Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Devin Nunes, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump. Every day, it seems, the list of famous American names accused of playing some role in the perpetuation of Russian geopolitical goals grows longer and longer. Whether these men were acting consciously or have merely been caught up in an elaborate conspiracy of manipulation remains to be seen, but what can’t be argued is that the Kremlin has succeeded in creating the impression that the United States government is a mess on the brink of chaos while it, the Russian ruling power, is a stable force blessed with immeasurable power and influence over even its strongest adversaries.
So, no surprise then that when Russia was faced with its own internal discord this week—large-scale anti-corruption protests against the country’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev—it turned once again to an American “celebrity” to help sell its vision of itself as a country of strength and probity battling nobly against the forces of dissipation and violent illegitimacy and darkness.
The celebrity this time wasn’t Steven Seagal or Floyd Mayweather but Jeff Monson, the longtime mixed martial artist and avowed left-wing political activist who in December 2015 made his love for all things Russian official by applying for citizenship. For years Monson has been a celebrity in Russia, travelling the country as the official sports ambassador’s for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, teaching fighting classes to Russian youth, and occasionally spouting off, without a hint of irony, about the dangers of capitalism and imperialism and the graciousness of the “Russian soul.”
Well, according to reporter Karim Zidan, on Sunday, while news stations around the world clamored for coverage of the protests, Russian state television was ignoring them entirely, instead broadcasting a news report about demoralization and corruption in Ukraine (with which Russia has been in a heated and, at times, bloody territorial dispute for years) and a short profile of Monson shot inside the gym he opened up last September in the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), a self-proclaimed state in Eastern Ukraine established by pro-Russian separatists following the annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014. Monson opened the gym to, as he put it then, “make an active contribution to the development of youth sport on the territory of the republic and to do my part to inform the world community about the reality on the ground in the LPR,” and on Sunday he did just that, much to Moscow’s delight, I’m sure. As the world community watched in wonder as Russian exploded, Jeff Monson, ever loyal, ran around his gym and taught a small group of children the subtleties of grappling and proudly spouted the party line—proclaiming that the people of Luhansk are the “victims of an aggressive Ukrainian army and aggressive government.” No hired propagandist could have done any better.
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