Elizaveta Gaufman is a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies (InIIS) at the University of Bremen. She is the author of "Security Threats and Public Perception: Digital Russia and the Ukraine Crisis"

Ice Thin Memory

Usually when news about Russia makes it to American late night shows, Russia either gets hit by a meteorite, or it annexes part of a neighboring country. Either way, it is illustrated by Putin’s bare-chested photograph on a horse. This time, however, neither celestial bodies, nor Putin’s nipples were at stake. Several high-profile newspapers and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah reported on…  an ice-skating dance routine.

‘Wife of Putin’s ally’ [putting aside the whole sexist tradition of defining a woman through her male companion] was widely criticized for her Holocaust-themed ice-dancing routine. Even though the press secretary of the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities said in a commentary that the story didn’t have anything to it and there was no reason to get upset over the dance, as the Holocaust has been used as a theme in many art projects. The champion ice-skater Tatyana Navka was also surprised at the negative reactions and insisted that the routine was done ‘to remind our children about that horrible time’.

No offence, American media, but you kind of live in a bubble that does not include Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitic crime. Oh, sorry, now you no longer do. Russia is a different story. Holocaust was never really a part of Russia’s collective memory. Most monuments erected during the Soviet era on the sites of Jewish massacres were dedicated to civilians while their Jewish identity was brushed over. Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz in 1945 and Soviet citizens knew about concentration camps, but the Jewish identity of the victims was downplayed. Through the works of Ilya Ehrenburg, Evgeny Yevtushenko or Vassily Grossmann some people were familiar with mass executions of Jews. But these works were far from mainstream and were a protest against Soviet governmental policy of hushing up the ‘final solution’. This is yet another example of ‘warped mourning’ over the victims of wars, famines, repressions and purges in Russia.

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Femme Fatale

After Donald Trump won the elections in the US, Twitter was abuzz with the picture of potential UN Security Council country leaders that included Theresa May, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Marine Le Pen. So now all eyes are on France and its upcoming presidential elections. The possibility of ‘Frexit’ in case of Le Pen’s win is alarming enough, but Russia is also on the agenda. Russian-French relations have been strained since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, but have got even worse after President Hollande accused Russia of war crimes in Syria that purportedly prompted Vladimir Putin to cancel his trip to France. While in American elections Russia had a clear favorite, and did not really have a plan B for Hillary Clinton’s win, French elections seem to be much more comforting.

In the recently finished primaries on the right, the losing candidate Alain Juppe criticised the winner Francois Fillon for leaning too close to Russia. Fillon did defend Russia’s actions on a number of occasions and even wished for a Putin-Trump alliance. Putin admitted himself that he cultivated a good relationship with Fillon in 2008-2012, probably because they both belong to the J. Mearsheimer’s ‘I don’t give a damn about small countries’ sovereignty’ school of thought. On top of that, Fillon fits well with the conservative turn of the Russian government, being a vocal supporter of la Manif Pour Tous (anti-gay marriage movement in France), whose ‘traditional family’ poster has also been adopted by Russian anti-gay activists.

Marine Le Pen managed to shift Front National further to mainstream by purging some of her father’s most racist friends and allies and settling on a more conventional anti-migrant xenophobia. After all, Nicolas Sarkozy’s government expelled Roma migrants and closed borders way before the refugee crisis. Ms. Le Pen has been a welcome guest in Moscow and received a large loan from a Russia-affiliated bank for her party. Eurosceptic, pro-Trump and anti-NATO, Le Pen would be a perfect partner for Putin and the worst nightmare for the EU. At the same time, Sputnik News, a pro-Russian propaganda outlet, puts Fillon and not Le Pen into their IR dream ménage à trois with Putin and Trump. [dirty joke edited]

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Love Me Tender

‘I want to ride around Moscow with an American flag in my car. If I find one. Join me! They have earned it‘. If you were wondering who else was celebrating Trump’s win, it was the Editor-in-Chief of Russia Today Margarita Simonyan. Overnight, a deep-seated Russian Anti-Americanism and disbelief in American democracy was turned into almost unending love, although Russian Prime-Minister Medvedev still finds the name ‘Americano’ too unpatriotic for coffee and proposed to rename it into ‘Rusiano’.

