The Kremlin is awash with Christmas gifts from Washington, D.C. and every move by the Trump administration seems to add to that perception. On Wednesday, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” Director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is “struggling to keep up” with the flurry of unexpected decisions by the U.S. President Donald Trump. The news that Mattis decided to step down sent shock waves across the world, being interpreted as “a dangerous signal” by America’s allies.
Meanwhile, the Mattis departure is being cheered in Russia. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, has said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump.” Kosachev opined that Trump apparently considered his own agenda in dealing with Russia, China and America’s allies to be "more important than keeping James Mattis at his post," concluding: "That’s an interesting signal, and a more positive one” for Russia.
Jubilation was even more apparent on Russia’s state television, which adheres closely to the Kremlin’s point of view. The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva asserted: “Secretary of Defense Mattis didn’t want to leave Syria, so Trump fired him. They are leaving Syria.”
President Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, remarked: “The idea that Putin is happy about this [Trump's decision to withdraw US forces from Syria] is ridiculous. It puts them at a greater risk, so I think that's just silly.” To the contrary, the idea of an American withdrawal from Syria is being widely perceived in Russia as “a total dream come true” if it truly takes place.
State TV host Olga Skabeeva surmised that Americans are “losers, since Putin has defeated them in every way.” With a theatrical sigh, her co-host, Evgeny Popov, added: “Trump is ours again—what are you going to do?” Every member of the sizeable audience enthusiastically clapped. While these statements are decidedly sarcastic, Russian opinion makers recount the Kremlin’s victories with unmistakable glee. Popov smirked: “It seems to Americans that we won on every front: the U.S. Secretary of Defense has been removed, we unquestionably secured a complete, unconditional victory in Syria.” Skabeeva chimed in: “They’re also planning to leave Afghanistan.”
Popov pointed out: “On top of that, Rusal sanctions have been lifted with Trump’s hands.” Panelists of the show, including Russian lawmakers, couldn’t hide their satisfied grins. The reference was to the announcement that Trump’s Treasury Department intends to lift sanctions against the business empire of Oleg V. Deripaska, one of Russia’s most influential oligarchs, sanctioned for Russian interference in the U.S. elections.
Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett told The New York Times that the move to lift Rusal sanctions amounted to Trump “sliding another big gift under Vladimir Putin’s Christmas tree.” The gesture is certainly being interpreted that way in Russia. Deripaska’s attorneys are reportedly mounting an aggressive campaign to pursue the removal of personal sanctions from the Putin-linked oligarch as well.
Discussing the planned departure of the U.S. from Syria, state TV host Olga Skabeeva pondered why Trump suddenly decided to leave at this point in time: “Americans say, it’s because he is beholden to Putin. Is that logical? Yes, it is.”