‘Russia here we come! I can’t wait to be back in beautiful #Moscow’ Olivia Culpo (Miss Universe 2012) posted on Instagram during the last week of May, 2013. It took pageant fans by surprise because Olivia had already visited Moscow for the Miss Russia 2013 pageant earlier that year. Another visit to Russia didn’t make much sense. Olivia had been featured in a music video of a Russian singer named Emin and supposedly that was the reason behind her visit. But things became confusing as Olivia did not return to United States right after the release of Emin’s music video. Back in the States, the contestants of Miss USA 2013 pageant had already arrived in Las Vegas yet there was no sign of USA’s own Miss Universe Olivia Culpo and President of MUO Paula Shugart at the venue. Rumours started circulating that Paula might be busy finalising the terms of hosting Miss Universe 2013 in Moscow. Many pageant fans including myself were not buying these rumours because a Miss Universe edition in Europe seemed impossible. A few days into Miss USA 2013 Paula Shugart returned from Russia with news that would leave a deep impact not just on the future of the pageant but also on American politics in general. Yes, Russia was indeed hosting the Miss Universe 2013 pageant. And why it was relevant for the America’s or rather world’s politics? Let’s find out.
Donald Trump’s victory during the presidential election was a shocker for most people. It was a massive blow for the Democratic Party which never actually believed that Trump could win the presidency. Right after the results of the election were announced, leaders from Democratic Party started evaluating possible reasons behind Trump’s victory. A theory emerged that Russia somehow interfered with the US election to damage Hillary Clinton’s bid. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) stated that it faced a series of cyber attacks during 2015 and 2016. Emails from key staff members of DNC were leaked by Wikileaks in July, 2016. Although Wikileaks did not confirm the source of the leaked emails, DNC strongly believed that these attacks originated in Russia. The allegations of Russian involvement got solidified when the CIA concluded that Russia conducted operations during U.S. election to assist Donald Trump in winning the presidency. As a result, an investigation led by United States Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, was initiated. One of the main objects of the ‘Mueller Investigation’ was to determine the exact time when Donald Trump decided to run for the elections and whether that decision had anything to do with Russia. As Mueller’s team started digging into Trump’s history with Russia, they reached a point in the timeline where Trump could have possibly interacted with Russian government officials and even with Vladimir Putin himself. It was the time when Donald Trump had brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia.
I always believed that the pageant fans understand Trump and his policies better than most of the so called political pundits. Anyone who has been closely following the Miss Universe pageant since last decade knows that Donald Trump always had ambitions of joining politics. Prior to 2013, there were rumours of Donald Trump planning to run for the office of the Governor of New York. He was always an active supporter of the Republican Party and a very vocal critic of the Obama Administration. Trump would express his views on many sensitive political topics during the media coverage of Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. One such famous or rather infamous example of this would be his interview with MSNBC before the Miss Universe 2013 pageant. Russia was set to host the Winter Olympics in February, 2014. Hence Russian government’s decision to criminalise Homosexuality attracted global attention. This news came around the same time when MUO had announced Moscow as the host city for Miss Universe 2013. Many LGBT activists were calling for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics but since the Olympics were still several months away, those activists started calling for a boycott of Miss Universe 2013 as well. In response to these protests Andy Cohen, an openly gay American TV personality who was supposed to host the pageant, decided to resign from his hosting duties. As a damage control measure, MUO appointed MSNBC’s renowned journalist Thomas Roberts (who is also openly gay) as the host for the pageant. To clear the controversy surrounding the pageant, Roberts sat down for a one-on-one interview with Donald Trump in Moscow. The statements made by Trump during this interview would later echo during his various speeches for the presidential campaign. This interview was just a trailer of a storm that was going to hit the American politics in the years to come.
Ever since the Mueller Investigation has begun, Donald Trump has maintained that he had no connections with Putin and his officials in any way. But his interview with MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts from Miss Universe 2013 states otherwise. During the interview Roberts asked him “Do you have a relationship with Vladimir Putin? A conversational relationship or anything that you feel you have sway or influence over his government?” To which Trump replied “I do have a relationship and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what I am saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.” Trump Organisation had partnered with the Agalarov Group from Russia for the Miss Universe pageant. As per a source connected to the Russian oligarch, Putin asked the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to call Trump before the live telecast Miss Universe with the intention of setting up a meeting between the two. Peskov also expressed Putin’s admiration for Trump and his interest in setting up a meeting. But the meeting never happened due to conflicting schedules. After Miss Universe 2013 was over, Putin sent a gift and a note to Trump delivered by a member of Argalov family to the Miss Universe headquarters in New York. So far many sources have confirmed that Donald Trump and people associated with him indeed got involved with officials from Russian administration during Miss Universe 2013. Was this the time when Russians encouraged him to run for presidency? Did Trump use Miss Universe pageant to cover up a bigger plan? Was Miss Universe 2013 just a way to distract the media from his meetings with Russian officials? Answers for all these questions will become clear only after the conclusion of the Mueller Investigation.
There are many theories as to when Donald Trump decided to run for the presidency. Some believe that it was when President Barack Obama and host Seth Meyers poked fun at Trump during the Whitehouse Correspondence Dinner of 2011. Many of those jokes were aimed at Trump’s association with beauty pageants. Then there are some people who believe that Trump’s feud with TV personality Rosie O’donnell was the starting point of his journey to the presidency. That feud had started over Trump’s decision of giving Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner a second chance despite of her being tested positive for cocaine. And then there are some news outlets who have been saying that Trump’s relation with Russia started when Russia won and eventually got dethroned from Miss Universe 2002. No matter how many permutations we do, one cannot deny the significance of Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants in electing Trump as the president of the United States. Although MUO has been affected heavily due to the toxic campaign and explosive presidency of Donald Trump, Miss Universe will now be an integral part of America’s political history. A few weeks ago Robert Mueller has initiated criminal proceedings against 19 people with regard to Russia’s involvement in US elections. In next few months Mueller’s team will come up with more revelations about Donald Trump. As a fan of the Miss Universe pageant, my heart aches every time I read about how Trump misused the pageants for his personal gains. Even though he doesn’t own it anymore his shadow will always linger on the future of Miss Universe pageant.
Article by: Jinendra Aherkar