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US President Popular in Russia — With Caveats


FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump is applauded by Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan as he arrives to speak at a congressional Republican retreat in Philadelphia, Jan. 26, 2017.

As President Donald Trump prepares to speak by telephone Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the newly installed U.S. leader finds himself more popular in Russia than in the United States.

That unusual situation owes much to the positive coverage Trump has received in Russia's state-controlled media.

While a recent Gallup poll found that 45 percent of Americans approve of Trump, a record low for an incoming U.S. president, a survey by Russia’s state-run VTsIOM polling agency found that 40 percent of Russians think Trump will either be a good U.S. president or “one of the best” (8 percent), while 31 percent said he will be “average.”

Traditional Russian wooden dolls depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed for sale at a street souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 20, 2017.
Traditional Russian wooden dolls depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed for sale at a street souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 20, 2017.

Only 4 percent predicted he would be a bad U.S. president.

It is not hard to understand Trump’s high approval rating in Russia, given the way he was covered by the country's Kremlin-controlled media during last year’s U.S. presidential election.

“There is no other nation in the world that was watching Donald Trump so closely during his campaign, cheering him on,” declared Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of the giant government-controlled international news agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today).

Kiselyov, who also hosts a widely watched program on state television, has backed Trump openly and loudly on his show.

"They failed to portray Putin as a monster, now they're trying with Trump," he said during a recent program, referring to the U.S. media.

Image from Russian state television.
Image from Russian state television.

Since his inauguration, Trump has received a lot of positive coverage from Russia's state media. Since mid-January, Time Will Tell, a live political talk show that airs weekdays on state television, has devoted five programs exclusively to the American president.

During one of those broadcasts, host Anatoly Kuzichev, who has called Trump “our president,” stood in front of a large screen with Trump’s face photoshopped onto an image of Star Wars’ character Obi-Wan Kenobi swinging his laser sword.

Kuzichev compared America’s new commander-in-chief to “a lone Jedi” on a mission to save America, who is “all alone out there when we can’t help him from all the way in Russia.”

FILE - A billboard with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin is displayed on a street in Kerch, Crimea, April 7, 2016. The board reads: "Crimea. Russia. Forever."
FILE - A billboard with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin is displayed on a street in Kerch, Crimea, April 7, 2016. The board reads: "Crimea. Russia. Forever."

Still, there have been notes of concern. While the new American president has stated repeatedly that he wants to improve the U.S.-Russian relationship — particularly with an eye toward cooperating against the Islamic State terror group — he has also proposed lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in exchange for a deal with Moscow to reduce nuclear arms.

“I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially,” Trump said in an interview this month with the Times of London and Germany's Bild newspaper.

Image from Russian state television.
Image from Russian state television.

Those comments were greeted in Moscow with caution and skepticism. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow expects a dialogue with Washington on nuclear weapons, but said any negotiations should include new hypersonic weapons, a U.S. missile shield in Europe, space weapons and nuclear testing.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the international affairs committee of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, said Trump’s proposal shouldn’t be given “the status of an official proposal,” adding that the U.S. president’s comments were “speculative” in nature.

Apparently, the Russian public is also skeptical about the proposal to lift sanctions in exchange for nuclear arms reduction: In the VTsIOM poll from earlier this month, 55 percent of the respondents said they opposed such a deal.

FILE - A boy to shoots a machine gun with blanks, at a weapon exhibition during a military show outside St.Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 15, 2017.
FILE - A boy to shoots a machine gun with blanks, at a weapon exhibition during a military show outside St.Petersburg, Russia, Jan. 15, 2017.

Another poll, conducted January 20-23 by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent national polling agency, found the number of Russians seeing an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations has dropped 9 percentage points since November.

Levada Center Deputy Director Alexei Grazhdankin told VOA’s Russian service he believed the drop in optimism about U.S.-Russian relations was due to the Russian media’s coverage of American politics.

"All the recent reports in the [Russian] press and on television [on this subject] in December-January can be summarized as saying that Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia is facing stiff resistance from other power structures in the United States,” he said.

“Therefore, they said, it is quite possible his plans will not quickly be implemented in practice, and for that matter will wind up being nothing more than election promises.”

Victor Vladimirov contributed to this report from Moscow.

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