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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: February 2, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kiselyev Says Putin Can 'Destroy NATO with One Phone Call'
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Russian social media has filled up with commentary about another outrageous comment from Dmitry Kislyev, the widely-known talk-show host and head of Russian state media conglomerate Rossiya Segodnya.

Just as he once spoke about how Russia's nuclear weapons could "reduce America to ash," on February 1, Kiselyev said that President Vladimir Putin could launch an attack on NATO "with one phone call."

Kiselyev recounts recent negative developments for Russia, including the downgrading of its bonds to "junk" level by Standard & Poor but says it's "not a catastrophe" and claims that every day, American politicians, financiers and generals look on the map and are unhappy that Russia is even on it, because "its existence doesn't suit them." He cited Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev who said that Russia's reaction to being cut off from the SWIFT banking transaction system would be "limitless."

A transcript of the show on TV1 provides the context and the quote (summary and translation by The Interpreter).

Kiselyev cites a column by Paul Craig Roberts, a former Reagan administration adviser who has turned to conspiracy theorizing and pro-Putin positions in recent years, and thus is a frequent guest on

Roberts believes the entire Western financial system is ready to collapse due to over-reliance on derivatives. He invokes the notion of a "black swan," a fateful event like September 11, and says all Russia has to do to trigger such a "black swan" is cut off the gas to Europe, which will lead to the collapse of the EU, he believes.

So when Russia decides to destroy NATO, it simply has to call the European puppets -- Merkel, Holland, Cameron -- and say, "You guy got it so good in NATO, but you know, we've decided not to sell energy to members of NATO anymore." That's the end of NATO and American might.

Vesti tweeted a statement that "Putin could destroy NATO with one phone call," but then later some official must have thought better of the threatening words, and the tweet was removed. Copies were saved by TJournal:

Then the Russian-speaking Internet had a lot of fun with this meme. It immediately called to mind a children's story from the Soviet era by Kornei Chukovsky called Telefon (Telephone), in which an elephant calls a crocodile to make huge demands, and then describes the increasingly wild antics of various animals.

The first lines, which rhyme in Russian and have spawned numerous jokes over the years go like this (translation by The Interpreter):

My telephone began to ring.
Who is it?
Where are you calling from?
From the camel's house.
What do you need?
For whom?
For my son.
Should I send a lot?
About five pounds, he's still small


Cover of Telephone by Kornei Chukovsky

Variations on the theme on Twitter then include a rhyme with the substitution of Putin for the elephant from the parody account for Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peshkov:

Translation: My telephone has begun to ring, I won't pick up the phone, what if it's him!


My telephone began to ring.
Who's calling?
From where?
From the camel's house.
What do you need?
(K. Chukovsky, Telephone)

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny pointed out that Putin should use his powers to bring back public transportation to rural areas, which was cut due to the economic crisis:

Translation: "Putin can destroy NATO with one telephone call," reports. But can he return the commuter trains to Pskov Region with one phone call?

Translation: Putin can destroy NATO with one phone call, but if he calls from four telephones, he can take over the world.

This story hasn't been picked up by the mainstream Western press yet, although RFE/RL covered it and pointed out that Vesti pulled the story from its top story page and substituted it with a blander piece on budgets.

NATO doesn't seem to have noticed.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick