The Obama presidency is almost over — and Russian officials can’t wait. They’re not mincing words.
“God created the world in seven days,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said this week on her Facebook page. “The Obama administration has (seven plus) two more days to destroy it.”
During the election campaign, Russian state media criticized America’s “sham democracy.” That strategy no longer worked when Donald Trump won the presidency.
Now anti-Americanism has given way to personal attacks on Barack Obama. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman is one of the more creative Obama bashers, taking to Facebook several times a day with zingers such as this:
“It seems to me that if ‘Russian hackers’ have hacked something in the US, it was two things: Obama’s brain and, of course, the very report about the ‘Russian hackers.'”
Aleksey Pushkov, a member of the Russian Parliament and acerbic Tweeter, heaps scorn on Obama and his policies.
“The democratic process in the USA was undermined not by Russia but by the Obama administration and the media who supported (Hillary) Clinton against Trump,” he wrote recently. “The threat to democracy — is inside the USA itself.”
Others aren’t as measured. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, politician and perpetual gadfly never at a loss for inflammatory comments, told Russian news agencies in December: “Obama should get a D for flunking because of his (performance) as a head of such a huge state as America.”
Zhirinovsky has told obscene jokes about Obama. In October, he called him “psychotic.”
The comments about Obama often have a rueful subtext: If only Obama hadn’t ruined relations with Russia, the world would be a much better place. But hope is on its way — Trump is about to become president.
Witness this gem by the Foreign Ministry’s Zakharova: “It’s over, the curtain’s down. A bad play is over. The whole world, from first seats to the balcony, is witnessing a destructive blow to America’s prestige and leadership that has been dealt by Barack Obama and his hardly literate foreign policy team that revealed its main secret to the world — its exceptionality masked helplessness. No enemy could have caused more harm to the US.”
Some of the venom might be a reaction to Obama’s own dissing of Vladimir Putin, for example, in 2013 when he described the Russian President as having “that kind of slouch,” looking like the “bored kid in the back of the classroom.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this week blamed Obama for what he called “manmade degradation of our relations.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the Obama administration “has used numerous expedients in recent years in an attempt to hurt us. Now they feel outraged because their candidate lost the presidential race. But they are seeking to place the blame for their defeat anywhere but in their own backyard. And this frustration is an expression of their bad manners and Russophobia.”
Criticism of Obama on Russian social media and the Internet has gone even further. 2016 was the Chinese Year of the Monkey, and racist cartoons of Obama were rife.
As Obama’s last hours in office slip away, Putin remains above the fray, leaving it to his underlings to criticize the outgoing US President. Putin did engage in some diplomatic dissing by not responding to Obama’s December decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s alleged election hacking — a way of saying to Obama: “You’re not important enough to even respond to.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s government-funded RT television news network has rereleased an ad it made in 2015 for its 10th anniversary. It’s set in 2035. A grizzled Obama and a white-haired John Kerry sit on a porch, in white rocking chairs. “No one is afraid of us anymore,” Kerry laments.
Obama goes inside to fetch them a drink. A TV in the kitchen, set on RT’s broadcast, interrupts with breaking news. The new president, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, is announcing a “new era of transparency.”
“Damn propaganda bullhorn!” Obama complains. The two old geezers walk off into the sunset in a scene to warm the hearts of Obama’s Russian critics.
Jill Dougherty was CNN’s Moscow Bureau Chief and Correspondent from 1997 through 2005. She also served as White House Correspondent and, most recently, as CNN’s Foreign Affairs Correspondent covering the State Department. She is a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, where she is researching recent developments in the Russian media.