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Does Russia Love Trump? Yes, No, Maybe So

By Mariia Ulibegova, Russian Language Assistant

In this article I want to present various views on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election that individuals and certain media hold in Russia. Is Trump good or bad for Russia? Opinions differ. I want to show how they differ and why. I also tried to incorporate these opinions into a bigger socio-historical context.

When Willamette World News chose the presidential election-2016 and Donald Trump as a topic, it caught me somewhat off guard. How is Trump viewed in Russia? I was expecting this question to pop up sooner or later, but wasn’t prepared to give a full answer simply because I didn’t know what to say. I have never been a very politically-minded person, and so I’ve got most of the news from a handful of closest friends and family. Now that I see them in Skype only once a week, as an 11-hour time difference does not allow for a more frequent exchange, I hear about Russian news even less.

It seemed, though, that the general consensus about President Trump was as follows: even though his bombastic personality might not be the most fitting for his post, he’ll do a lot of good for the U.S. economy, because he knows how business works and cares about the “forgotten white middle class.”

Wait, that is not what I hear living in Salem, Oregon.

Suspecting that this opinion had been heavily influenced by the media, I decided to ask all of my friends in VKontakte, which is basically a Russian Facebook, to share links to their favorite news sources and also share their personal opinions on the topic. Here is what I got from what they sent me.

The loudest thing that I heard was the dissonance between the views in the “official” media, consumed mainly by the generation of our parents, and opposition media, who have the ear of younger people.

To give some historic background: this division of news sources by generation is only logical, in my opinion. My parents grew up in the USSR,  where the only two TV-channels and a handful of newspapers were controlled and/or censored by the Communist Party. They grew up under the heavy weight of ideology, where the only demonstrations you could go to were the (half-)obligatory marches in support of the Party, the Leader or the Glorious Working Class. It seems this inability to influence any decision made by the government grew into two antithetical views: as my father would say “Trust the government. They know what they are doing,” while my mother would say “What’s the point in doing anything? There’s nothing really we can do.” Add this to the traditional Russian mentality of relying on avos’ – a belief that things will work out on their own if you just wait and see, the experience of “the crazy 1990s,” when money was worthless and scamming was the only profitable business, and there you got it. You have your 74% of population routinely watching pro-Putin Channel One, often without trying to question it much, just happy that their families have a stable income and are able to enjoy the beauties of free market economy.

I, too, am happy that my family has a stable income and is able to enjoy the beauties of free market economy. By taking any interest in the media out of the equation I let myself feel free of any unwelcome opinions.

But I think that among the younger generation of Russians there are generally many more people who are interested in what’s going on outside of their household. They actually believe in the importance of free media (like Meduza, The New Times, Novaya Gazeta, Navalny).

Coming back to how the U.S. election and Donald Trump were portrayed in the media:

Channel One, which has a board of directors approved by Prime-Minister Medvedev, and Russia-1, owned by the Government of the Russian Federation, are the largest TV-channels in the country. They express pro-Putin views and keep pressing for Mr. Trump to be seen as a good friend of Russia. Here is how: the hour-long Sunday news program on Channel One in this installment, for example, says that Trump doesn’t “love” Russia, he just wants to build a good relationship with the country to restore what has been ruined by his treacherous predecessor. Obama administration, as explained in the voiceover, never kept its promises to Russia, like the promise to cease fire in Syria and start building peace in the country together. Putin is frustrated by the absence of cooperation from the U.S. and Europe in the fight against international terrorism, says the program. This may only lead to the conclusion that Donald Trump might be Russia’s only hope for a productive and equal partnership. Little wonder then that more recently, when presenting the topic of Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” Russian TV channels ran coverage of protests against the President’s decision, accentuating the violence of the protesters rather than the reason for protests.

As for Hillary Clinton, the media generally paid less attention to her electoral program, but insisted that she blamed Russian hackers for “breaking into American democracy” while she had no proof, and that she used this scandalous accusations to draw attention away from the real problem, that is the actual contents of the exposed e-mails.

As for the opposition media, their voices seem to be more skeptical about Mr. Trump and his policies. Navalny, for example, warns here that Trump’s intention to lessen restrictions on the U.S. petroleum production and export might make the oil prices around the world plummet. This would traumatize the Russian economy greatly, as almost half of the budget income is based on the oil and gas export. Also, the new U.S. administration, as Navalny points out, has not made any promises about eliminating sanctions against Russia, as the “official” media wants us to believe. Even more dangerously, Trump administration has talked about putting ABM (antiballistic missile) defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Russia would really frown upon, to put it mildly. Finally, the two presidents, Putin and Trump, hold opposing views on a great number of issues like immigration (Putin strongly supports visa-free regimes with former USSR territories including muslim Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan), gun possession, abortion, taxes, corruption. These facts make one seriously doubt the success of a potential friendship.

In conclusion, I hope I managed to show that Russian people and Russian media, just like people and media in the U.S., have different opinions on the topic. And though sometimes it’s obvious that the Russian Government has a very specific idea of how it would like for Russian people to see Donald Trump, I want to point out, that it’s only trying to do what any government would, that is to win the trust of the nation and protect the country and its interests.


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