The storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, which was Christmas Eve for Eastern Orthodox Christians, was a perfect holiday gift for Russian politicians and state-controlled Russian media.
While President Vladimir Putin has remained silent so far, reaction from political leaders was instantaneous, and the topic has dominated Russian news coverage ever since.
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that while the siege is “an internal affair,” it’s important to point out that the “electoral system of the U.S. is archaic.”
Konstantin Koschev, head of the International Affairs Committee of the Federal Council, the upper chamber of Russian Parliament, proclaimed “the end of the celebration of democracy.”
Russian media have been eager to take up these points.
For years, the pro-Kremlin media has exalted stability as the core virtue of Putin’s “sovereign democracy” – a term coined by Putin.
As a scholar of post-Soviet politics, I’ve watched how state-controlled Russian media have portrayed pro-democracy protests in countries surrounding Russia, including my native Ukraine, as CIA-led efforts to destabilize Russia.
The storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters has allowed Russian media outlets to change the conversation and depict the siege as the final collapse of the U.S. political system and democracy itself.
Russian coverage of the Capitol insurrection points out the perceived hypocrisy of Democratic leaders and the U.S. media.
Russian state-controlled media have repeatedly juxtaposed Democratic outrage over former President Donald Trump’s role in the siege against the party’s support for the “BLM and antifa summer riots” – their term for racial justice protests last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
State-controlled media have also highlighted allegations – debunked in the U.S. – that members of antifa, a left-wing protest movement, and Black Lives Matter participated in the storming of the Capitol. “Time Will Tell” and “60 Minutes,” two pro-Kremlin news talk shows on the state-run Russia 1 TV channel, have dedicated air time to this allegation.
The upshot of such coverage juxtaposes the disorder in the United States to the order and stability in Russia – a favorite message of Russian propagandists.
‘Digital gulag for Trump’
Somewhat surprisingly, members of both the Russian political opposition and the country’s pro-Putin political elite assert that the suspension of Trump’s social media accounts amounts to censorship and undermines democracy.
Such statements from people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the bombastic nationalist leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, come off as hypocritical in a country whose ruler’s power is based on censorship and anti-democratic measures, but are not surprising.
But Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and Putin critic who was poisoned and almost died last August and was recently jailed upon his return to Russia, also criticized Trump’s Twitter ban. He is likely worried that the Russian government will mimic companies like Twitter in its own censorship efforts.
Yet, there is also much relish for discussing Trump’s Twitter ban among Russian propagandists. That included Vladimir Soloviev, a popular television host, who has dubbed it the “digital gulag for Trump.” He has argued that the social media ban is part of an ongoing campaign to silence Trump and his supporters.
On Jan. 13, the hosts of the evening talk show “Time Will Tell” reacted with horror at the “police state” and “repressions” of pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol.
The hosts likened the tips received by the FBI from the public to citizens snitching on each other – a remark that resonates with anyone aware of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s reign of terror.
They also insisted that Trump supporters have become the “enemies of the people,” after Sen. Chuck Schumer urged the FBI to add Capitol rioters to the federal no-fly list.
This portrayal of Trump and his supporters as persecuted political dissidents has been used to further highlight the argument that American democracy is steeped in hypocrisy.
‘US is falling apart’
So-called U.S. disintegration has been a favorite topic for the state-controlled network Russia 1. The hosts of “Time Will Tell” have repeatedly reinforced this point by referring to the U.S. as “United, for now, States.”
During a recent broadcast, host Anatoly Kuzichev repeatedly said, “the U.S. is falling apart.”
RT, another state-controlled media outlet formerly known as Russia Today, reinforced a similar claim by quoting the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who said the Capitol insurrection has “called into question the future fate of the United States as a state.”
If Russian media outlets are to be believed, there are no longer any beacons of democracy left in the world. Margarita Simoniyan, chief editor of RT, summed up that view in a tweet: The United States “never were” a model of democracy.
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Lena Surzhko Harned does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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