Her hair parted well, wrapped from head to toe in beige, her knees modestly covered, her hands folded in her lap: When Maria Butina presented herself to the viewers of the propaganda channel RT on Saturday evening, one might have thought that the former double agent was meanwhile gone among the convent students. But no. She is now a member of the Russian State Duma, she explains in the first sentence of a 45-minute performance.
Her counterpart: the "dealer of death" Wiktor But, who was released by the United States a few days ago. For years, the Kremlin had tried to oust the arms dealer. Until Moscow finally managed to exchange But for US basketball player Brittney Griner last week. A very welcome gift for propaganda, which is now being exploited. And so Butina, who once had the privilege of playing the martyr herself, sat opposite Russia's new hero.
"Three years ago I was in an American prison," Butina introduces the play. "And today I'm sitting across from Wiktor But - a man who spent far too long in American prisons. Without a trial and without investigations. He was only put behind bars because he's Russian." Three sentences, three lies. The former agent is now not only a member of parliament, but also a master propagandist.
For decades, But had supplied guns to anyone who could pay - apparently with backing from the Kremlin. In Latin America, he sold surface-to-air missiles to shoot down planes. His clients included rebel groups and warlords in Africa, warring factions in Angola, Rwanda and Congo. Belgium issued an international arrest warrant in 2002. But ended up on the wanted list of the international police organization Interpol.
In 2008, US investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) managed to lure But from Moscow to Thailand. There they set a trap for him. Full of new customers, the authorities were waiting for But. He was charged with conspiracy to kill US citizens, kill government officials, shoot down planes and arms trafficking - just some of his crimes, but which could be proven in court. His own partner Andrew Smulian testified against him. But was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment after a due process. He has now served ten years.
None of this matters for Kremlin propaganda. She has taken up the work of glorifying the man who has the blood of thousands of people on his hands into a saint. It's his first role he slips into in his interview with Butina. He's not angry at all, he says. "Anger directed at someone primarily destroys you," But philosophizes. "One must not carry anger in one's heart. One must be able to forgive." Earlier he didn't understand why "in our tradition, especially in the church tradition, forgiveness plays such a big role." But now he understands that anger has to be channeled in the right direction, says But to the Purified, while the walls of the Kremlin can be seen behind him from the window.
However, anyone who wants to create a saint needs an opponent: the devil. Kremlin propaganda has long had few candidates for this role: the US, the West, NATO and the Nazis. Or all together. "Who invented the US prison system? Nazis!" But explains. The gray and white design of the prisons is her invention and the result of her experiments in Germany aimed at breaking people.
The USA deliberately brought Nazis into the country after the war. Even the nutrition plan in the prisons was a result of the Nazi experiments. "There are no coincidences there," But says about his conspiracy theory before singing a lament. Throughout the years in prison, the menu hasn't changed. "Wednesdays are hamburgers with fries fried to death. Thursdays are chicken," which is huge, but smells so bad you want to throw up. "It's inedible. It's inhuman," says But, describing the food in prison. He probably copied the word "inhuman" from Sergej Lavrov, who recently described toilets in Sweden in this way.
In Thailand he could order anything he wanted, But continues. But in the USA he had to do without "garlic, dill, parsley and strawberries" for ten years. At some point he even lost all interest in food. "I had to force myself to eat," says the man with the rosy complexion. While Butina, who has been back in Russia for three years, threatens to merge with the beige wallpaper, the beige armchair and the beige carpet.
After the starving martyr, But slips into the role of the innocent victim. The US wanted to make him an example for all Russians. "Everything that happened to me is now happening to all of Russia," says the arms dealer, who wants to be a guinea pig. He was offered a deal for cooperation with the authorities: 30 years instead of life. Even the judge at the trial said that he was a normal businessman and that she saw no evidence of the crimes he was accused of. However, US legislation does not allow her to make a different judgment.
Moment! a process? A judgment? A judge? None of that happened, Butina explained at the beginning of the play. The former agent simply ignores the screaming contradictions in But's fable. As is the fact that Bout keeps calling her Marina, even though her name is Maria.
But much more important: "Did the Americans pronounce your name correctly?" asks the newly baptized Marina. "I diligently corrected everyone until everyone said but and not bout," explains But. "Is that a sign of respect?" Butina wonders, but she doesn't afford to correct But. Perhaps so as not to spoil the patriotic crowning glory.
After all, But's final role is the purpose of the whole event. The arms dealer reels off all the propaganda slogans that he has probably been cramming over the past two days in an exemplary manner. First he explains how he would love to fight in Ukraine. "If I had the opportunity and the necessary skills, I would volunteer," he says boldly, knowing that Putin will never let him out of Russia again. He "can't understand" why Russia didn't start the "special military operation" in the neighboring country in 2014.
And then Bout sets out against the sworn enemy of the Kremlin leadership. "What is happening in the West is simply a suicide of civilization. And if we don't prevent this suicide, at least in those parts of the world that are not controlled by Anglo-Saxons, then the whole planet will commit suicide. (... ) Drugs everywhere and this LGBTQIA or whatever it's called in Russian. Can you imagine first graders in American schools being taught that there are 72 genders!" But exclaims angrily. "Not just gays and normal people, but 72 (genders)! It's almost part of their program that you have to explain: You're a boy, but maybe you're a girl. So you can wear a dress." Even in prison, inmates would change gender, But says, reporting on a Jeff who suddenly wanted to be a Jessica.
"You walk into the store and there is a list of what you can buy: women's panties, women's watches, makeup, lipstick, eyeshadow." Said Jeff had already had permanent makeup done and wore a bra. How all this fits in with all the horrors of the American prison, where But was not even allowed to sniff strawberries for ten years, is left to the viewer's imagination. Like so many other things. But what does the Kremlin propaganda care? The main thing is that the much-mentioned 72 genders that Vladimir Putin hates so much have gotten airtime again.