In the months following Donald Trump’s election, Russian media fell hard for their brash new beau. Television anchors and columnists lauded Mr Trump’s promises to rebuild relations with Russia. Dmitry Kiselev, the Kremlin’s chief propagandist, fawned over Mr Trump on his flagship Sunday-night show, declaring the new American president to be a “muzhik”, or a “real man”—a sharp shift for a programme that had spent years stoking anti-Americanism. (His praise became so effusive that a fringe nationalist group even staged a protest accusing Mr Kiselev of “Trumpomania”.) In January, Mr Trump was mentioned more often in the Russian press than Vladimir Putin himself.
Yet just as suddenly as he appeared, the triumphant image of Mr Trump has largely vanished from Russian television sets. In the past week, as the Trump administration has issued increasingly conflicting signals on its policy toward Russia, the country’s news programmes have overlooked his activities, and commentators have taken up a decidedly more skeptical spirit. The firing of the Russia-friendly Michael Flynn as national security adviser may have caused some consternation in the Kremlin. So too did the White House’s statement last week that it expected Russia to “return” Crimea to Ukraine.
Russia may be realising that, despite Mr Trump’s promises, the bitter relationship with America is unlikely to change much. Konstantin Eggert, a commentator at the independent television network Dozhd (“Rain”), reported that the state-media holdings had received an order from the Kremlin to cut down on coverage of Mr Trump; Bloomberg, citing three anonymous sources familiar with the matter, suggested as much. Mr Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed those claims as “fake news”, but the numbers do not lie. An analysis by RBC, a respected business-news agency, found that mentions of Mr Trump on key Sunday news and analytical programmes fell by 88% in the two weeks from February 5th to February 19th (see chart). So much for love at first sight.