MOSCOW — Maybe the relationship was doomed from the start.
One is the powerful leader of a country with the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal. The other is a fiery candidate for U.S. president with a distinct admiration for strength, whatever the form.
In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump trumpeted their admiration for each other. But now Putin figures as a villain in the Trump campaign's attack ad on Hillary Clinton, and the Kremlin doesn’t like it one bit.
“We assess this negatively,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday when asked about the video Trump posted to Instagram a day earlier, according to Russia Today.
“It's no secret that the demonization of Russia, unfortunately, is an essential feature of the American election campaign,” Peskov told reporters. He said he had seen the brief video but was not sure if Putin had seen it.
The clip shows Putin, a judo black-belt, throwing someone to the ground, followed by a masked Islamic State militant, suggesting that they are America’s “toughest opponents.” Then it shows Clinton barking like a dog at a recent campaign appearance, followed by Putin laughing.
“We don’t need to be a punch line!” the video ends.
Peskov had little to say about the out-of-context clip of the Democratic presidential front-runner, which many Trump critics have denounced as absurdly sexist. (Clinton was telling a story about a fact-checking dog that would bark when Republicans spoke untruths.)
Until Wednesday’s video, relations between Trump and the Kremlin seemed as warm as ever. Just Sunday, Dmitry Kiselev, a reliable state television stand-in for the angriest voices inside the Kremlin, praised Trump and said that Russia-haters in the United States were trying to knock the front-runner off his perch.
“Top Republicans usually abuse the state budget trying to scare everyone off with Russia, but Trump is trying to find a common language with Russia,” said Kiselev, who once famously said that Russia had enough nuclear firepower to turn the United States into “radioactive ash.”
“It looks like they are trying to remove Trump from the campaign with all possible stupid-but-reliable methods,” Kiselev said.
The bromance between Putin and Trump started so promisingly — even if part of the attraction was fueled by a bit of a mistranslation. (The best relationships keep a bit of mystery to them.) Putin was widely reported to have said in December that Trump was “a very brilliant person, talented without any doubt.” In fact, Putin said that Trump was “colorful,” not “brilliant.”
At the time, Trump responded with apparent delight. “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond,” he said.
In debates, Trump has said he would get along with Putin a lot better than President Obama has. Later, he said that Putin had called him a "genius," kicking up the mistranslation a notch.
No word yet on whether Trump will send flowers to the Kremlin to try to patch things up.