Steven Seagal and the Silly Season in Russia

The “Silly Season” in Britain begins on 1 August when everyone has disappeared to the south of Spain confined to their hotels with the worst newspapers available to read. The tabloid press then has free rein to uncover for our delectation copious amounts of trivia. Now the Russians must feel they have to face the same.

Most of the world did not know where to look learning that on 5 August the Russian Federation had appointed Hollywood actor Steven Seagal the Foreign Ministry’s “special representative” for humanitarian ties with the United States. If it were 1 April, we would have known that it was obviously meant as a joke. But it is not, and the serious press in Russia is appalled. Indeed, Vzglyad ru, a hard line newspaper, has appeared with a leader entitled: “Why Steven Seagal is inappropriate to work for the Foreign Ministry of Russia.”

This is one of those excruciatingly embarrassing moments where the English, for example, go totally silent and start staring intently at their shoe laces. Russians, as we know, are made of harder stuff and arrant stupidity gets called for what it is. Vzglyad ru is unrestrained in blaming the Foreign Ministry for this idiocy but, as it points out, President Putin was the one who proposed to President Obama at the G8 summit in 2013 that Seagal be made a special consul for Russia in California. Obama, an intelligent man of fairly refined tastes, entirely unacquainted with foreign cultures and therefore the unexpected, immediately thought this was just a bad joke, laughed and said so, which left Vladimir Putin somewhat perplexed (this was not the only problem in the relationship.) But Putin the judo player is clearly a great admirer of Steven Seagal the aikido player, notably his violent films that do not require much in the way of dubbing but which put his martial arts on full display. This is a mutual admiration society for tough guys. It leaves the rest of us baffled; though somehow I think President Trump will be more understanding!