Russian President Vladimir Putin was practically glowing while leaving a Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve service this Wednesday. Speaking to state TV reporters, he gushed about “the anticipation of a miracle” that can get a person through any rough patch in their life. Putin wasn’t talking about the United States, of course, but he might as well have been: America’s outgoing president had just delivered the biggest Christmas present to the Kremlin imaginable by inciting a violent insurrection. Hundreds of Trump supporters descended upon the Capitol, launching a brazen attack that defiled the most precious symbol of U.S. democracy and attempting to overturn the outcome of an election in favor of their conspiracy-peddling idol.
Russian state media had played its own part in amplifying Donald Trump’s baseless claims of electoral fraud and gleefully predicting that post-election violence would inevitably follow. “There will be blood,” asserted Russian lawmakers and state media talking heads, a prospect they considered to be “excellent.”
And indeed, there was blood. Vesti reporter Denis Davydov was embedded in the thick of it all, interviewing sweaty seditionists with bloody knuckles in between their attempts to storm Capitol Hill. “The United States never experienced anything like this,” Davydov noted. In his report for Vesti, U.S. correspondent Valentin Bogdanov asserted that the violence is not over: “While the Democrats gained control of Congress and the Senate, that doesn’t mean they can control the minds of the people. January 6, 2021 is forever written into the American political calendar. For some, it’s a dark date they will try to forget. For others, it’s a day to remember—or perhaps to repeat.”
Political scientist Yury Rogulyov told state media channel Rossiya-24: “The discontent will remain, the divisions will continue, but the big question is to which degree the Republicans will follow in Trump’s footsteps. If they do it, the crisis will be extended and America’s healing—if it’s even possible—will take a long time.”
Bemoaning Joe Biden’s election, Russian state media talking heads consoled themselves with the thought that Trump had burned the United States on his way out by discrediting America’s electoral system and democracy as a whole. The failed insurrection provided even more fuel for the fire. Instead of condemning an attempted coup—stoked by blatant disinformation—Russian officials joined Trump and his Republican collaborators in trashing the integrity of the U.S. elections. Addressing the foiled coup, Maria Zakharova, official spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, blamed the “archaic” electoral system and the U.S. media—and not President Trump’s incendiary messaging.
Russian state TV outlets followed the official line with precision, defending Trump and baselessly maligning U.S. elections. “Democrats are blaming Trump for undermining democracy, but democracy in the United States ended with the unverifiable, unreliable mail-in voting. Democracy ended with the archaic, non-transparent electoral system in the United States,” claimed Igor Kozhevin, the host of the state TV news show Vesti on channel Rossiya-1. His program included clips from Fox News, whose messaging during the Trump years became almost indiscernible from Kremlin-controlled state media outlets.
But even Trump-friendly Kremlin media outlets were forced to acknowledge that the current U.S. president had squandered any legacy he might have had by repeatedly attempting to undo the outcome of the presidential election: “It’s one humiliation after the next,” surmised Vesti. The program’s U.S. correspondent, Valentin Bogdanov, predicted that Trump “may soon be declared insane, accused of being a spy, or thrown into prison.” State TV programs repeatedly brought up the possibility that Trump may end up seeking asylum in Russia, emphasizing that it’s a very serious matter and not some kind of a sick joke. Kremlin-controlled media outlets pondered who will represent the Republican party in the next presidential elections, openly doubting that President Trump “will have the stomach for another run at the presidency” after his ignominious defeat in 2020.
Regardless of what happens to Trump, Russian propagandists find comfort in knowing that their favorite U.S. president’s divisive rhetoric and deliberate disinformation have inflicted lasting damage on America—and cast a dark shadow on democracy, which used to be an example for other countries. Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda argued: “The United States has long insisted that it is perhaps the only standard of democracy and order. But the inability of the American political system to transfer power peacefully and legally from one presidential team to another has torn the fragile veil from a failed example of democracy that has been carefully imposed on both Americans and the world.” Political scientist Igor Shatrov added: “The storefront is broken, shattered. It will be patched up, but the most valuable thing was stolen from the display: trust in American democratic institutions.”
It’s hard to imagine a bigger Christmas gift for Putin.