Donald Trump’s ratings in Russia have slumped. Or, better put, they have been artificially lowered, after the Kremlin ordered state-controlled TV channels to avoid excessive mentions of the 45th American President. As a result, Russian TV now talks about Trump four times less then before.
Earlier this month, citing three sources familiar with the issue, Bloomberg reported that the Kremlin had ordered media outlets to lavish less praise on the U.S. President, a move provoked by Moscow’s displeasure at the less than friendly rhetoric towards Russia coming from the White House in the wake of General Michael Flynn’s firing as National Security Adviser on February 13. The very next day, Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer, replying to a question about a recent flareup in violence around the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, said that President Trump “expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea.” A day after that, President Trump unleashed a tweet clearly written to disabuse his audience about any ambiguities in his Administration’s stance:
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
It took Russia less then two days to issue its orders to the media to cool it on Trump, although the Kremlin’s Spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the allegations. And it took the Russian media less then two weeks to measure Trump’s on air mentions, and thus to once again prove Peskov a liar. The Russian newspaper RBC used data from two major monitoring systems in Russia, Medialogia and Telemarker. According to their findings, on February 5th, Trump was mentioned between 141 (according to Mediologia) and 153 (according to Telemarker) times on the nine major state-controlled TV channels. On February 19th, the frequency dropped four-fold, to 38 and 35 times, respectively. Both measured days were Sundays—when all the TV channels air weekly news analysis shows—which allowed the researchers exclude the noise of day-to-day news coverage on Trump.
One of the most egregious television propagandists, Irada Zeinalova, who had been effusive in her praise for Trump in the previous weeks, let loose on her show on February 20: “Trump started falling back on old positions, and even using the rhetoric of Obama’s cabinet.” She then addressed the American President directly: “Not that we trusted you all that much, Comrade Donald. Let’s be realistic: the only common ground for us now is fighting terrorism. Because we are already engaged in a fight with each other that is quite intense.”
The Kremlin’s pivot on Trump reached its apex of ridiculousness in Russia’s Orwellian post-truth reality when Putin’s favorite propagandist, Dmitry Kiselyev, a host of the popular show “News of the Week” who has been sanctioned by both the United States and the EU, was accused by a Russian Duma member of “Trumpomania” and of plotting against Russia. A high-profile United Russia party member named Eugeny Fedorov organized a protest against Kiselev in front of the TV star’s office. A dozen people held placards screaming “Kiselev, you are a Trumpomaniac”, “No to the Trump cult in our media” and “Putin is our President”.
Later on the radio, Fedorov clarified his position:
In the last month, Trump was mentioned almost twice as much as Putin, first and foremost by Kiselev—and this is happening as Putin is making news every day while Trump sits in America. Largely we don’t give a damn about Trump. The cult is being created—the cult of America as it was in the 1990s is being restored, and the cult of Trump’s personality is being built up. So it’s absolutely clear for people that [Kiselev] is just a member of a conspiracy […] Kiselev is taking part in a plot against Russia.
In fact, Eugeny Fedorov does actually have some reasonable grounds for concern. According to the state news agency Interfax, for the first time in recent years someone managed to displace Vladimir Putin from the top position in monthly media ratings: in January of this year, Trump got 220,000 quotes in Russian media while Vladimir Putin couldn’t even top 150,000.
“The rightful order must be restored,” the Kremlin’s political technologists must have been thinking while ordering the media to chill with the Trump love. The moral of the story is a simple one: the love of Putin’s Russia is a precious gift that costs a lot and can be taken away, or worse, turned into outrage, at a moment’s notice—as soon as the beloved doesn’t fit the Kremlin’s selfish interests any longer. Vladimir Putin was so right when he said that Russian prostitutes are “the best in the world”…