MOSCOW -- Complimentary vodka flowed and chants of "Trumplissimo America!" resounded at a party in the Russian capital on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States.
The surreal shindig -- part promotional marketing ploy, part Trump fan fest -- was the first in a series of parties due in Moscow to celebrate the January 20 inauguration of Trump, whose election has sparked a mania of sorts in Moscow.
Several dozen revelers -- among them Muscovites, Russian emigres, Western journalists, and at least one American expat -- gushed praise for the president-elect, seeing the prospect for an upswing in battered Russian-American ties.
"I think this is the start of something absolutely beautiful, and it is worth getting drunk tonight," said Maria Ushakova, who organized the private party at a basement jazz club set back from Old Arbat, Moscow’s paramount tourist drag.
"This is a historical moment when Russian people are celebrating the inauguration of the president of a former enemy country," said Ushakova.
Trump’s support in Russia has been nourished by pro-Kremlin state television networks, which have presented a narrative of a plucky underdog victory over a malign Washington establishment bent on sowing chaos in Russia and across the world.
In turn, the Trump buzz has been latched onto for marketing purposes -- with kiosk owners peddling Trump matryoshka dolls -- and stores trying to gain publicity by taunting the outgoing Barack Obama administration.
The Russian Army designer clothes boutique located directly opposite the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has drolly offered American diplomatic staff and citizens a 10 percent discount on wares, including Vladimir Putin T-shirts, to mark the inauguration.
Trump has said he wants to improve relations with Russia and, in statements welcomed by the Kremlin, he has called NATO "obsolete" and hinted that U.S. sanctions on Russia could be lifted. In turn, Trump’s attitude towards Moscow has come under scrutiny as U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded "with high confidence" that Putin "ordered an influence campaign" in the 2016 presidential election with the aim of getting Trump elected.
The crescendo of the evening off the Arbat on January 19 was a catchy performance from Russian emigre singer-songwriter Willi Tokarev, who belted out a paean to Trump’s victory titled Trumplissimo America.
The 82-year-old mustachioed crooner took to a stage draped with Russian and American flags and sang: "Trump -- symbol of America!" "Trump -- He is superman," "Trump -- It’s unbelievable!" and "Trump -- He’s the man!"
Tokarev told RFE/RL he wrote the lyrics in a flash of inspiration within 15 minutes of hearing of Trump’s victory in November. Tokarev claimed that he had been invited to Trump’s inauguration but regretted that he was unable to make it because of a concert in Krasnoyarsk.
"Just as for Russia, I wish this country (the United States) a flourishing friendship, mutual trust, and for there to be order in the world thanks to joint efforts, so that people are not slaves of fear.”
Tokarev gained a following in the Soviet Union in the 1980s as an emigre singing about life in New York's Brighton Beach.
Ushakova said she has hopes the Trump administration could drop sanctions imposed against Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and might also recognize Crimea as Russian territory.
Richard Magda, 64, a U.S. businessman who has been living in Moscow for eight years, said relations with Russia have a much better prospect with Trump at the helm than they would have if Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had won. He said he expects Trump and Putin to form a good relationship.
"They’re both very good businessmen," he says.
Complimentary vodka was handed out at the door and a banner featuring Trump's campaign slogan -- Make America Great Again -- was hung in the entrance corridor. Many of the songs had no apparent connection to Trump whatsoever and included a cover of a Frank Sinatra's Fly Me To The Moon and pop song Mambo No. 5.
The party was also organized, Ushakova said, to promote a band called The Trump, which performed at the party, and a restaurant named Trump in Tula, a city 190 kilometers south of Moscow. She said both the restaurant and the band were named Trump long before the American businessman burst onto the political scene.
"We are celebrating," she said. "I think we are all celebrating. Unlike in the United States, we see that [Trump] has a lot of good qualities. But most of all, he likes us. He has said a few words that are kind about our president and that are kind about the Russian people."
Other Trump inauguration parties were due later on January 20. Konstantin Rykov, a pro-Kremlin media figure and former lawmaker, tweeted: "Preparations for the inauguration of Donald Fredovich in Moscow are going full speed ahead."