As Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, testified before Congress about the findings of his two-year investigation into Russian election interference, the Russians watched the proceedings closely. And in an unusual twist, Russian state television evaluated the content of the hearings more honestly than Republicans and their pet networks in the United States, albeit with maximum snark.
The anchor of Russia’s leading TV channel, Rossiya-24, dryly stated: “Robert Mueller testified that his report did not exonerate President Donald Trump of possible crimes and acknowledged the possibility that Trump might be prosecuted in the future. Additionally, Mueller reaffirmed the charges against Russia for its election interference.”
The show quickly moved on to showcase a CNN poll that reportedly found that 0 percent of those polled brought up Russian election interference as an important issue for 2020 elections. Even though this study was conducted in March, it fits Russia’s current talking points to a T: “Nobody cares.”
(The poll asked: “In your own words, please tell me what ONE ISSUE will be most important to you in deciding whom to support in next year’s presidential election?” And despite the phrasing, multiple answers were accepted. Nobody mentioned Mueller, the investigation, or Russian interference in U.S. elections. [PDF] )
Skabeeva was tickled pink when CNN analyst Harry Enten loudly exclaimed in a March video: “Look at the Russia investigation. Zero percent said it was the most important issue to their vote in 2020. Exactly zero, zero, zero, zero respondents said Russia ... Voters are not really thinking about this and if you speak to the candidates out on the campaign trail and follow them along, they really were not talking about the Russia investigation at all—at all!”
Russian state TV experts and pundits listened in, collectively grinning like Cheshire cats. Skabeeva happily re-stated: “Zero people blamed Russia for election interference—zero times!”, which was not the question in the poll. And she added later: “We’re officially laughing at their allegations of election interference.”
In keeping with the best traditions of Russian state television, Skabeeva lied: “We didn’t interfere in anything and even Mueller said so.”
In a Kremlin-curated environment, characteristically littered with lies, the Russians still managed to sound more believable than Fox News—perhaps because their intent is never to defend President Trump, but rather to enjoy the chaos and the damaging impact of his presidency on the United States and democracy as a whole. For the same reason, the Russians still want Trump to be re-elected.
Similarly, the Russians welcome Boris Johnson’s premiership, believing that it will bring chaos to Europe and drive it into a crisis of its own creation. During a recent broadcast of 60 Minutes, host Skabeeva described Johnson as “an odious character” and co-host Evgeny Popov added: “Exactly like Trump.” Grigory Dobromelov, Director of the Institute for Applied Political Studies, opined: “For Russia, Johnson is a very convenient negotiator, just like Trump. He will inject instability into European politics.” Host Skabeeva chimed in: “And we will wait for them to fall apart.” Dobromelov agreed: “We'll gladly wait until they drive themselves into crisis.” Flashing a satisfied grin, Skabeeva conceded, “We’re so cunning!”
The handpicked audience clapped vigorously.
The mood in the Russian state media is elevated and almost jubilant. More than ever, experts and pundits believe that Russia is prevailing on multiple fronts. It has long been one of the world’s largest arms dealers and business is booming.
Russian military expert and the editor of the National Defense Magazine Igor Korotchenko boasted: “Regarding our successes: Russia is one of the world’s top arms dealers in the world. Arms sales bring over one billion dollars per year to the Russian treasury. Our arms are being bought, because they’re better than American ones. Our air defense systems can detect and shoot down American stealth bombers.”
For the Kremlin, Russia’s arms sales are valuable not only in terms of their enormous monetary value. For example, in Russian state media, Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system is being described as “the first systemic failure in the NATO alliance” and “a wedge between NATO allies.” Russia is now eagerly offering to sell its Su-35 jets to Turkey, in lieu of U.S. F-35 fighter jets. The rifts in the NATO alliance are also visible with respect to Germany’s refusal to pull out of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia.
Military expert Igor Korotchenko was visibly energized, as he discussed Russia’s recent “joint air patrol with China,” during which Russian warplanes twice violated South Korea’s airspace, causing South Korea and Japan to scramble fighter jets. Korotchenko distilled the Kremlin’s triumphant mood by mocking the reaction of the West: “All of their screams are caused by their helplessness, because the growing closeness between Russia and China birthed a new geopolitical reality, with which everyone will have to contend—including the United States.”