Russian state television has claimed US President Donald Trump is more dangerous than North Korea’s supreme commander, Kim Jong-un, in an apparent indication that Moscow’s opinion of the Republican has shifted.
State media in the country greeted the election of the bombastic property tycoon in November warmly, yet decisions by Mr Trump since coming into office have seen the two administrations come into conflict.
Relations slid after Mr Trump dropped a bomb on Afghanistan, accused Moscow of seizing Crimea by force and launched a missile strike against forces belonging to Russian ally Bashar al-Assad.
News presenter Dmitry Kiselyov who is known for his pro-Kremlin stance, said on his weekly TV news show ‘Vesti Nedeli’: “The world is a hair’s breadth from nuclear war.
“War can break out as a result of confrontation between two personalities: Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Both are dangerous, but who is more dangerous? Trump is.”
Mr Kiselyov also said Mr Trump was “more impulsive and unpredictable” than the North Korean leader. He added that both men shared the characteristics of having “limited international experience, unpredictability, and a readiness to go to war.”
Mr Kiselyov added Kim Jong-un was less scary than the US president because he was ready for talks, had not attacked other countries, and had not sent a naval armada to the US coast.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether Mr Kiselyov’s views agreed with the Kremlin’s, saying: “His position is close, but not every time.”
“He (Kim Jong-un) is after all on his home territory. He doesn’t plan to attack anyone just for the sake of it,” said Mr Kiselyov, who once said Moscow could turn the United States into radioactive ash.
Mr Kiselyov sarcastically told viewers that the North Korean leader’s young daughter did not, unlike Ivanka Trump, have an office in her father’s official residence.
After Mr Trump’s surprise win in November, the Russian TV anchor had heaped praise on him, triumphantly declaring that Russia was “congratulating themselves with Trump’s election”.
He hailed Mr Trump’s shock victory saying it would restore relations between Moscow and Washington which had deteriorated following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria.
But Mr Trump is yet to deliver on his pre-election promises of renewed relations with Russia and has faced pressure to distance himself from the former Soviet state amid a scandal about his team’s ties to the Kremlin.
Other state-controlled and pro-Kremlin media have walked back their initial euphoria for Trump in recent weeks too, but in the past Mr Kiselyov has often set the tone, and his intervention is the most robust stance on Mr Trump yet.
Polls suggest state TV’s U-turn on the US President has filtered through to the public, most of whom largely depend on TV for news.
A survey by state pollster VTsIOM showed on Monday that the percentage of Russians who hold a negative view of Trump has jumped to 39 from seven per cent in a month, and that feelings of distrust and disappointment towards him have grown too.
“The US missile strike on Syria was a ‘cold shower’ for many Russians,” said Valery Fedorov, the pollster’s general director.
“Donald Trump’s aggressive behaviour has resurrected distrust and ill-will towards America, something that has characterised Russian society for the last two decades.”
Despite annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and continuing to back pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine, Moscow has long criticised successive US presidents for interfering in other countries’ affairs.
Like many others, it bought into Trump’s pre-election “America First” rhetoric. Though things have not worked out as hoped, officials say they still want to try to improve ties with the United States. An improved relationship could also lead to the easing of sanctions imposed by the west over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
But the same officials say the Kremlin realises the process will be harder and take longer than originally thought and the result is likely to be more limited in scope.
Officials privately say they regard many of Mr Trump’s policy positions as no different to, or tougher than, Mr Obama’s.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised Pyongyang for its “reckless nuclear actions” on Monday, but made clear Moscow wanted Mr Trump to de-escalate.
“I really hope that the kind of unilateral action we recently saw in Syria won’t happen (in North Korea) and that the USA will follow the line which President Trump repeatedly set out during his pre-election campaign,” said Mr Lavrov.
Tensions between the US and North Korea were raised after Pyongyang launched a missile on Sunday morning. The test appeared to fail, with a White House foreign policy adviser saying it was a medium range missile that exploded four to five seconds after it was launched from an eastern port city.
On an unannounced visit to the border between South Korea and its northern neighbour on Monday, US vice president Mike Pence made comments suggesting America would go to extreme measures to force Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons programme.
Reuters contributed to this report