As America’s FBI chief confirmed an investigation into alleged Kremlin interference in US politics, Russia state TV was knee deep in other news, seemingly ignoring the dramatic events unfolding in Washington.
FBI Director James Comey testified Monday during the rare, open congressional hearing, carried live on many global media outlets, that possible links were being examined between individuals in the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
But on Russian TV, the news was of the forthcoming Eurovision song contest in Ukraine, and the Russian contestant’s possible denial of entry.
It’s not that Russia has lost interest or doesn’t care about what happens in the United States, because it does. Moscow’s relationship with Washington, whether over sanctions, Syria or NATO, is a key one.
But the Kremlin, which controls the media over here, appears to have calculated that no good will come of watching, or listening, or commenting on the machinations of current US politics.
“Don’t see any reason for a comment,” was the blunt response texted by Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, when CNN asked him about the congressional hearing as it was underway.
Peskov has already spelled out the Kremlin’s frustration with US politics and the way in which the “Russia issue,” with its connotations of hacking and collusion, have become so poisonous.
“All this hysteria in public opinion, hysteria in official Washington, and hysteria in the American media, this is doing lots of harm to the future of our bilateral relations,” Peskov said on March 6.
There is at the heart of this frustration a very real fear that an already rocky relationship with Washington is poised to get a whole lot worse.
US sanctions on Russia over Ukraine have dented a fragile Russian economy already battered by falling oil prices. Moscow desperately wants them lifted.
The Kremlin’s military intervention in Syria threatens to be open-ended without US engagement. For months, Moscow has been calling for joint military action.
But all of that, any idea of a rapprochement with Washington, seems increasingly out of reach.
It’s all the more galling for Russians because it seemed, for a while, so tantalizingly close.
Donald Trump, once dubbed by his critics “the Kremlin’s candidate,” promised to build a friendship with Russia.
He criticized NATO, spoke of possibly recognizing annexed Crimea as part of Russia and heaped praise on Vladimir Putin, Russia’s strongman president.
Just after his inauguration in January, one Russian survey found that Trump’s name was the most mentioned in the Russian media, knocking Putin off the top spot for the first time since 2011.
The contrast with today is stark.
The Russian media is no longer dazzled by President Trump, the mood has changed, and Russia just wants this “hysteria” to go away.