Prior to the South Carolina primary, Russian state media were touting Senator Bernie Sanders as the most likely Democratic nominee, and it won’t be surprising if they do the same after Super Tuesday.
There are many reasons they like to promote Sanders, none of them a credit to him. And they really don’t like Joe Biden. As Russian state media often make perfectly clear, Donald J. Trump is their choice—and even their "agent."
So, reporting from the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, Russian state media correspondent Denis Davydov of Rossiya-1 confidently described “Comrade” Bernie Sanders as President Trump’s “main rival in the race.”
In the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, Russian state media strongly backed both Sanders and Trump. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of the St. Petersburg troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA) detailed how its operatives were instructed to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them).”
In 2018, Russian state media included Bernie Sanders in its line-up of “Russia’s friends,” alongside Dennis Kucinich, Dana Rohrabacher, Ron Paul, Rand Paul and Mike Flynn.
Sanders made the list because in 2012 he voted against the Magnitsky Act, a piece of legislation seeking to impose sanctions for the Russian government’s extrajudicial killings, torture, or other human rights violations committed against individuals seeking to promote human rights or to expose illegal activity carried out by officials of the government of the Russian Federation.
In 2017, Senator Sanders voted against legislation that imposed sanctions against North Korea, Iran and Russia. The bill was passed by Congress in response to Russia's interference in the 2016 US election, as well as its human rights violations, annexation of Crimea, and military operations in eastern Ukraine.
In 2019, Bernie Sanders was the sole senator to miss the vote on a bill that would prevent the U.S. Treasury Department from rolling back sanctions on three companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Vladimir Putin. Senator Sanders skipped the vote in order to meet with former staff members who conveyed their dismay over the alleged mistreatment of women during his 2016 campaign.
But Sanders’ voting record is not the sole reason for Russia’s reported attempts to boost his presidential bids in 2016 and 2020. His campaign is widely perceived by Russian experts as a boon for Trump’s re-election.
In 2019, when Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky told RT (formerly Russia Today) that if “Socialist Sanders” ends up as the Democratic Party’s nominee, Trump “would eat him for breakfast.” The perception remains the same today, with Russian state media—a reliable barometer of the Kremlin’s viewpoint—describing Bernie Sanders as the ideal opponent for Trump because he’d be beaten with ease.
Writing for RT on February 25, 2020, historian and political analyst Kirill Benediktov surmised that barring unforeseen developments, Trump’s re-election is “inevitable.” In 2016, Benediktov, alongside other Russian analysts and activists, celebrated Trump’s election as “a great victory” and “the real reset of the Western world.” In his 2020 essay for RT, Benediktov referred to candidate Sanders as the “Nutty Professor,” “a sloppy Jewish intellectual” and “an elderly socialist” with radical views.
Benediktov dismissed the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg because of his sexual orientation and used President Trump’s derogatory nicknames and favorite insults, panning “Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren” and Amy Klobuchar as “losers.”
Russian state media are concerned about Mike Bloomberg and his financial reach, describing him as the possible “dark horse” in the presidential race. But former Vice President Joe Biden remains the Kremlin’s least favorite option.
It would be a mistake to think Bernie Sanders is by any means Russia’s “Manchurian candidate.” His value to the Kremlin is as a disrupting force whose candidacy benefits Trump. Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard, who often appears on Fox News to criticize the Democrats, is perceived in the same light.
When it suits them, Russian state media trot out glowing profiles of Sanders and Gabbard. They have traced Sanders’ socialist leanings to his childhood, noting that his older brother, Larry, introduced him to the works of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. The host of state TV show, The Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, has described Sanders as a “leftist Grandpa,” a radical Trotskyite “spoon-fed by Lenin,” the likes of which are extinct even in the post-Soviet states.
The leader of the Russian Communists, Gennady Zyuganov, said: “Bernie Sanders did not accidentally enter the upcoming elections. This is a leftist person who shares socialist views and ideas. Therefore, it is not in vain that Trump is trying to bring down those tendencies. We are strong in the world and society, including the American one.”
Russian pundits and analysts were noticeably irritated by Bernie Sanders’ response to the reports of continued Russian interference in the U.S. presidential elections. They noted that President Trump never concealed his pro-Russian leanings, while candidate Sanders dared to demand that Russia stay out of the American elections—a comment Benediktov described as “vicious.”
Appearing on the federal Russian channel TVC, political scientist Sergei Sudakov made the point that unlike other American politicians, “Trump never criticized Putin in his entire life.” TVC host Alexey Frolov asked Sudakov to speculate whose election would be more beneficial for Russia: Donald J. Trump or Bernie Sanders. Sudakov sided firmly with President Trump, predicting that he will continue to pursue better relations with Vladimir Putin and Russia, noting that it’s always better to stick with “the Devil we know.”
The Russian state media network Vesti is showcasing a lineup of articles and videos about U.S. elections with a simple slogan: “America chose Trump,” a headline that betrays the Kremlin’s not-so-subtle preference.
The weekly program International Review on state television network Rossiya 24 introduced its segment about U.S. elections by proclaiming: “In spite of such a wealth of choices, there is no other alternative—this is why America is electing Trump.”
The Kremlin’s most feared candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, has been panned as someone who stands no chance of being nominated.
Russian state media actively disseminated conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and his son Hunter, while pushing Ukraine to comply with President Trump’s demands for an investigation, and these attempts to discredit Joe Biden were widely perceived as a successful operation. State media pundits and experts described the former vice president as a “political corpse.”
After his decisive primary victory in the South Carolina 's Democratic presidential primary, Joe Biden exclaimed: “We are very much alive." And it was clear the Russian state media did not want to hear that. Hours after the results of the voting came in, they were unwilling to acknowledge the outcome. State media channel Rossiya-24 briefly mentioned that Joe Biden “seems to be leading so far” in the South Carolina’s primary, centering its coverage, instead, around Tom Steyer dropping out of the race.