Russian state media had a familiar—albeit repulsive—approach to coverage of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot hearings. “The long-awaited first hearing in the United States was a total farce,” said the scowling host of Kremlin-funded TV program 60 Minutes, Olga Skabeeva. “Imagine that, a huge dark-skinned policeman, his name is Harry Dunn, got teary-eyed like a boy, because the protesters called him the N-word.” She then proceeded to say the Russian translation of the word out loud, a common occurrence on Russian state television.
In Russian, both the N-word slur and the word “Negro” are translated as the same expression. Skabeeva has long-used it with obsessive insistence, often making other panelists uncomfortable while repeatedly acknowledging her awareness that it is offensive. Last year, Konstantin Zatulin, a member of Russia’s lower house of parliament, pointed out that the word in question is deeply insulting and suggested she use the phrase “African American” instead. Skabeeva reacted with a grin and continued to use the same offensive term through many 60 Minutes broadcasts.
The pundit’s use of the word can’t be chalked up to a cultural disconnect, either: The TV personality used to live and work in New York, alongside her husband and co-host Evgeny Popov. The cosmopolitan couple frequently vacations in Europe and longingly talks about their great time living in the U.S., only to return to Russia to spout medieval views and nasty expressions while hosting their popular program.
Racist undertones permeated the rest of the coverage. Dmitry Abzalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Communications, falsely claimed that rioter Ashli Babbitt was “simply standing in front of the door” when she was shot and killed. In reality, Babbitt and others were attempting to breach a barricaded door inside the Capitol building. Disregarding the facts, Skabeeva harped on her favorite myth of reverse racism: “She was a white woman... shot by a Black policeman, and a Black policeman has the right to shoot a white woman.” In January, Skabeeva had claimed that Ashli Babbitt’s death signified that in America, “Negroes are starting to lynch the whites.”
Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) also provoked the ire of Kremlin propagandists. “It’s a pitiful sight,” Skabeeva scoffed at the congressman’s tears. She claimed that the first insurrectionist to be convicted of a felony, Paul Hodgkins, was sentenced to serve eight months in prison “simply for walking around with a flag.” Hodgkins unlawfully entered the Senate chamber and pleaded guilty to obstructing congressional proceedings.
In a Newsmax appearance last week, Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Greene described the rioters as “political prisoners of war.” Russian state TV followed suit: “The so-called terrorists are actually political prisoners,” Skabeeva exclaimed on Wednesday. She derided the Capitol officers as “talented actors,” echoing a move by Fox’s Laura Ingraham, who handed out mock awards for “best action performance” to the Capitol police officers testifying about the events of Jan. 6. Yet again, Russian state television was in perfect harmony with Fox News.
The congruence of Kremlin-funded media’s talking points with that of the Republican party position is remarkable. In May, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) downplayed the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6, likening the violent mob who overran the Capitol to a “normal tourist visit.” On Wednesday, Russian state TV host Skabeeva claimed that the rioters were simply touring the building, “but the ticket counter was closed at the time,” so they just went in. “No big deal,” Skabeeva raged, “There was no need for the police officers to cry!” She demanded that human rights organizations step up to defend America’s “political prisoners”—a particularly callous demand, considering opposition activist Alexei Navalny is still rotting in prison.
Perhaps worth noting too is that, in August 2004, after a group of young people unlawfully occupied offices of Russia’s Health Ministry for two hours and tossed a portrait of Putin out the window, multiple participants were sentenced to five years in prison for the “seizure of a government office and mass disturbances.” Panelist Dmitry Galkin brought up the event for comparison’s sake, but Skabeeva loudly interrupted him: “That’s different! This was an excursion.”
On the day of the insurrection, videos shown on Russian state television were a far cry from a harmless sightseeing trip. Russian state TV reporter Denis Davydov was embedded among the rioters, interviewing them and showcasing their bloody wounds on camera for Russia’s news program Vesti. Davydov featured the seditionists violently clashing with the police, and at one point exclaimed, “The protesters don’t intend to retreat. The mob is crushing the police with their weight!” He described the rioters as “the rebels” and noted, “The United States never experienced anything like this!”
Only days after Jan. 6, state TV featured Russian-speaking bloggers who participated in the events that day. The guests falsely blamed antifa for the horrendous violence, but there was no mention of a “peaceful tour” of the Capitol building. The narrative has since shifted, and as always, Russian audiences are expected to play along.
In recent remarks, President Joe Biden referred to the President's Daily Briefing and announced that Russia is already in the process of interfering in the 2022 elections in the U.S. and spreading disinformation. The content of Russia’s foreign and domestic propaganda operations, including current coverage of the Capitol riot hearings, leaves little doubt as to which side the Kremlin will continue to support.