As the U.S. presidential race overnight closed Tuesday night with a victory for Donald J. Trump, the sun was rising in Moscow over a small group of hard-core Russian supporters of Trump who had sat through the night at a watch party for the candidate hosted by pro-Kremlin activists.
The evening had begun as what first seemed like a slightly lighthearted political-marketing event at a bar. A man distributed a Russian-language biography of Trump, titled “Black Swan,” a few activists wore Trump shirts and RT, the Kremlin’s international propaganda outlet, played on the screen.
In one corner, a 10-foot triptych painting showed Trump alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and the French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, painted to resemble one another. An MC threw out goofy questions, asking who was ready to kiss Trump?
But as the Moscow night-hours lengthened and most of the 100 or so guests dispersed, a dozen Trump fans who stuck around gradually began to first take heart and, eventually, became jubilant as it became clear that their candidate had won the presidency.
“It’s a magnificent show. A great victory,” Kirill Benediktov said at the event in the Union Jack pub.
“This is the real reset, not the Clinton reset,” Dmitry Drobnitsky said, referring to a failed effort by Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, to relaunch relations with Moscow. “This is the real reset of the Western world.”
The group cheering Trump reflected a strange feature of this election, the frequent coincidence of Kremlin views with that of the Republican candidate. The watch party was organized by Maria Katasonova, a pro-Kremlin political activist known for posing in pouty glamor shots attached to slogans calling for defenses of the Motherland.
Katasonova has spent the past months running a one-woman campaign backing Trump, staging protests alone outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, holding placards labeling Hillary Clinton as war and Trump as peace.
Like most there, Katasonova, turned out in a Trump-Pence shirt, had begun the evening hedging for the consolation prize of a Trump movement to continue beyond his defeat. In the event, her unlikely campaign goal came true.
As the results came in, the group, clammy from the close heat of the bar and repeating vodka toasts, roared out as Trump took each state. “Florida is ours,” a man with a beard cried out, hopping up and down.
Russia has been one of the most unexpected curveballs in an election that has overflown with them. From the early days of his campaign, Trump had made friendly statements about Putin, an outreach that was later followed by what seemed an escalating attempt to interfere in elections by Moscow, with U.S. security services accusing the Kremlin of cyberattacks targeting Democratic Party organizations.
Russians themselves have been shown to be among the only countries in the world who preferred a Trump presidency, with a poll this week by independent Levada Center showing 38 percent of Russians favored Trump, to 9 percent for Hillary.
The excitement at the Trump party was shared across much of Russian officialdom. On hearing the news that Clinton had conceded, Russia’s Parliament burst into applause. Putin congratulated Trump swiftly, sending a cable that expressed a hope for a return to “full-format” relations with the United States if America is ready.
Campaigning, Trump has suggested he will fulfil a number of Putin’s foreign policy goals, including recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea and reassessing the U.S. commitment to NATO. Democrats had suggested Putin was actively seeking to have Trump elected, but U.S. officials have questioned that, seeing the interference as meant to weaken confidence in U.S. democracy.
The giddiness for some in Moscow seemed to go beyond policy possibilities, seeing in Trump’s election, following hard on the British “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, confirmation of an anti-globalization trend at the head of which Russia has increasingly sought to place itself.
Those gathered in the bar were in no doubt the political wheel had turned:
“From this day on, Donald Trump is the leader of the world anti-globalist movement. That is done,” Drobnitsky, who writes for a pro-Kremlin news out, said, speaking before the result was final.
By anti-globalist, Drobnitsky and others at the bar said they meant against traditional neo-liberal government, free trade, large-scale migration, multinational corporations, banks and international organizations. For them, Trump’s victory marks the cracking of the Western order and the loosening of its intellectual and financial grip on the world.
“That’s a very important phase in the history of the West,” Drobnitsky said. “And that’s very important for Russia. Because we since the 1990s here in Russia got used to the West like the headquarters of the globalist empire. And now that is not so.”
The idea of Russia and Putin as “anti-globalist” has been gaining currency slowly, pushed on by Russian state media and gathering in fringe areas, that have moved center-ward, particularly after the Brexit vote.
Putin recently funded a conference of separatist groups across from the Kremlin under the banner of an “anti-globalization movement.” But even in Russia, these were considered marginal. But today, at least, there was a feeling their time has come.
“It is good for me, I think,” Benediktov, who wrote the Russian Trump biography, said. “I hope that it will be the beginning of new era of politics for the world and the history of the United States.”