We know that Vladimir Putin takes his lifelong campaign to disrupt American democracy and destroy the very foundations of Western civilization extremely seriously—but that doesn’t mean he and his state media minions can’t have a little fun with it now and then.
A bizarre and, frankly, deeply disturbing ad from the state-controlled RT network shows a deep-faked President Donald Trump joining the channel as an anchor. Although the wig is dodgy, the video superimposes Trump’s face onto a chubby body and plays real clips of him denigrating CNN and lavishing praise on “amazing” Russia.
The advert starts with Trump rolling up outside RT HQ in a limo and waddling to a dressing room which has the sign “Donald Trump: RT Special Host” on the door. Proudly holding up a signed RT contract which has “$1,000,000,000” scrawled across it in marker pen, the deep-faked Trump says: “It was a very nice offer from President Putin.”
The message of the advert is to not-so-subtly suggest that Putin is Trump’s personal hero and that the U.S. president is in the pocket of the Kremlin. In one scene apparently meant to show a network executive pitching shows to the deep-faked Trump, he’s handed a poster for a series called “Putin’s Apprentice” showing him standing with the Russian president. He exclaims: “I love that idea! I think I can do that!”
All of the things put into the mouth of the deep-faked Trump appear to be things he actually said, although the context is obviously very different. For example, the character says: “It’s an amazing country, you know, so many friends in Russia, and I’m very excited to be here.” That seems to be dug up from a 2013 interview when he took Miss Universe to Moscow.
At another point, when the Trump character is apparently lauding the Kremlin for the generous benefits they pay him, he says: “They’re very nice. I make a lot of money with them. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions.” Those comments are lifted from a campaign rally in 2015, when Trump was praising Saudi Arabia.
Then, the Trump deep-fake stumbles across the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow and screams: “Ohhhhhh! Here’s a nice one, here’s a nice one. A great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me.” Unsurprisingly, Trump said that back in 2015 when discussing his own uncompleted border wall. Similarly, when he’s seen confidently strolling out of the canteen with his lunch tray, the Trump character insists Mexico will pay for it.
The Trump character also criticizes CNN using one of the president’s many rants against the non-state-propaganda network, saying: “How would I combat news that dishonest? How would I combat a reporter or a network that’s totally dishonest? CNN is, you know, 100 percent negative.”
In the only part that uses a voice other than Trump’s, the ad ends with the character singing the 1980s Russian rock song “Peremen” by Kino, which has recently become an anthem for the anti-government protests in Belarus. It’s also been sung at anti-Putin protests in Russia, although some Putin supporters have also adopted it.
While the advert is clearly intended as a bit of mischief from RT, it is, nevertheless, a troubling example of how the Kremlin is looking at the impending election, and just the latest example of Russian state media treating Trump as Putin’s pawn in the run-up to the vote.
The Daily Beast reported last week that state media is openly rooting for Trump and salivating at the prospect of a post-election civil war. Imagining such a conflict, a columnist for RIA Novosti recently wrote: “It is better to remain neutral, but if we had to choose, then Trump is certainly ours.”
Moreover, the atrocious hairpiece aside, RT’s deep-fake technology is pretty impressive at first glance. If Russian disinformation damaged the election so much four years ago, imagine what a deep-faked video of Joe Biden saying something unconscionable could be if it spread like wildfire on Facebook before any kind of correction could be heard.
In a press release celebrating its video, RT wrote: “If all doesn’t go well for Donald Trump at the polls on November 3, then don’t worry Mr President, just hop on a plane to Moscow because there’s a job waiting for you.”