The art of the deal

November 11, 2016


The art of the deal

Some people have been saying that President Putin was in effect acting as President-elect Trump’s campaign manager. So where’s the payoff?

The Donald
The Donald

Although Russian propaganda had been aggressively agitating for Trump in recent months, the billionaire’s victory took even pro-regime media outlets by surprise. For example, the November 9 edition of Izvestia carried an article by political scientist Anton Khashchenko in which the author denounced the possible large-scale falsification of the election results: “The winner was pre-determined even before the official start of the race,” he blustered, “and all imaginable and unimaginable resources – financial, informational, administrative – were mobilised to secure him (read: her) victory.”

Two days prior to the election, Putin’s number one zealot Dmitry Kiselev, who once proclaimed that Russia was “the only country capable of turning the US into radioactive ash,” devoted fully a third of his 90-minute programme to the Trump-Clinton faceoff. “Even if Trump wins, the Clinton camp will declare the result illegitimate and set about sabotaging it,” Kiselev thundered. “This has been the dirtiest campaign in American history. It all […] makes you feel genuinely squeamish and revolted about what the Americans persist in calling ‘democracy.’”

Kirill Martynov, Opinion Editor at the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, sarcastically suggested that rank-and-file propagandists have been so active in their denunciations of the American elections because they’ve long since been forbidden from critiquing Russian ones: “The brouhaha around ‘Trump’s stolen victory’ is difficult to explain even with reference to a simple order from above. […] It’s possible that this could be a coded message from Russian propagandists to the effect of ‘you know we’re under lock and key here.’ You should really read ‘Putin’ for ‘Clinton,’ and ‘Moscow’ for ‘Washington.’”

Meanwhile, economist Sergei Aleksashenko pinpoints the rationale behind the actions of Russia’s propaganda “generals” and their Kremlin bosses: “It’s impossible to argue that Trump would be a better president for Russia than Clinton. We know roughly where Clinton stands on things – yes, she’d adopt a more muscular approach than Obama, but she’d remain within the limits of already-established protocols. But what would happen if Trump came to power is anyone’s guess. Yet Russia, as America’s opponent in the global arena, stands to benefit from any destabilisation of the political situation. Therefore, anything that’s detrimental to Clinton is of benefit for Russia. Hence the fact that Democrat servers were hacked while Republican ones were left untouched.”

On election day itself, the orgy of Clinton-bashing only intensified: it was suggested on Channel One that Russia ought to provide political asylum to FBI Director James Comey, while Russia-1 gave the floor to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose ravings pretty much summed up the regime’s attitude to the presidential hopefuls: “Voters can see that Trump’s a normal guy, a businessman – he’s self-made, a billionaire, a typical American. But Hillary’s an evil witch and a liar. Just look at her: flabby skin, repulsive smile, covered in wrinkles. She wants the world to burn in a nuclear conflict. So if Hillary Clinton’s declared the winner of the election, it means the election’s been falsified. Trump wants peace, he doesn’t want war; he couldn’t care less about Ukraine or Syria. He’ll repair relations with us. Hillary, on the other hand, is sick, she faints all over the place, she’s got Parkinson’s.”

Even after the initial post-election shock had worn off, and Putin expressed the hope of resetting relations with the new US administration, the federal channels continued berating Clinton (“she supports Islamic terrorists”) and began looking for an explanation of Trump’s victory (“America has voted against the system, against the existing authorities”). That said, the channels gradually set about reminding their viewers that campaign promises are one thing, and the actions of an elected politician quite another; furthermore, since the composition of Trump’s cabinet-in-waiting was still unknown, the path he might plot once in office remained unpredictable. In other words, Russians were being cautiously prepared for a scenario wherein the US, dashing Putin’s hopes, would remain Russia’s “true” and “faithful” enemy into the future.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta noticed this drift in rhetoric even before election day itself: “In recent days, there’s been a curious zigzag in the information policy of the state-owned channels. They’ve begun assuring their viewers that Clinton and Trump will both be worse. […] It would appear that the Kremlin is keen to hold on to its sole truly effective propaganda resource – the idea of a hostile West waging what is effectively an anti-Russian crusade. An idea crucial, needless to say, for domestic political purposes.”

So what can we expect from that historic meeting between Trump and Putin, when the tycoon finally meets the tsar? In The Art of the Deal, the Donald tells us all about his negotiating tactics:

My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”

And President Putin? He’s keeping his cards close to his chest.