MOSCOW (Reuters) - As Russian hopes of swift detente under President Donald Trump have fizzled, state media, which hailed his election win, have made a U-turn. On Sunday, they said he was scarier than North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.
Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike against Syria, a Russian ally, drop a giant bomb on Afghanistan, and stick with Obama-era policies on Crimea, mean Russian hopes of him befriending the Kremlin have been on the slide for a while.
If state TV is a guide, his tough talk on North Korea’s nuclear program and decision to despatch a naval strike force to the region appear to have buried any Russian hopes that he might intervene less in foreign affairs than his predecessors.
Dmitry Kiselyov, anchor of Russia’s main weekly TV news show “Vesti Nedeli,” on the Rossiya 1 channel, is widely seen as the top pro-Kremlin presenter. He had already began to dial back the Trumpomania and start criticizing the U.S. president.
But on Sunday, his first broadcast since Rex Tillerson’s maiden visit to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state, Kiselyov, who once praised Trump for his “independence” from the U.S. political establishment, removed the proverbial gloves.
“The world is a hair’s breadth from nuclear war,” said Kiselyov. “War can break out as a result of confrontation between two personalities; Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Both are dangerous, but who is more dangerous? Trump is.”
Kiselyov went on to say that Trump was “more impulsive and unpredictable” than the North Korean and to say both men shared some of the same negative traits: “Limited international experience, unpredictability, and a readiness to go to war.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether Kiselyov’s views chimed with the Kremlin’s, but said his opinions weren’t necessarily always interchangeable with the official position. “His position is close, but not every time,” said Peskov.
The fact that Kiselyov is being given free rein to use such tough rhetoric about Trump is nonetheless likely to reflect how deep the Kremlin’s anger runs about what it sees as Trump’s failure to deliver on his pledge of better ties with Moscow.
Speaking in front of a picture of the North Korean leader and military commanders juxtaposed next to Trump’s image, Kiselyov said Kim Jong-Un was less scary than the U.S. president because he was ready for talks, had not attacked other countries, and had not sent a naval armada to the U.S. coast.
“He (Kim Jong-Un) is after all on his home territory. He doesn’t plan to attack anyone just for the sake of it,” said Kiselyov, who was a cheerleader for state TV’s strong anti-American tone under the Obama administration and once said Moscow could turn the United States into radioactive ash.
Delivering a personal jibe, Kiselyov sarcastically told viewers that the North Korean leader’s young daughter did not, unlike Ivanka Trump, have an office in her father’s official residence.
Other state-controlled and pro-Kremlin media have walked back their initial euphoria for Trump in recent weeks too, but Kiselyov tends to set the tone for everyone else and his intervention is the most robust on Trump yet.
Polls suggest state TV’s U-turn over Trump has filtered through to the public, most of whom get their news from TV.
A survey by state pollster VTsIOM showed on Monday that the percentage of Russians who hold a negative view of Trump has jumped to 39 from seven percent in a month, and that feelings of distrust and disappointment towards him have grown too.
“The U.S. missile strike on Syria was a ‘cold shower’ for many Russians,” said Valery Fedorov, the pollster’s general director.
“Donald Trump’s aggressive behavior has resurrected distrust and ill-will towards America, something that has characterized Russian society for the last two decades.”
Despite annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and continuing to back pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine, Moscow has long criticized successive U.S. presidents for interfering in other countries’ affairs.
Like many others, it bought into Trump’s pre-election “America First” rhetoric. Though things have not worked out as it hoped, officials say they still want to try to improve ties with the United States, something they badly need to try to get financial sanctions imposed over Ukraine eased.
The Kremlin realizes however, those same officials say, that the process will be harder and take longer than originally thought and the result is likely to be more limited in scope.
Officials privately say they regard many of Trump’s policy positions as no different to, or tougher than, Obama’s.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Pyongyang for its “reckless nuclear actions” on Monday, but made clear Moscow wanted Trump to de-escalate.
“I really hope that the kind of unilateral action we recently saw in Syria won’t happen (in North Korea) and that the USA will follow the line which President Trump repeatedly set out during his pre-election campaign,” said Lavrov.
Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Polina Devitt; Editing by Anna Willard