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Nikolai Volkoff: Trump’s No Kremlin Stooge!

The wrestling great made a living whipping up anti-Russian sentiment. He's not going for it this time.

The last time Americans were this alarmed by the Russian menace, professional wrestling superstar Nikolai Volkoff was waving the hammer-and-sickle flag, singing the Soviet Union’s national anthem, and demoralizing opponents with his “Russian bear hug.” Volkoff—along with colleagues like Ivan and Nikita Koloff—was one of the performers who brought the Cold War into the wrestling ring, playing the role of a Moscow-bred bad guy facing off against America-loving audience favorites.

After the Berlin Wall fell, most of the ersatz Russkies faded from view or changed their schticks (Krusher Khrushchev, born Barry Darsow, was reborn as The Repo Man). Not Volkoff, who continued to wrestle under his old stage name.

But if you think that makes Volkoff a critic of the man today’s security hawks label a Kremlin stooge, you’re wrong.

Volkoff—a Republican who in 2006 ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Maryland legislature—supports the incoming chief executive. “I vote for Trump,” he says. “I like about he is a businessman. Honest, decent businessman. That’s why he won.” (Unlike some of his fellow Reagan-era portrayers of nefarious Soviets, Volkoff comes by his East European accent honestly: He grew up in communist Yugoslavia and his real name is Josip Nikolai Preuzovic.)

Trump’s broad appeal, Volkoff says, is rooted in his credentials as an outsider. “American people get sick and tired of politicians, and Trump was not politician. Trump was a good businessman.”

He’s optimistic that Trump can deliver on his promises. “I hope he will get America back on the feet,” he says. “Like it used to be. People have a job. People make money. You know? Everybody’s happy.”

Volkoff says he doesn’t know what–if any–role the Russians played in the highly publicized hacks that occurred during the election. However, he says: “I think the American people elected Trump. Nobody else. Because people get sick and tired of politicians making promised that they don’t keep. And, as you know, it always seems to be like media pushing one person more than other, which is not fair. And it was announced that Hillary is leading Trump by [a landslide], right. That was a big lie. Why they not punish the people that lie to them? You know why? Because it’s politics.”

Of course, a new cold war might benefit Volkoff’s personal brand, since it could create a buyer’s market for people who can effectively depict Russian bad guys on TV. But Volkoff says improved American-relations with Russia are in everyone’s best interest. “What we should do is get those two countries together and work on a, in a science, discover new stuff, discover about the universe. And with all that discovery, make people better life.”

A member of the WWE hall of fame, Volkoff says he adopted his anti-American character at a very different period. It was in the late 1970s, at the suggestion of his manager, and he came to believe it would help Americans better understand the the perils of communism.

He certainly outlasted the Soviet Union. Even at 70 years old, he’s in good enough shape to continue wrestling on the independent circuit, performing occasionally in Baltimore and Washington. “I never did any drugs,” Volkoff says. “I don’t take no alcohol and I try to stay healthy.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, the real name of the performer who played Krusher Khrushchev was misspelled. It is Barry Darsow.

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Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.