,” Andrei Fedorov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, told the US NBC television network this week. “Trump cannot come to a meeting with Putin as a loser. He must sort out his domestic problems first.”
In an unusual move, Fedorov revealed that the Kremlin was preparing a detailed psychological dossier on Trump to help Putin prepare for talks with the US leader.
Trump “doesn’t fully understand who is Mr Putin – he is a tough guy,” the Russian diplomat said.