Russia taunts British PM with cartoon frog tweet

It's an account known for trollish behaviour and prodding Russia's rivals.

Now it has poked the UK Prime Minister with a somewhat ambiguous message including a cartoon frog that has become a mascot for the far-right.

On Monday afternoon the Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in London sent the following message:

Image copyright @RussianEmbassy/Twitter

Tagged in the picture of cartoon frog Pepe were the Twitter accounts of Donald Trump, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, two BBC correspondents, the US embassy in London, the Financial Times world desk, and a number of Russia-focused think tanks.

The tweet seems to have been prompted by news reports and editorials about the meeting between Johnson and members of Trump's team.

It's unclear exactly what "in today's papers" the Russian account was referring to. When asked for clarification, the embassy press office declined to answer questions and instead told BBC Trending in an email: "We would be grateful if [the] BBC actually investigated who wants [the] UK to stand in the way of better US-Russia relations."

In Monday's Financial Times, a leader headline reads: "May has the chance to anchor Trump to Britain". The editorial notes that the notion of a "special relationship" with the US has become a constant for successive British governments since Winston Churchill outlined it 70 years ago.

"Mrs May must use any influence over the Trump administration to urge a move away from the president-elect's campaign rhetoric on Nato," the editorial states. "He has already pulled away from the western orthodoxy on climate change and it could be dangerous if the same happened on the security of Europe."

Pepe the frog began as an innocuous slacker character created by cartoonist Matt Furie.

During the US election campaign, he was transformed online into a sort of mascot for the alt-right - a disparate group of far-right Trump supporters which includes a significant strain of white nationalism.

In August, Trump retweeted a picture of himself as Pepe.

Image copyright Twitter

The anti-bigotry Anti-Defamation League later added Pepe to its database of hate symbols, and following the election, Trump disavowed the support of the alt-right.

However Furie and the ADL both believe Pepe is not beyond redemption. They have co-operated on a project to create and share positive images of the frog in an "attempt to rehabilitate him and move his image out of the realm of hate speech".

It's not clear why Russia's embassy in London has now co-opted Pepe for a tweet commenting about British concerns about Donald Trump's relationship with Moscow. But it's a diplomatic Twitter account with a reputation for poking world leaders. In December, after the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats in response to allegations of election interference, it mocked President Obama with a picture of a "lame duck":

Image copyright @RussianEmbassy/Twitter

The account mixes its trolly messages with more conventional diplomatic communications. Later on Monday, it tweeted a message about a British exhibition of a Russian artist's drawings of the siege of Leningrad in World War Two.

Blog by Mike Wendling

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