MOSCOW—Preparations for the Donald Trump inauguration party are well under way at the newly opened restaurant and nightclub Arbat 13 in the very heart of Moscow.
For what must be the first time in history, Russians are treating the day an American president swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” as their own significant event.
Igor Khaletsky, whose club is frequented by businessmen, government officials, and wealthy lovers of what’s known as gangster-jazz, is following a new Russian trend. “The Trump cult is growing because the new U.S. president seems loyal to Russia,” Khaletsky told The Daily Beast. “So we decided that The Trump Band [a newly named ensemble] and its gangster-jazz music would be relevant to the eve of the inauguration.”
At the top of Russia’s establishment many say of Trump, “He is a deal maker—he is one of us!” And the most famous fan of President-elect Trump is Russia’s number one decision maker, President Vladimir Putin.
On Tuesday, commenting on the “golden showers” or “pee-pee tape scandal,” President Putin said that he could not imagine Trump hiring prostitutes (“our girls of lowered social responsibility”) for the Miss Universe beauty contest that the U.S. billionaire organized in Moscow in 2013.
“He’s a grown-up for a start and, secondly, a man who spent his whole life organizing beauty contests and meeting the most beautiful women in the world,” said Putin. “I doubt Trump fell for that, although they [Russian hookers] are of course the best in the world.” Putin was joking as if he and Trump were best buddies.
Meanwhile Moscow’s official media have kicked into high gear condemning “the black time” of Barack Obama’s presidency. Some reports refer to him ironically not as the white dove but “the black bird of peace.”
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday, President Putin gave a small smile as he suggested Obama belonged to a category of people who say goodbye forever but never go away.
Putin blamed Trump’s opponents for trying to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. president-elect. The problem lies not with the meddling the American intelligence services accuse Russia of carrying out, but apparently, in Putin’s view, with those services themselves. Putin has always blamed them for the popular uprising in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014 that centered on Maidan Square in Kiev.
Now, Putin said, “I have an impression that after exercising in Kiev, they are ready to organize a Maidan in their Washington,” a suggestion essentially warning of a coup in United States.
So, Russia’s enemies are now Trump’s enemies, and Putin’s putting forth the idea they would do anything to keep Russia’s friend Trump out of office.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Channel One about an alleged attempt by “agents of American security services” to recruit a Russian official in 2015 who was trying to pay for the medicine needed to save the life of the dying former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov talked about the many times—more than in the past—American spies tried to recruit Russian traitors. Lavrov (formerly the apparent friend of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) also raised the question of Primakov’s medicine.
(“This is a really shameful story for Russia,” the deputy chief editor of Echo of Moscow radio, Olga Bychkova, told The Daily Beast. “Top Russian officials publically admit that they cannot even save Putin’s teacher, Primakov, without American medicine?” The lesson here, she suggested, would seem to be “Moscow needs Washington, and cannot live without USA.”)
The cult of Trump, displaying his name and face, playing up his tastes and interests, is growing big all across Russia, from Moscow to Siberia. Before the new year the city of Perm near the Ural mountains distributed prianiki, Russia’s traditional honey-spice cookies with a local interpretation of Trump’s slogan on them: “Make Perm great again.” (That sounded bitterly ironic to those who knew Perm as the gateway to the forced labor camps of the Soviet Gulag.)
The small town of Tula outside of Moscow is especially taken with Trumpmania. A guesthouse and a restaurant there have been named after him, as well as the band coming from there to play at Arbat 13 in Moscow.
Tula’s governor general, Aleksei Dyumin, a former Putin bodyguard, remains very close to the Russian president, and some analysts predict he could one day succeed to the nation’s highest office. In Dyumin’s Tula you now find packs of sugar with Trump’s face on them. There’s talk of presenting them to the new U.S. president to “sweeten” relations with the United States.
Russian entrepreneurs, even the youngest ones, see in Trump’s face and mane a great marketing opportunity. On a recent afternoon a young propaganda artist, Yulia, was painting colorful portraits of Donald Trump at the office of Network, the Kremlin’s youth movement. “I have never believed in any ideology,” Yulia told The Daily Beast. This is just business. “Some Putin portraits go for $300, some for over $2,000 and now I can sell Trump, our growing popular trend, for something like $200.”
Trump’s promise to review anti-Russia economic sanctions in exchange for Russia reducing its storage of nuclear weapons came as a total surprise to Moscow, and to some it sounded like a heavenly idea: Russia is hard pressed to afford its expensive nuclear and space arsenal. But could Trump’s notion be turned into policy?
“The flight of his fantasy is unlimited,” academic Aleksei Arbatov told reporters on Monday, then added: “This is an interesting example of a new system of thinking in Washington.”
Back at the Arbat 13 club, the Trump party’s organizers have prepared some surprises for Trump Night, including a performance by Willi Tokarev, an octagenarian Russian-American musician from Brighton Beach who has been famous for decades, since the days when Soviet authorities encouraged unwanted citizens, some of them Jews, some Ukrainian émigrés, some career criminals, some political dissidents, to move to New York. Tokarev, an iconic figure famous for singing about the Brighton Beach gangster milieu, wouldn’t miss this.
Khaletsky thinks it’s going to be quite a night—looking forward to a bright future. “Many in Russia celebrate Trump and hope he gets his business in Russia rolling, since he is not from the world of politics, he is a businessman, his world view is business-like, rational and far from intrigues.”
So, to entertain his guests from the Russian elite Khaletsky is planning to sing a song he’s composed called “Confession of an Oligarch”:
“I am an oligarch,” it begins, “and even an African monarch cannot allow himself to do the things that I enjoy.”
No doubt Donald Trump would feel right at home.