Russian government figures, lawmakers and analysts sometimes mock U.S. President Donald J. Trump, and sometimes they heap praise on him as, you know, their guy. But it seems a man they really admired was Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, who was blown away last week on Trump’s orders, precipitating a fraught international crisis.
Among other things, Russian state media are describing Soleimani as the architect of Russia's involvement in Syria, an operation in which Moscow takes pride despite a long and continuing history of atrocities. Moscow live-streamed Soleimani’s six-hour funeral and showcased the procession of the mourners who brought flowers to the embassy of Iran in Moscow.
Discussing Soleimani’s liquidation on the state television news talk show 60 Minutes on channel Rossiya-24, Russian State Duma lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky—a controversial nationalist politician known as a showman of Russian politics—exclaimed: “Many don't understand it yet, but World War III is already underway. It is being carried out through different methods and technologies.”
Zhirinovsky proceeded to extol General Soleimani’s popularity with the Iranian people by comparing his importance to Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of Cheka—the secret police predecessor of the KGB and, now, the FSB) and Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, hero of the fight against the Nazis, put together.
The Russian Defense Ministry praised Soleimani as “a competent military leader,” who “commanded well-deserved authority and significant influence in the entire Middle Eastern region.” The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that Soleimani’s killing would be “fraught with grave consequences for regional peace and stability,” leading “to a new round of escalating tensions in the region.”
The chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Leonid Slutsky, described the action as “a barbaric provocation by the United States.” He opined that “the Americans have crossed the 'red line,' and this time the consequences can be very serious.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that when Russia urges restraint in the conflict between Iran and the United States, it means America “first and foremost.” Ryabkov said that Russia finds American politics “of controlled chaos and destabilization” unacceptable.
Likewise, the Kremlin sided with Iran in discussing the Ukrainian airliner, reportedly downed by Russian-made missiles. Ryabkov called on senior world leaders to refrain from public statements accusing the Iranians until an investigation has been completed.
Senator Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, predicted that the killing of the general would lead to increased violence: “You won’t be forced to wait for a response… wars are easy to start, but very hard to finish.” Kosachev accused Trump of arranging the killing “to spectacularly begin his election campaign.”
Russian state media have concluded that Trump's actions against Iran, including the liquidation of Soleimani, were primarily motivated by his re-election ambitions, as well as his urge to create a distraction from the ongoing impeachment proceedings. During the program 60 Minutes, the hosts played a 2011 video clip of President Trump, divining that President Barack Obama would start a war with Iran in order to secure his re-election. ‘Does it remind you of anything?”host Olga Skabeeva asked sarcastically. Trump’s ludicrous prediction revealed his own way of thinking. “Wag, wag, wag,” as in Wag the Dog, read the cartoon shown on 60 Minutes.
Even as myriad pro-Kremlin voices condemned Soleimani’s killing, many could hardly conceal their glee about the side effects of the escalation. Military analysts and state media pundits rejoiced at the perceived humiliation and weakening of the United States on the world stage. Russian state TV programs repeatedly broadcast the photograph of American President Donald Trump with missile-shaped slap marks on his face, originally posted on a Twitter page linked to the Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Russian state television aired the clips from Iranian state television referring to the American president as “a yellow-haired psycho” and offering a bounty for his head.
Russian war correspondent Yevgeny Poddubny said that for the first time since the Vietnam War someone dared to strike an American base. He pontificated that Iran raised the red flag of revenge for a good reason and managed to save face. The audience enthusiastically clapped in support of Poddubny’s statements.
Russian and Iranian state media jointly emphasized that Iran’s campaign of retaliation against the United States is far from over. An unnamed U.S. government official told Ken Dilanian of NBC News that American intelligence agencies expect Iran to continue retaliating for the Soleimani killing, using clandestine measures.
The source said, “If I were a U.S. ambassador, I wouldn't be starting my own car for the foreseeable future.” Likewise, the Russians anticipate that the Iranian revenge for the Soleimani killing won't end with the strikes of the American bases in Iraq. As that tweet of Trump’s slapped face puts it, the missile strike was, “Just a slap; revenge is another argument …”
Russian State television reporter Valentin Bogdanov described the killing of Soleimani as “lawless” and opined: “Iranians know how to serve their revenge cold. They could choose to exercise it—for example—close to the November elections, not leaving Trump much time to respond.”
Yevgeny Primakov, member of the Russian State Duma, a grandson of a former Russian Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and host of the state TV program International Review, said that “Iran demonstrated to the whole world that the hegemon could be kicked.”
“Iran showed its strength and America revealed its weakness,” argued military expert Vladimir Evseev, adding: “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
“You can deal with Americans only from a position of strength. Note how they got punched in the nose and that was the end of it,” remarked Nikolay Platoshkin, a former Russian diplomat and a Professor at the Moscow University of the Humanities.
