MOSCOW — It was an average Friday night in the noisy bar of Moscow’s Chicago Prime steakhouse, save for two details: Many of the patrons were wearing red Trump-Pence campaign hats, and the televisions suspended above the bar were showing Fox News.
Welcome to inauguration night in Moscow.
Chicago Prime was one of a handful of bars in the Russian capital hosting viewing parties for the inauguration of Donald Trump, a politician who gives many Russians hope for a brighter future and reminds them of their own president, Vladimir Putin.
Real estate consultant Georgy Cheremsky said that while watching the ceremony, he had the “impression that Trump was in control.” Russians like Trump, he added, because Trump voiced his sympathy for Putin, who “is considered a great president by lots of Russians.”
Russia left its stamp on the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s regular praise of Putin coupled with the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian military services ordered the hack on the Democratic National Committee in an effort to swing the election toward Trump shrouded the 45th president’s administration in controversy before it even began. Then an unverified and explosive dossier was leaked last week alleging that Russian intelligence had gathered compromising material, known in Russia as kompromat, on Trump that could be used to influence his policy decisions as president.
Cloak-and-dagger intrigue notwithstanding, Russia has been unabashedly pro-Trump; it was the only G20 country in which a majority of people polled during the race favored the businessman over Hillary Clinton. Trump enjoys a vaunted stature on Russian state television and recently saw Putin come to his defense, challenging the dossier’s legitimacy and accusing reporters who cover such “fake reports” as being “worse than prostitutes.”
Trump’s ascendence to the presidency on Friday elicited an outpouring of support in Moscow that was far greater than anything Obama experience here in 2008 when he took office, even though Obama had given hope to Russians exhausted by George W. Bush’s overreaching foreign policy.
“I would like to make a hat that says, ‘Make Russian-American relations great for the first time,’” biomedical engineer Pavel Vereshchetin said at the viewing party. “That’s why Russians are excited. It’s a win-win-win, for (Russia, America) and the international community.”
Russia’s inauguration celebrations kicked off on Thursday at the Moscow karaoke restaurant Arbat 13 with a concert by The Trump Band and Willi Tokarev, a Russian emigre to the U.S. who made his name in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn singing about America and the criminal underworld.
At the karaoke night, he performed a song with the refrain, “Trump, Trump, he’s unbelievable! Trump, Trump, he’s superman!”
The celebration parties were hardly limited to Moscow. In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city located about 1,100 miles east of the capital, the Ogonyok bar advertised an inauguration event where participants could “meet those very same Russian hackers,” drink half-off vodka, dance to DJs dressed as Trump and Putin, and take selfies in Trump masks and versions of the red “Make America Great Again” baseball hat that Alec Baldwin recently translated into broken Russian.
“This Friday is the inauguration of U.S. president Donald Trump, a president chosen thanks to an attack by our hackers, a president whose collection includes photos with all of Russia’s star entertainers, a president whose election all of Russia greeted happily,” read the bar’s Facebook event page.
Meanwhile, the Russian Army chain of clothing stores on Friday offered U.S. citizens and embassy workers a 10 percent discount in honor of Trump’s inauguration.
Conservative activists who hosted a viewing party to root for Trump on election night were behind an event for his inauguration in the huge Central Telegraph building in downtown Moscow. Maria Katasonova, a member of the pro-Kremlin National Liberation Movement, posed for photographs in front of her infamous triptych featuring Putin, Trump, and French far-right politician Marine Le Pen. She argued Trump’s inauguration could “become a new page in history when the world becomes multipolar.”
The triptych will be fully realized once Le Pen wins in France’s April elections, she added.
The who’s-who of Moscow’s ultraconservative chattering classes sipped cheap champagne and ate meat pirogis as inauguration coverage played on a big screen and hosts from the far-right Tsargrad television channel led upbeat discussions about the future. At one point, they played Russian rapper Sha Man’s “Trump” music video featuring cartoons of the new president smiling in a Superman outfit and laughing as dollar bills floated behind him.
“Trump-paru-pam, Trump-paru-pam, a red fox in a black-and-white herd!”
Copies were on hand of “Black Swan,” a new Russian-language biography of Trump.
“People look at [the inauguration] with interest, with the same interest as the Oscars or the Olympics,” said pro-Kremlin blogger Anton Korobkov-Zemlyansky. He held one of many Guy Fawkes masks at the event, meant as a humorous symbol of the Russian hackers that he, like many here, denied had influenced the U.S. election.
Katosonova said the event was sponsored by a group called White Star and had no connections with the Kremlin. But several figures tied to the government were in attendance, including nationalist member of parliament Alexei Zhuravlyov. He was one of several to laud Trump.
“Russia likes strong people, Russia likes strong men, plus [Trump] likes our women,” Zhuravlyov said. “He’s a normal person, and he isn’t afraid to say the truth.” Trump’s off-color sense of humor, reminiscent of Putin’s own penchant for salty jokes, was also cited by many of his fans here.
“I’m sympathetic to Trump because he asks in ways that aren’t customary in society, he talks about grabbing women by a certain area,” said well-known conservative talk show host Maxim Shevchenko. “I watched his debates with Clinton, she was like a robot, he was like a human. Americans are sick of robots. They got tired of Democrats with their moralism and desire to create a new liberal socialism.”
He added that the internal conflict he expected under Trump would turn the United States inward and give Russia and the world a rest from “imperial wars and liberal values.” The more problems for America, the fewer for Russia, he said.
In addition to admiration for Trump, there was a palpable joy that the existing order was being turned on its head. Former member of parliament Dmitry Nosov said he wanted Trump to usher in warm relations with Russia, but more importantly, he longed for a break from humdrum politics-as-usual.
“I have hopes that it will be action-packed, it will be interesting,” Nosov said. “Not boring like before.”