The US election results came as a big surprise in Russia as well. According to many sources, most Russian TV talk shows had already prepared panels of ‘experts’ that were supposed to prove how democracy in the US is dead, how the elections were rigged, how American mass media were unfair to Donald Trump and how Clinton cash bought everything. Sound familiar?

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In Cheese We Trust

Mass media in the US often portray Donald Trump as an American version of Putin, if not his puppet. But it makes sense to take a closer look at the essence of Trump’s and Putin’s appeal to their respective populations. Let’s recap three broad topics: foreign policy, domestic policy, and the economy.

Both Putin and Trump focus on ‘foreign policy populism’ trying to sell the idea of great power resurgence. Showing the West “Kuzma’s Mother” has been Russia’s operative battle cry since Khrushchev didn’t slam his shoe at the UN General Assembly in 1960. Russia’s current leadership is carefully executing this master plan, starting with cyber-attacks and finishing with nuclear missile deployment In Kaliningrad.

On the other side of the pond, apart from “we’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning” and the whole “make America great again” rhetoric, the Trump campaign has voiced admiration for Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad and Kim Jong-un, complaining that Obama failed to show real leadership. I guess, “bombing the shit out of ISIS” as well as praising genocidal maniacs is his way of showing Kuzma’s mother to the rest of the world. Why this is necessary is a whole other question.

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Jokes Aside

Russia has been one of the spectres haunting the US presidential election. President Obama’s latest press conference is a case in point:

Mr. Trump’s continued flattery of Mr. Putin, and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr. Putin, is unprecedented in American politics and is out of step with not just what Democrats think but out of step with what up until the last few months almost every Republican thought, including some of the ones who are now endorsing Mr. Trump

It is rather bewildering for a Russian observer: the party that gave birth to McCarthyism is now overwhelmingly endorsing a candidate who embraces Putin who is ‘a leader far more than our President’. Hillary Clinton, despite having pressed the ‘reset’ button back in 2009, has called Russia a dictatorship on a number of occasions, showing that it is easy to revert to Cold War era clichés to perpetuate American exceptionalism in comparison to Russia’s un-American autocratic Otherness. No wonder there has been a lot of angst and conspiracy theorizing on the (American) left that Trump is the Manchurian candidate, whose arrival has been anticipated from the Pavlov Institute since 1959.

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Why don’t you like me?

We’re not so different, you and I. We both dislike Hillary. It doesn’t really matter that she was among key players in the Russian reset policy back in 2009, we really don’t trust her – just like you! We also like a strong leader. Our leader is much better at doing business than yours though.

You have a misogynist pig for a presidential candidate? We’ll take that and raise you a foreign minister who jokes about female journalists on their knees. Not to mention a former children’s ombudsman who thinks that after 27 women shrivel up, and that it’s ok for a teenager to be married off as a second wife to a man 30 years her senior. We might be a bit behind on anti-abortion legislation, but we’re working on it.

What about the whole homophobic thing? One of your running mates, as well as numerous senators and governors believe in gay-conversion therapy, adopt anti-gay legislation, and force people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex specified on their birth certificate. And you’re criticizing me for some ‘harmless’ gay propaganda law? As Russian people say in this kind of situation, and who are you to tell me not to pick my nose (it’s a real expression, unlike the one about a hibernating bear)?

So we broke into the DNC, big deal. For starters, it could have been that 400-pound guy in his bedroom. Or the Chinese. But what were we supposed to do when you were giving State Department’s cookies left and right, trying to start a revolution in 2011-2012? It’s not like people would go protesting electoral fraud on their own.  Continue reading

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