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‘They woke up Trump 28 times’ Russian network TV made it seem like the West pissed itself, when Putin unveiled Moscow's ‘invincible nukes’


Last week, President Vladimir Putin used his message to the Federal Assembly to talk up Russia’s apparently invincible nuclear might. Afterwards, the president’s two-hour speech was all any of the national television networks could talk about. Putin's address was presented as a challenge to Washington, which now must accept that it has no defense against the full force of Russia’s military. When the speech was over, however, foreign leaders didn’t say a word.

The expectations

An hour before Putin’s address, the state-run television network Pervyi Kanal started its coverage. Guests and presenters speculated on what the president might say, and the general consensus was that the message would be devoted to socioeconomic plans for Russia over the course of the next six years (Putin’s next presidential term). Experts argued that Russia now enjoys clarity on the foreign-policy front, saying Putin would focus largely on domestic issues (though they guessed he would make some time for Syria, the United States, and Ukraine).

“Hysteria in the West”

“I've just been told they woke [U.S. President Donald] Trump 28 times during the speech," reported Artem Sheinin on Pervyi Kanal, immediately after Putin’s address was over. The network characterized the president's speech in the following terms: “the Anglo-Saxons are worried”; “Russians are breaking new ground”; “it was an address to the city and to the world”; now Russia isn’t just a nuclear power but a little bit more”; and “this is a game-changer.” On the channel Rossiya 1, the weekly news program “60 Minutes” actually titled its broadcast “Hysteria in the West.”

Guests and presenters emphasized that Putin's speech doesn’t mark the start of a new arms race, pointing out that the president devoted most of his remarks to Russia’s socio-economic development, arguing that the country’s national defense is merely a prerequisite for any progress at home. Advances in the defense industry, moreover, will fuel Russia’s technological superiority, experts and journalists said on Pervyi Kanal.

Other national television networks like Rossiya 1 and NTV told viewers that the new weapons unveiled by Putin could even compel the West to lift sanctions against Moscow, spark the creation of a “world security system,” and launch new negotiations. Some guests on these stations, however, warned that the president’s focus on the military could aggravate relations and force Moscow to “brandish its big stick.”

As Western heads of state ignored Putin’s speech, Russian news networks had to rely on reactions from foreign television stations and Russian oppositionists on social media, in order to depict the supposed panic in the Kremlin’s adversaries. Guests and presenters quipped that opposition members are quick to criticize the government’s policies, without offering anything new themselves. When the president’s critics accused him of promoting fancy missiles to distract from poverty and low pensions at home, the experts invited onto network TV fired back that Putin has made increased social spending a top priority over the next six years.

Pervyi Kanal and Rossiya 1 both spent two and a half hours of air time analyzing Putin’s speech, devoting their entire daytime and evening news shows to the subject. NTV discussed the address for 90 minutes.

How the West actually reacted

For more than 24 hours, not a single foreign leader said peep about Putin’s big speech. On Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump devoted the entire next day to domestic policy issues. When asked to respond to Putin’s claim that Russia has “invincible nuclear weapons,” Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said, “We’re not surprised by the statements, and the American people should rest assured that we are fully prepared.” British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson described the Russian president's speech as a “path of escalation and provocation.”

A day later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s press office quietly revealed that she spoke to Donald Trump by telephone on March 1 and they both reportedly “expressed concerns” about Putin’s talk of nuclear weapons.

Story by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Peter Marshall