In an interview with CNN on July 12, John Bolton, the former national security chief for ex-President Donald Trump, was asked about the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Bolton said it was a “mistake” to call the mob assault a “carefully planned coup d’etat” by his ex-boss.
“As somebody who has helped plan coups d’etat — not here, but, you know, other places — it takes a lot of work, and that’s not what [Trump] did,” Bolton said.
The Kremlin seized on Bolton’s comment for propaganda purposes.
On July 13, Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA Novosti put out a story with reaction by anonymous Twitter users who criticized U.S. foreign policy.
Only one actually expressed sympathy for Putin, yet RIA Novosti headlined its article: “Americans supported Putin after Bolton’s words about coups.”
That is false. In fact, Putin’s approval rating in the U.S. is practically zero. Polls show that his global ratings have nose-dived since he launched the war on Ukraine.
First, the tweets.
Given Russia’s extensive record of social media fakery, it’s a fair chance the tweets are bogus. None of accounts use a real name or photo. They could be from anywhere, assuming they are real people.
The tweet supporting Putin, from user “Topher Tuathalain,” stated: “Turns out, Putin was right about a lot of things.”
The “Topher Tuathalain” account was created in February. In 165 days, this account posted 24,500 tweets – that is, 148 tweets per day. The vast majority were retweets.
Such a high volume of tweeting is a red flag for bots or trolls, said Agassi Rodriguez, an analyst with Campus Sonar, which provides social media analysis for clients in higher education.
Bot Sentinel, a browser extension that helps identify fake accounts, concluded that “Topher Tuathalain’s” account “exhibits disruptive tweet activity, and we recommend caution when interacting with this account.”
Lest we forget, the January 2017 U.S. intelligence community report, “Assessing Russia's Activities and Intentions in the Recent U.S. Elections” identified trolls at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg as the source of widespread interference in the presidential election.
A federal grand jury issued criminal indictments against the agency and numerous alleged Russian co-conspirators, including Putin confidante Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
“Using fictitious U.S. personas, Internet Research Agency employees operated social media accounts and group pages designed to attract U.S. audiences,” former Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded in his report on Russia’s activities.
“These groups and accounts, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists.”
U.S. legal action hasn’t stopped the Russian trolls.
In January 2021, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that the Internet Research Agency’s work was expanding and that, to cover its tracks, it had moved several times. (RFE/RL and VOA are both U.S.-funded independent news agencies.)
In April 2022, the British Foreign Office said Russia continued to operate an internet troll factory, Reuters reported. U.K.-funded research, Reuters said, had “exposed how the Kremlin's disinformation campaign was designed to manipulate international public opinion of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, boost support for it and recruit new sympathizers.”
The idea that a significant part of American society supports Vladimir Putin contradicts surveys.
In fact, Putin has been unpopular in the United States for a long time. In 2013, Gallup asked Americans about their attitude toward him. Fifty-four percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of him, and only 19 percent had a favorable view.
After Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, then launched a proxy war in Ukraine's east, U.S. public opinion about Putin worsened. The number of Americans with an unfavorable view of Putin rose to 72 percent, while his favorables plunged to 13 percent.
Other polls underscore his deep unpopularity.
According to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted in January 2018, a majority of Americans (68%) had “an unfavorable opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” while only 16% viewed him favorably. A 2021 Pew Research Center poll showed the same result, with only 16% of Americans having confidence in Vladimir Putin.
Russia's war on Ukraine has made Americans even less admiring of Putin.
In a March 2022 poll for The Wall Street Journal, just 4 percent of respondents expressed a favorable view of Putin, while 90% had an unfavorable one.
Also in March, a Quinnipiac University survey found that 60 percent of Americans believed Putin to be mentally unstable. Quinnipiac analyst Tim Malloy called Putin “the world’s most-reviled leader.”
By comparison, 72 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center pollsters in March that they had confidence in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. As Pew’s headline put it, “Zelenskyy inspires widespread confidence from U.S. public as views of Putin hit new low.”