Appearing on state TV show 60 Minutes on Wednesday, State Duma member and chairman of Russia’s nationalist Rodina party Aleksei Zhuravlyov openly advocated for the abduction and imprisonment of U.S Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) over comments he made about how to handle the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis.
After returning to the United States from his recent trip to Ukraine, Gallego urged the Biden administration to take additional steps to deter further Russian aggression toward its neighbor by sanctioning Russia and arming Ukraine. In his interview from Kyiv on Sunday, Gallego told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s appetite for another escalation in Ukraine may be tempered only by a harsh military response.
Gallego said that Ukraine should be provided with more advanced weaponry that “will actually put a toll on the Russian troop movements and, you know, unfortunately that means we have to kill some Russians.” He added that Russians “only understand pure power, and we have to give the Ukrainian army and special forces the ability to do that.”
While it was clear that Rep. Gallego was referring to the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine—in the event the Kremlin resorts to further escalation—his words sparked fury in Moscow. Following the clip that showcased Gallego’s commentary, host of Russia’s 60 Minutes Olga Skabeeva described Americans as “parasites” who “don’t know history.” Zhuravlyov added that Gallego should be placed under surveillance and kidnapped whenever he travels again, in order to transport him to Russia. He specified: “We should be looking for that bud, and if he travels anywhere–grab him like Bout and bring him over here.”
The Russian lawmaker was referring to notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was extradited from Thailand to the U.S. in 2010 after a sting operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency two years earlier. Zhuravlyov specified that Gallego should be snatched from wherever he’s at, brought to Russia and forced to explain “whom he wanted to kill.” “This is how we should be acting... Spend 25 years in prison and then when you get out—“IF” you get out—you can tell us whom you wanted to kill,” said Zhuravlyov.
Skabeeva concurred and chimed in: “Bout is in prison for ‘intent,’ so he [Gallego] could also be imprisoned for his intent to kill Russians.” She bitterly complained about the attention opposition leader Alexei Navalny is receiving from the human rights organizations, as opposed to Bout. Zhuravlyov continued: “This is how we should be dealing with these bastards. We can grab him out of Ukraine and there’s nothing they could do, with our capabilities.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Gallego retweeted a post sharing this article and added his own response to the threats made against him on the state TV show. “Fuck around and find out,” the congressman wrote, along with an emoji of the American flag.
Anti-American sentiments permeated the rest of the broadcast, as Skabeeva described Russia’s recent launch of an ‘Otvet’ advanced anti-submarine missile by the Russian Pacific Fleet as Moscow's response to the discussions of “sanctions from hell” in the U.S. Senate. Skabeeva pointed out that in Russian, “Otvet" means “Response.” Referring to Americans as the derogatory term “pindosy,” Zhuravlyov implied that aside from responding to Western threats, Moscow could also strike first.
The host and panelists promoted a popular propaganda theme, claiming that the willingness to hold summits and negotiate with the Kremlin was prompted by America’s “weakness” in light of Russia’s “military superiority.” While Putin continues to claim that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine (again), his inflammatory rhetoric suggests that the Kremlin is moving forward with creating the pretext for an escalation.
Last Thursday, Russia accused Ukraine of a “provocation,” after a Ukrainian naval boat—an unarmed search and rescue ship—sailed towards the Kerch Strait in the Sea of Azov. The same day, Putin said: “We see and know what is happening in Donbas. It certainly looks like genocide.”
The Russian president’s recent comments were recited by the editor-in-chief of RT Margarita Simonyan, who has long been an outspoken proponent of Russia’s military takeover of Eastern Ukraine. Hanging on to Putin’s every word and describing him as her “boss,” Simonyan pondered on Twitter: “The boss has just called what is happening in the Donbass genocide. It wouldn’t be the first time for Mother Russia to save millions from all sorts of genocides. I don't know if he meant it, but I really hope so.” In another Tweet, Simonyan asked: “Is it starting? Mother [Russia], don’t let me down.”
When the war failed to materialize—for now—the head of RT expressed her disappointment with a sad smiley emoji. As far as Putin’s intention to keep the rest of the world in a state of tension, the same sense of uncertainty seems to apply even to his own propagandists. Unlike the majority of the global community, they’re openly hoping for an escalation, and waiting for “the boss” to make his move.