“I wonder, after the successful campaign of handing over the Crimea, will Barack be promoted to a colonel?” That was the question Tweeted yesterday by the newly elected prime minister of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, shortly after the Russian-speaking residents of the disputed peninsula voted to leave Ukraine with the prospects of joining the Motherland. The Russian-language Tweet was accompanied by a Photoshopped picture of Barack Obama wearing a Russian uniform.
The Huffington Post, which first reported on this Tweet, quickly replaced it with a different article about Aksyonov — possibly after a scathing call from the White House — but not before the Washington Times and a few conservative blogs picked it up and ran with it, reposting the picture along with the awkward English translation made by the HuffPost using Google translator or a similar electronic service.
None of them, however, provided any background, or asked a relevant question: why would a previously obscure pro-Russian politician, whom the Obama administration’s incompetence helped to become a prime minister, sarcastically imply that Obama is working for the Kremlin? This doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Such a jab could have easily come from conservative jokesters in the U.S., as a way to vent their bitterness over Obama’s inept handling of international affairs and squandering America’s standing in the world. It could have also come from those Russians and Ukrainians who are opposed to Putin’s imperial policies. But why would a pro-Russian separatist with a shady past, who is himself very likely working on orders from Moscow, out his alleged “colleague”?
As someone who frequents the Russian-language side of the blogosphere, let me explain.
The Crimean PM’s question wasn’t a standalone joke, but rather a punch line to an earlier anonymous joke with a Photoshopped picture of Barack Obama, seen on various Russian websites and forums since he first became president.
The picture was a mock-up of a KGB personnel file with a photo of Obama wearing the uniform of a KGB lieutenant with three stars on blue epaulettes. The name on the card is listed as Boris Huseinovich Obamov, a spy and saboteur, born in Uzbekistan and of Uzbek ethnicity, a member of United Russia Party, recruited by Vladimir Putin in 1981, currently without a permanent address and working undercover as the U.S. president. The agent’s listed code name, The White One, is likely funnier in Russia than it is in America, where it comes off as overtly racist.
The “updated” picture Tweeted by the Crimean PM clearly shows two stripes and two stars across the blue epaulettes, corresponding to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the same organization — one step away from colonel. The KGB has been since renamed into FSB, and those are also the letters on his shoulder patch with the Russian flag.
In summary, Aksyonov’s joke is hardly political satire or commentary on Obama’s specific actions, but rather blatant mockery in the general direction of the American president.