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What watching the U.S. election was like in Russia

by Thomas Carey Frazier
Nov 10 2016, 8:25am

It was early-afternoon November 9 in Yekaterinburg when Donald Trump was officially elected U.S. president, because of the 10-hour time difference. Most Russians were at work and had better things to do than worry about the American election. But the news still managed to spread across the frozen Ural Mountains.

Yekaterinburg is Russia’s fourth-largest city, although locals like to say it’s the third capital of the country, after Moscow and Saint Petersburg. It has its own famous opera house and the robust Ural Federal University, one of the largest in Russia. Earlier in its history, Yekaterinburg was known as the industrial heart of Russia, but now tech companies and construction sites dominate its landscape.

Irina, a communications specialist who had studied in America as a foreign exchange student, spent election night drinking wine to brace herself. The results did not start coming in until 5 in the morning, when she, like most of Yekaterinburg, was asleep. When she learned of Trump’s victory the next day, she was horrified and disappointed. “I thought Americans were smarter than that,” she said. “I expected the election to be bad, but not this bad.” Other Russians echoed her sentiments: A programmer named Evgeniya said she was shocked, and that she’d never expected Trump to win. And Yulya, a painter, said she couldn’t digest the results without whisky.

“I thought Americans were smarter than that.”

Anxiety wasn’t the dominant feeling among most Russians, though. Trump was touted in Russian media as the best option and Russians absorbed the message throughout the U.S. presidential campaign season. Many celebrated his victory here on Wednesday morning. Anatoly A. Wasserman, a Russian journalist and political correspondent, said in Saint Petersburg’s Nevsky News that Trump’s win was “a victory of common sense.”

The joy was tempered slightly for some Russians, such as those in a social media group called “The USA is a sponsor of world terror (16+)” on VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook. The group was openly in favor of a Trump presidency but a few hours after the announcement of his victory, the page shared a poll that asked whether people thought Trump would improve relations between America and Russia. Of roughly 7,000 responses, nearly 3,000 people said they believe that Trump is ready to improve the relationship but that the American establishment will not allow it. But the bottom line for Samvel, a capoeira instructor, was that with Trump instead of Clinton in the White House, “Russians will stay alive four years more.” He cited the hawkish image of Hillary Clinton that had been spread through Russian media.

“Russians will stay alive four years more.”

One unexpected unifying factor was curiosity about what a Trump presidency could mean. Early Wednesday morning, a radio station called “Echo of Moscow” interviewed a Russian expat living in California and asked him who he had voted for. The man said he had voted for Trump because he already knew Clinton. He knew what kind of leader she would be and didn’t want to vote for her because of that. He said he didn’t know what kind of leader Trump would be, so decided to vote for him.

Here in Yekaterinburg, Evgeniya also said she was curious about his presidency, an idea her friend Olga echoed. But when asked if they were curious what a presidency of Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky might look like, they were quick to dismiss the thought, saying he was a showman and not taken seriously. Zhirinovsky is Russia’s equivalent of Trump in terms of bluster and belligerence.

At around 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, I got a call from a friend’s 12-year-old sister who knows I’m American.

“Will everything be OK in America?” she asked.