“Look at this Russian”, a satirical report that is at war with the Kremlin.

On February 24, 2022, nothing has changed in the Amazon rainforest. The same creepers hanging from the same palm trees, the same wild fauna captured by a telephoto lens. Sasha*. For the past few days, the wildlife photographer and his team have been reporting in the heart of darkness, in the Peruvian jungle, cut off from the world by a lack of network and therefore completely unaware that the fate of Ukraine swings 12,000 kilometers further on. However, around the world, thousands of people are eagerly waiting for Ash’s reaction to the unfolding tragic events. “I only had a network when I returned to Lima, Peru,” recalls the photographer, who was joined by Zoom from his California residence. And when I opened my phone, I was bombarded with private messages on Instagram. Hundreds of people who were worried seeing me so silent, but most of all wondered which side I was on: Russian or Ukrainian? »

If Sasha’s opinion matters, it is because he is known all over the world and his fame is closely connected with the fate of great Russia. No, Sasha is not the best wildlife photographer in the world: he is the creator Look at this Russian, the most followed Russophile satirical Instagram account in the world. 1.4 million followers including stars like Asia Argento, Marion Cotillardor Josh Brolin. “If people are so eager to know who I support, it’s because my identity is not revealed. Many are interested in where I live, whether I am Russian, Ukrainian, American or even French,” says Sasha, keeping a secret during our conversation.

Russian soul 2.0.

Look at this Russian, as the name suggests, has been anonymously publishing amateur videos featuring Russians for the past six years. Short episodes showcasing the best the post-Soviet world has to offer: absurdity and the complete absence of a superego. There is a drunken old man at the wheel, who, checked by the police, confused the breathalyzer with a bottle. This is a TV presenter who conducts tours of the Russian quarters of the International Space Station, where astronauts listen to hardcore techno like a pacifier. Dozens of young Russians wear bangs, a haircut typical of Russian commuters. The whole family is floundering, laughing, in a puddle of mud. This lady is taking a bath with instant noodles. Another, which assumes a suggestive pose, lying on the carpet next to a giant catfish. “I think that their side best characterizes the Russian soul. wild and the aplomb with which they don’t give a damn about what other people think,” says Sasha.

The videos that he uploads to the network, the instagrammer finds mainly on Russian sites like VK, Facebook. made in Russiabut also through the network he has built over the past six years. “Initially, such an absurd video was sent to me by a Russian friend. She exchanged them with her friends and family. I was captivated by the irresistible comic power of these anonymous Russians who perform all sorts of feats without thinking or thinking in front of the camera. And I started looking for these videos on my own,” he sums up. A few months after launching in 2016, the Instagram account Look at this Russian tens of thousands of people follow. “Today I don’t have to search anymore. People send me movies in private messages. They send me videos taken by their cousin or son-in-law in the hope that I will share them. »

Popularity Watch this Russian allowed to broadcast a certain image of Russia at the international level. The administrator, in addition to broadcasting anonymous videos, accustomed his audience to some recurring characters, such as FROMmin. “Smin is the mascot of the site. This is a very famous face on the internet, popularized on 4chan or 9gag and appearing in many memes. He got his name from the t-shirt he wore when he first appeared: a misspelled Eminem t-shirt that was pronounced “Sminem”. The real Smin’s name is Roman. He is no longer a child and lives in the east of Russia. He is not paid for T-shirts and mugs with his image, which are not available on Sasha’s site. “I tried to contact him several times to pay, I revived him by all means, but he never answered me,” says the administrator. I was able to talk to people who know him and who told me: “Roman knows that he is a star.” »


© Courtesy of Vanity Fair

stop laughing

Back in civilization, in a suburb of Lima, Peru, on the evening of February 24, Sasha responds to a priority message that has sunk into his mailbox. “I have to travel very often for work,” he explains. When I can’t manage Look at this Russian, I trust the account to a friend who publishes according to my instructions. But with the outbreak of the war, he panicked a little. “This Thursday, Sasha’s friend is supposed to post, as planned, one of these funny videos that made a wonderful clock on the Instagram account. But in the comments, where people usually tag themselves or write “XD”, Ukrainian flags appear. “Stop invading Ukraine,” commented one subscriber to a video of a Russian crossing a road before being swept away by a van. “Stop bombing Donbass. There are people there too (Stop bombing the Donbass. People live there too),” adds another.

Then a fan calls directly Look at this Russian in a comment that 100 people liked: “I really like this account. He was always funny. (…) BUT why did you convey the banal, benevolent image of Putin? I know all the big Instagram accounts are doing their best to monetize their audience, but at what cost? »

Vladimir Putinthe Russian president, who these days is demonstrating his love for blood, is also a recurring character in Look at this Russian. “This comment got me thinking,” Sasha says. In fact, until the first day of the conflict, I never took my role too seriously. And I didn’t understand that Look at this Russian had such a political dimension in the eyes of the people. Prior to the start of the war, the videos posted by the account had never caused controversy. However, Vladimir Putin was ridiculed Look at this Russian : Sasha photoshopped him with a gay flag on his face, then with tiny genitals and even nicknamed him “Poots” – an evil pun. Today, some accuse him of vulgarizing the image of the bloodthirsty Russian autocrat. But Sasha answers them: “In Russia, I would have been imprisoned long ago for my installations on Vladimir Putin. Through my account I popularized it as Putts, and today thousands of people call it that. This completely contradicts the Kremlin propaganda. Putin wants people to know that he is strong, athletic, unstoppable, courageous. But to be honest, he’s a scammer. »

Check Look at this Russian is all the more subversive since most of its audience is in the countries of the former Soviet bloc. Moscow is the most represented city among its fans, followed by European capitals and Kyiv. “You might think that the Western world is making fun of Russia, but the reality is that my videos are shared by young Russians and Ukrainians,” Sasha corrects.

Faced with the horror of the first footage of the Russian invasion broadcast by the Peruvian news bombarded with messages that challenge him, Sasha suddenly realizes that his parody account could play a major role in the conflict. “The Kremlin started to muzzle the press in Russia, and at first I noticed that my Russian followers had a hard time understanding what was going on, so I started acting as a relay of information. I realized that with 1.4 million Russians, Ukrainians and Westerners following me, I could serve as a link between everyone. Thus, on February 24, Sasha published an excerpt from the speech Sergei Kislitsa, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN: “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They are going straight to hell,” the politician said at his desk, facing the Russian representatives. “From the very beginning of the conflict, I was passing on verified information in stories from journalists on the ground in Ukraine. I share the accounts of the best war photographers so that the Russians who follow me can access the reality of the conflict. Together with European friends, Sasha also quickly developed Beds For Ukraine, a website that connects refugees with Europeans who can accept them.

“Since I took on this role, I have received many messages from Russia,” the administrator notes. There, in fact, most of the youth are trying to flee the country. They exchange tips and information on the best ways to get away. Where to go, who to contact, etc. It hurts a lot. Most tell me that their parents don’t understand what’s going on at all and that they are more receptive to Kremlin propaganda. This is a whole country that is tearing itself apart. »

Look, this Russian will continue to pass on information as long as Vladimir “Puts” insists on it. But when the conflict is over, can Sasha still laugh at Russia like he did for six years? “I am convinced of this,” the Instagrammer sweeps. The Russians are really great people and I don’t confuse them with Putin and his policies. This is not their war. »

*Name has been changed

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