Yevgenia Albats is editor in chief of the Moscow-based Russian-language independent political weekly, The New Times. Albats holds a PhD in political science from Harvard University.
Give Russia’s propaganda specialists credit: They tend to be straightforward in telling an audience how they should think about important issues.
Take Monday’s debate between the American presidential candidates. A small, English-speaking part of my Facebook network woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning (which is 9 p.m. Eastern time) and remained glued to the debates online, with an eye on Politico or Bloomberg’s fact-checking.
“Trump is attacking, Hillary is on defense,” a colleague, formerly a producer with a liberal cable channel, wrote during the debate.
“Trump is not convincing at all,” stated a network friend an hour later.
“Clinton is more about substance, Trump is more about emotions. 50/50 I would say,” concluded yet another colleague, self-exiled in Paris now.
I thought that Clinton had a clear win, and went back to a happy sleep. I woke up to an online storm.
“That pity liar, that protector of terrorists, babushka Clinton has managed to stand straight up this time… Let’s hope she will collapse right in front of the cameras during the third debates,” I read from a comment in a Facebook discussion the morning after the debates. Did he watch the debates? Not really — he just saw some web pictures here and there. Why not? He said he doesn’t understand any English. So how does he know that Clinton is a liar (even if she is)?
Well, it was a ridiculous question on my part: I knew perfectly well where the Clinton basher got his “knowledge” from. The state-owned news agency Russia Today put out an analysis of the debates written by one of its top columnists saying, “Americans, and not just they alone, are well aware that their media are lying. And they are not just simply lying — they lie in favor of Democrats…” And so it goes.
“The United States experimented with the black president. It was a failed experiment,” said state-affiliated Channel One’s anchor Valeriy Fadeev. “Now United States has decided to conduct another experiment — this time with a female president. The outcome will be just the same,” concluded the TV thinker, who is the editor in chief of the pro-Kremlin economic weekly and a longtime Kremlin favorite.
Dmotriy Kiselev, an anchor with the state-owned channel Rossiya, has another approach. He says that he is all in favor of Hillary Clinton. Sunday after Sunday, he depicts Clinton as an old and mentally handicapped personality — “a silly grandma,” as one of my interns put it. Kiselev has said Russia is going to benefit from a U.S. president like her, who might forget a folder with top-secret files in her hotel suite while in Moscow, or lose her phone. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a man who is still capable of enjoying young women’s beauty, a candidate who seems to be the Kremlin’s (i.e. Putin’s) clear-cut choice.
Why does Putin like Trump better? The answer is simple — time and again, Trump has said that he is going to initiate a good relationship with Putin and abandon the U.S. sanctions, just as a start.
But give Putin credit: He is smart enough to understand that unlike in Russia, the executive branch in America operates in a highly constrained environment, and that statements made on the campaign trail often don’t cross the threshold of the Oval Office. (Donald Trump said that Putin called him “brilliant.” Putin, in fact, never did. A moderator at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg in June said that he, Putin, considers Trump “brilliant, outstanding and talented.” Putin responded that he never said anything like that, that all he had said was that Trump is “colorful,” meaning a man who attracts a lot of attention.)
However, it goes without saying that Putin prefers Trump to Clinton. And the reason for that, I believe, is based on Putin’s own view of the world and of politics in general. Trump’s story proves what Putin and his cynics from the KGB strongly believe: Politics in any country, regardless of the regime type, are profoundly corrupted; politicians come to the office with a goal of enriching themselves and engage in cheating and double-dealing; and democracy, fairness and rule of law are all but empty words.
If Trump gets elected, Russia’s corrupt elite will get nothing but indulgence for their sins.