Russian state media isn’t taking Wednesday’s news from America too well.
On state TV, reports of U.S. Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives were described as a “very negative” outcome for the Kremlin, predicting “political chaos” in Washington and new sanctions on Russians now a certainty.
Across state-run media, experts pointed out that the new majority party’s control of Congress heightens the likelihood of new penalties being imposed. State-TV host Yuri Bogdanov emphasized that sanctions were hinging solely on the results of the midterms because “Trump himself does not want to impose them.”
Indeed, Russians were bracing themselves for the promised “sanctions from hell.” State-media host Vladimir Soloviev summarized that by looking at President Donald Trump’s new economic penalties on Iran, Russians should now anticipate similar measures by the United States. He also noted that the narrow margins among many poll results demonstrate Americans’ widespread disappointment with Trump.
State-media analysts also predicted that special counsel Robert Mueller will soon follow through with charges against Trump, members of his immediate family, or others within his administration.
“Expect a storm,” warned Victor Olevich, a leading expert at the Center for Actual Politics, in an appearance on Russian state television.
As Wednesday went on, the dismay in Russia was palpable, with state media reporting that—in light of the midterm results—recent meetings of Kremlin officials with National Security Adviser John Bolton were pointless and there is no longer any need for Vladimir Putin to meet with Trump in Paris during First World War commemoration ceremonies this week. TV host Soloviev remarked: “There’s nothing left to talk about,” as “the sanctions will never be canceled.”
The outcome didn’t come as a surprise. As the midterms drew near, the Kremlin’s apparent concern over potential Democratic victories spilled over into Russian media. With nail-biting intensity, pundits, politicians, and experts noted that Trump “is hanging by a hair” and the new majority will be inclined to cut the dangling thread by initiating the process of his impeachment. State-media outlet Rossiya-24 declared the midterms to be “no less fateful than the presidential election,” pointing out that the shakeup of the House of Representatives constitutes “a huge blow for Trump.”
Several Russian outlets aired live coverage of the voting, and pondered out loud whether Trump might soon be impeached. State-run TV reporters were dispatched across America, from McAllen, Texas, to Maryland and Washington, D.C., to cover what they described as a “historical moment.” Two Russian MPs traveled to the U.S. as election monitors as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly mission. State-TV correspondent Alexander Khristenko opined that the midterm results will determine the course America will take for years to come: “a choice between isolationism or globalism, defending the rights of minorities or protecting the white majority.” Back in Russia, state media repeatedly emphasized that the final outcome might cost Trump the White House.
Russians have plenty of selfish reasons to exhibit such an unusual interest in the American elections. As political analyst Evgeny Satanovsky said on Russia’s state-radio program Vesti FM, “For us, Trump is a wonderful president. To demolish trans-Atlantic unity the way he did was impossible to accomplish or predict.” He was quick to point out that in 2016, Russian parliamentarians were drinking Champagne “not because Trump won, but because Hillary [Clinton] didn’t.”
More pointedly, some officials were publicly musing about an ominous “bright side” in the possibility of Trump’s impeachment.
Appearing on Russian state-TV program Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, Vyacheslav Nikonov, the chairman of the State Duma Committee for Education and Science, pontificated that “Trump’s impeachment would lead to an armed uprising, a revolution, and a gigantic economic crisis... America might not survive this.” Previously on the program, Andrey Sidorov, deputy dean of World Politics at Moscow’s State University, caustically noted that “Unfortunately, Trump didn’t reach the level of Abraham Lincoln and didn’t drive the United States to civil war. That’s sad. Hopefully, he’ll become Herbert Hoover and at least drive them into a Great Depression.”
Putin himself laid helped the groundwork for a continued waiting game. In public remarks last month at the Valdai Club in Sochi, he said relations between Russia and the U.S. might improve either after the midterms or after 2020—“when he [Trump] will no longer have to look back at those who benefit from the anti-Russian rhetoric.”
The tactic also buys Putin more time with anxious Russians, many of whom are frustrated by his decision to increase the national pension age amid the country’s declining living standards. The Kremlin’s propagandists continue to blame “Russophobia” and not Putin’s disastrous foreign policy for the economic problems caused by the sanctions. In Russian media, Trump is still widely portrayed as the pro-Russian force in American politics who would be willing to lift the sanctions if he wasn’t constrained by the Democrats and the “deep state.”
While the Kremlin certainly isn’t pleased with the news from America, the Russian disinformation apparatus stayed poised to take advantage of the situation, with its ongoing efforts to delegitimize U.S. elections.
As the live polling results were relayed by the Russian state media, a number of complaints about alleged voting violations was skillfully woven into the coverage. The same theme is already being echoed online by various bots and trolls. Recorded Future, a U.S.-based cybersecurity firm, had tracked a network of social-media accounts of suspected Russian origin, aggressively pushing allegations of voter fraud in Texas, Florida, and Ohio.
Putin’s info-warriors will continue to sow the seeds of doubt and division in the West, echoing Trump’s own divisive rhetoric and using it to further the Kremlin’s nefarious objectives.