Sir Elton John was thrilled to get a call Monday from Russian president and Photoshop pioneer Vladimir Putin, after John had criticized Russia’s abysmal record on LGBT rights. Their chat went well, Sir Elton reported on Instagram, and a face-to-face meeting was in the offing. If that sounds suspiciously unlike the unyielding, stone-faced Vladimir Putin with whom we all coexist in precarious detante, that’s because it wasn’t.
On Wednesday, Vladimir Krasnov, a well-known Russian prankster, told NBC News that he and his partner, Alexei Stolyanov, were behind it. They also promised to air the conversation on Russian television and post it on YouTube.
They made good on their promise to post their conversation on YouTube, and it’s depressing.
Sir Elton earnestly pleads the case for “basic freedom” for LGBT people in all walks of life, and “Putin” rebuffs him, claiming that John’s appearance in Kiev last week was a political move by Ukrainian president Petro Poroschenko.
John argues with the fake Putin that he’s a humanitarian, not a politician, and asks for a face-to-face meeting with the president, which he describes as “a dream come true.”
He moves on to discussing scheduling with a fake version of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and eventually agrees to come to Moscow’s Gay Pride—an event where, earlier this year, activists were attacked by angry mobs and arrested.
Pretty funny “prank,” convincing Elton John that Russia—a country where LGBT people and allies are routinely beaten and where gay foreigners are subject to arrest (you may remember all of this from the Sochi Olympics, but it hasn’t gotten much better since)—would proactively open a serious dialog about equality. I guess you have to give these guys credit for understanding their audience, though.
A spokesperson for the Kremlin—the freaking Kremlin—condemned the prank as “not nice.”
A threadbare silver lining: the same spokesman said Putin might be willing to hear John out, if John calls him.