Addressing Vladimir Putin on Russia’s premier television shows, lawmakers and pundits urged the Russian president to take advantage of the Kremlin’s outgoing asset in the White House.
Most experts unanimously agree that the presidency of Joe Biden will result in a slew of negative consequences for Putin’s Russia. The Kremlin’s refusal to recognize Biden as the president-elect was planned and discussed on Russian state television long before any legal challenges were raised by the Trump administration. This symbolic step is meant to demonstrate that Russia is still on Trump’s side, in order to extract some last-minute favors from the Kremlin’s favorite American president.
Disappointed by Trump’s defeat, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said on Russian state TV show Sunday Evening with Vladimir Soloviev: “We could have interfered this fall, big time... If his [Trump’s] head worked better, he could have asked us to do this or that. And he would have won, along with us... If we need Trump, then let’s help him. Make him dependent on us, so we could milk him like a cow.”
Zhirinovsky opined that Trump is a businessman and a showman, but lacks political will that could come from Russia, as a deciding external force. “We can help him stay in power,” Zhirinovsky argued. He pointed out that Trump still has 72 days to undertake a number of actions that benefit Russia, including the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, as well as the lifting of sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany. He bitterly complained that Trump “didn’t come through on any of his promises that would have been to our advantage.”
In an interview with Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, the historian Valery Garbuzov, director of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, pointed out: “Trump has played a cruel joke on Russian political elites. In 2016, Russia placed a bet on Trump. I don’t know what our top officials were thinking. But they made a major miscalculation... It’s time for our elites to sober up...”
Contrary to the Kremlin’s half-hearted denials, Russia did interfere in the U.S. elections in 2020, but its amplification of anti-Biden smears fell on deaf ears. Garbuzov noted that attacks on Biden turned out to be ineffective, overestimated, and petty. Russian pundits and experts on various state TV shows grimly noted that resistance to information warfare in the United States has risen to higher levels, with most of the media having learned much from the missteps of 2016.
Trump’s presidency and his policies have birthed plenty of perks for Russia, but they manifested mainly as side effects of the U.S. president’s destructive policies that undermined transatlantic alliances and cut into America’s traditional global strategies. Addressing speculation on whether Melania Trump would try to seek freedom from her marriage, political commentator Sergey Strokan noted on the state TV show 60 Minutes that most of the world is in a rush to get a divorce from Donald Trump. The Kremlin expected many additional benefits during the incumbent’s second term, but those hopes and dreams have been dashed by Trump’s crushing defeat.
One of the main concerns that alarms pro-Kremlin experts about the future actions of President-elect Biden is his vast expertise and political desire to protect Russia’s neighbors from the Kremlin’s advances. Garbuzov explained: “There is an unspoken war—covert and overt—between the United States and Russia for influence in the post-Soviet space. This is the unfortunate legacy represented by the former Soviet republics—and not only Ukraine. The United States has become more active in Central Asia—in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan... Influence on the post-Soviet space is like a long-playing record. Russia does not want to let it go, and the United States wants to claim it. The Americans are trying to fill the vacuum that formed in the vastness of the USSR after the collapse of the empire and the decline of Russia's influence in these regions. And they are accomplishing it, slowly but surely.”
Garbuzov predicted that tensions between Russia and its neighboring nations will be exacerbated by Biden’s presidency. The same point of view was echoed by lawmakers, pundits and experts across Russia’s state-controlled media. Political scientist Nikolai Zlobin told Interfax that Biden’s election will make Russia “an enemy No. 1 for the United States.” Zlobin predicted: “I think that American interest in the post-Soviet space will increase... I think that not only Ukraine, but also Georgia, Moldova, Transcaucasia, and Central Asia will become centers of greater interest for the American administration.”
Appearing on 60 Minutes, Alexei Naumov from the Russian International Affairs Council predicted that Biden would fill his cabinet “with hawks and sharks” and American interest in Eastern Europe would be revived: “Trump decided not to rule the world from Washington, but Biden will.” Co-host of 60 Minutes Olga Skabeeva soberly noted: “We don’t like that.” Host Evgeny Popov added: “We want to rule the world from Moscow.”
Skabeeva pointed out that with Trump as the lame duck and Biden yet to be inaugurated, there is a lull in U.S. politics: “No one is currently in power in America. We need to take advantage.” A chorus of concerned voices urged Putin to snap into action, taking advantage of Trump’s dwindling presidency before it’s too late. Appearing on Soloviev’s Sunday evening show, Zhirinovsky agreed with Skabeeva: “These are favorable circumstances for us. There is no president in America right now. For the next 72 days, neither Trump nor Biden can accomplish anything. We can do whatever we want: re-shuffle things in Ukraine, the South Caucasus [Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan], Central Asia... Our hands are untied. Do it now, while no one can intervene... Use every hole, every opening... Let them wake up with Russian flags all around them.”
Erasing all doubt as to the intended recipient of his messaging, Soloviev asked Zhirinovsky: “Whom are you addressing with all of these ideas?” Zhirinovsky clarified: “The leadership of the country. Not all of you, of course—you’re just the service personnel.” Soloviev retorted: “But you talk to the president anyway.” Zhirinovsky affirmed that he does talk to Putin, but noted that there is never enough time to communicate and other people are usually present. The state TV host reiterated: “So you’re hoping that the president will hear you on this program.” “That’s right,” Zhirinovsky replied, “That’s one of the formats. I’ve been doing it this way for over 30 years.” This approach is very similar to the way Fox News and its hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham strive to reach, impress and influence not only their general viewership, but also the audience of one at the White House.
Russian lawmakers and pundits also expressed their irritation at the celebrations that unfolded in American cities as Biden was declared president-elect. Russia’s 60 Minutes mocked CNN’s Van Jones for his tears of joy and relief about the end of Trump’s tumultuous, undemocratic reign. Host Popov noted, dryly: “Trump and Moscow don’t believe in tears”—a play on the title of a famous Soviet movie, “Moscow doesn’t believe in tears.” Appearing on Soloviev, Zhirinovsky scoffed at Americans who are “dancing and crying” because they were able to unseat Trump. The Kremlin’s mouthpieces are openly hoping for a rematch: Soloviev grinned: “It will be so funny when Trump runs in the next election—and wins.” “Yes, he will,” replied Zhirinovsky, “And we may help him.”