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Champagne and smiles as a Russia-friendly populist becomes America’s leader

2017-01-21 21:19 | Network |

Champagne and smiles as a Russia-friendly populist becomes America’s leader
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AS DONALD TRUMP took the oath of office in Washington, applause rang out in a loft in central Moscow where pro-government activists, Kremlin-friendly consultants and nationalist politicians gathered to usher in the new American president. A “triptych” painting featuring Mr Trump, Vladimir Putin and the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen (pictured) stood in the middle of the room. Visitors sipped semi-sweet champagne and nibbled on meat pirozhki. Some party-goers donned the Guy Fawkes masks beloved of the online collective Anonymous, an impish nod to the Russian hackers whom American officials believe interfered in the elections.

While much of the world has greeted Mr Trump’s rise with trepidation, Russia has been ecstatic. Mr Trump’s pledges to improve relations have been welcomed. Charges that the Kremlin played a role in bringing him to power have been dismissed by Mr Putin as “fabrications”. (American intelligence agencies are still investigating potential links between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.) But Russian enthusiasm does not spring from a belief that Mr Trump will “make America great again”: many in Moscow herald his populist, isolationist message as a sign that an era of American global leadership is ending. “Cracks have appeared in the globalist world,” Leonid Reshetnikov, a retired general from Russia’s foreign intelligence service, told the crowd at the inauguration party. “Now the main thing is to widen them.”

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Russian state media have been equally upbeat. Dmitry Kiselev, Russia’s chief propagandist, dedicated his latest weekly news show to berating Barack Obama (“a disgrace”) and fawning over Mr Trump (“a man of his word”). Federal television networks carried Friday’s festivities live from Washington. “All of us should be in a good mood,” commented Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a nationalist politician, as Mr Trump arrived at the White House.

Amid the glee, businesses have looked to cash in on what some have taken to calling “Trumpomania”. A sugar manufacturer in Tula, south of Moscow, released a set of limited-edition boxes emblazoned with the new president’s face. A weapons foundry in the Ural region produced a commemorative coin with Mr Trump’s portrait and the words “In Trump We Trust”. The Russian Army’s clothing stores in Moscow offered a 10% discount to American embassy employees and citizens on inauguration day. “We hope that Marine Le Pen will win next,” said Mikhail Kovalev, one of the party’s organisers, sporting a Trump-Pence baseball cap.

Nonetheless, senior Russian officials have recently been tamping down expectations. “He’s not our man, he’s America’s man,” said Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. The tough questioning some of Mr Trump’s cabinet nominees faced on Russia highlighted the hostility that much of the American national-security establishment feels toward Moscow. “In this environment, we can’t talk about radical changes in Russian-American relations,” Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s national security council, told Rossiskaya Gazeta, a state newspaper, earlier this month.

Analysts have warned that repairing relations will take more than friendly rhetoric. The complex issues dividing the two countries will be “difficult to resolve,” says Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, “and that goes beyond the personal factor.” Even some who came to the loft bash acknowledged that the party may soon come to an end. “Today is probably the last day we can kiss Donald Fredovich,” said Dmitry Gusev, a political consultant, referring to Mr Trump by his Russian-style patronymic. “Tomorrow there will be a bitter hangover.”


(Editor:FinAll)
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