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‘More a will than a political programme’: Russia reacts to inauguration of ‘old man’ Joe Biden

One commentator dismissed Biden as obsessed with minority rights

Oliver Carroll
Moscow Correspondent
Thursday 21 January 2021 14:54 GMT
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The morning after the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the United States, the Kremlin continued to keep its silence — but that did not stop its agents in the state media from sketching out aggressive battle lines for likely bruising times ahead.  

TV propaganda shows projected the 78-year-old leader as a forgetful, old man obsessed with minority rights.  

Sixty minutes, the lunchtime discussion show on Channel One, led with observations about the skin colours and sexual orientations of Mr Biden’s nominations for government.  

Mr Biden had projected calls for unity, host Olga Skabeyeva said, but in fact he was interested in “reeducating and fighting with” Trump supporters. His pick for defence, Lloyd Austin, “a black man,” had already signalled he would “start a war with whites in the army,” she claimed — “or white terrorists as he calls them.”  

As is the norm in the semi-scripted show, Ms Skabeyeva’s talking point was diligently amplified by the selected guests. They included the recently returned Marina Butina, convicted in the US in 2018 for attempting to infiltrate the National Rifle Association as a Russian agent.  

Aleksey Zhuralyev, a deputy for the ruling United Russia party dismissed the new president’s first speech as a “boring, old man’s” spiel. It was “more a will than a political programme,” he said, with the US leader showing “he was only interested in minority rights.”  

Co-host Yevgeny Popov delighted in telling viewers of the “unprecedented” number of executive orders signed by Mr Biden. “Seventeen new anti-Trump laws,” he noted. Using a phrase first invented for the speed in which Russia’s parliament rubber stamps the Kremlin’s most draconian laws, Mr Popov said Mr Biden’s “out-of-control printer” had brought forward new laws that the “whole world” had been waiting for.  

“Yes,” Mr Popov announced with a smile and dramatic pause, “the return of transgender soldiers to the American army.”  

Co-host Skabeyeva lamented the departure of the traditional, “feminine charm” of Melania Trump.  

“We will miss Melania and her fantastic dresses. The charmless Jill Biden is no comparison,” she said. The former model has long been a favourite for Russian propaganda, usually in negative comparison to her predecessors. Americans take a different view, with Ms Trump’s 47 per cent unfavorable rating making her the most unpopular presidential wife in history.

Other leading figures in the state media played heavy on Mr Biden’s advanced age. A common refrain was to liken him to Leonid Brezhnev, the 18-year Soviet leader, who by the end of his term became senile and the butt of many a joke.  

For Vladimir Solovyev, the headmaster of Russian propaganda, the only reason why Lady Gaga had been invited to sing at the inauguration was because “old man Biden” could pronounce her name. That, and because he couldn’t afford Alla Pugacheva, the Soviet Madonna, who at 71 is herself already well into third age.  

Representatives of the governing class treaded an altogether more diplomatic line.  

In an interview with local media, Konstantin Kosachyov, the influential chair of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s upper house, said the inauguration was “no celebration.” It would prove to be a departure point for ever deepening division in the US, he said. 

We will miss Melania and her fantastic dresses. The charmless Jill Biden is no comparison,

Olga Skabeyeva, Russian TV host

But things were unlikely to get worse on the US-Russian relations front. Joe Biden was a team player, he said, and that would provide stability. The fact that his team was full of “anti-Russians” was also a guarantee the relations wouldn’t get much better.  

The Kremlin has made no official inauguration statement congratulating the new US president, or otherwise. In his daily briefing with journalists, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were no plans for a tete-a-tete with Mr Biden. In-person communications were off because of the pandemic, he said, and, besides, there would need to be a reason for such a meeting to take place.  

“The question is not on our agenda,” Mr Peskov said.  

US Russia relations are at their worst since the Cold War and personal relations between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden are known to be problematic. In a 2014 interview to the New Yorker, then VP Biden claimed he had told Putin he had “no soul”.

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