Russian State TV host Olga Skabeeva mocked President Trump's assessment that Iran decided to back down. In reality, Skabeeva argued, “Trump got scared of Iran.” She marveled at the unprecedented nature of the unfolding events: “What other examples could you give when some country, some regional power that doesn't possess nuclear weapons— as far as we know—delivered a strike at the United States of America? Simply wow! How is that even possible? Can it really be done?”
Skabeeva added: “Trump demonstrated that he can't strike back… Your hegemony no longer works. What are your allies doing? Who supported you, Americans, in this action?” Skabeeva smugly surmised: “You are alone.”
America’s deteriorating relationships with allies delight not only the state media, but also the Russian lawmakers. On his Twitter page, Senator Alexey Pushkov pointed out that the great majority of America's traditional allies did not support President Trump's decision to kill General Soleimani.
During the state TV show 60 Minutes, Russian military expert Igor Korotchenko yelled at the American panelist, and in the process sketched Moscow’s strategic calculations:
“You crapped all over yourselves, that's why the United States needs to shut up! Your time is over!” said Korotchenko. “America is no longer the same. It's come to nothing. America admitted its own defeat, politically and militarily. Iran—an independent strong country, which is significantly weaker militarily—whipped and slapped you all over the face. Two waves of missile strikes—where are your Patriot [anti-missile] systems? They detected nothing and couldn't ward off the attacks. You utterly screwed up. America is not the same and the world is different. The year 2020 is breaking all established norms. Not one of your allies relies on you—not in Europe or the Middle East. You're weak and helpless… You're losing the status of a superpower. Your weapons are bad. Your allies found out that it's senseless to rely on the United States or their weapons systems. Your Patriot systems are ineffective, nothing more than a bluff.”
It should be noted that the Patriot systems reportedly were absent from the targeted military facilities in Iraq.
Korotchenko predicted: “The year 2020 opens up new opportunities, it will be the time of new alliances—and the place of the United States won’t be in the lead, but somewhere off to the side... Iran's missile strikes are not the final stage of the retaliation. You will no longer be able to decide the fate of the world. This is the collapse of the global U.S. domination. The multipolar world is coming into power in 2020. This represents new opportunities for our country.”
Korotchenko is a member of the Russian Defense Ministry's public council, with high-level political and military connections, including the likes of Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov. Lest anyone mistake him for a random bystander, Korotchenko pointed out: “As a participant of the Defense Ministry Board meeting [attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin] in 2019, I can say that our generals are at ease, because our army and navy function like clockwork. We're in control of the situation… The world is changing and it won’t be the American world. It will be a multipolar world in which you will be asked to stand aside when the most important issues of the global world order are being decided.”
Korotchenko concluded his tirade against the United States by proclaiming: “Today, Turkey, Russia and Iran are jointly working in Syria… from where you've been asked to get out. Tomorrow, you'll get out of Iraq and then you'll get out of everywhere else, because no one else places their hopes in you any longer. Other countries will be seeking support and alliance with Russia and buying Russian weapons… Russian political and military leadership is smarter and more successful than the Americans. That is the problem of the United States—the incompetence of their leaders. We are competent and that's why we're winning… We're back in the Middle East, we're again in the league of great nations. If the United States has a problem with that, criticize your own leadership that keeps on losing to us.”
Expert Nikita Daniuk, deputy director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Forecasts, argued that “America can no longer dictate its conditions to its direct enemies… Yet again we're noting the weakness of the United States in the face of an indecisive president who can do nothing but raise the stakes… Trump forced his way into a trap.”
There is a widespread consensus about the diminishing influence of the United States and the increasing role of Russia amongst Russian lawmakers and experts. “The geopolitical role of Russia and Putin keep growing,” boasted Igor Morozov, a member of Russia’s Federation Council.
Elena Suponina, advisor at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, surmised that in light of Trump's actions in the Middle East, Russia is now seen as a more reliable and predictable partner. Political commentator Sergey Strokan wrote for the Russian newspaper Kommersant that the new regional crisis will further weaken Washington and increase Moscow’s geopolitical influence, widening the window of Russia’s opportunities in the Middle East.
Russian experts see the Kremlin as the main beneficiary of the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran—both geopolitically and financially. Oil and gold prices soared following the Soleimani killing, and the Moscow Stock Exchange reached all-time record levels. Financial analyst Andrey Kochetkov told the Russian news publication Vedomosti that the geopolitical crisis in the Middle East directly benefits Russia: “While others are fighting, we are out of the way and have the opportunity to profit in this situation through the sales of arms and the growing prices of oil and gold.” The Kremlin continues to reap the dividends of President Trump’s foreign policy blunders and is most certainly not “sick of winning.”