DONALD Trump is talking of firing his rockets at Syria. Vladimir Putin is aiming his at Mars.

That, at least, was what Russians were being told as tensions flared over the Middle East. 

The country's iconic TV news show, Vremya, has long restored its old Communist-era theme tune. Tonight it relived one of the Soviet Union's greatest achievements: putting the first man in space, 57 years ago on Thursday.

Vremya kicked off with a report of Mr Putin visiting a space exhibition and chatting to cosmonauts, including Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to orbit the Earth. Now 81, a flash of silver in her still black hair, Ms Tereshkova nodded as Russia's leader, exuding calm, set out his hopes for manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

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This is not news as we would recognise it in a country with a free press. There were no journalists shouting questions at Mr Putin after the rouble and markets plunged amid new sanctions following the poisonings in Salisbury wiped billions off the net worth of his oligarchs allies.

HeraldScotland:

Vladimir Putin talks to Valentina Tereshkova on Vremya

But back in the studio, Vremya's host Kirill Kleimyonov entered in to a trademark patriotic monologue. That first flight in to space, by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, showed what Russians were made of, he suggested.  "It was us and nobody else,' he said. "We can do it. If we are right, we can do it."

Mr Kleimyonov was not really talking about the space race. Russians, he said, are asking themselves age-old questions. "Who are we? Who is with us?' "We are alone, nearly alone."

This is the key Kremlin message to Russians: we are on our own and everybody is out to get us; but we're winning; because we're great.

So great, in fact, that Russia has saved the Middle East. "There is good news from Syria," Kleimyonov declared after nearly 10 minutes of Mr Putin talking about space. Donald Trump, the host explains, had wanted to raise his ratings ahead of Congressional elections with a war, a "good American tradition'.  

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Speaking in front of a picture of Trump in a cowboy hat clutching two Tomahawk missiles, Mr Kleimyonov, with just a touch of anchorman world-weariness, reminds viewers of how President Bill Clinton attacked Yugoslavia to distract from his affair with Monica Lewinsky.  

"Trump ," he continued, "has the tastes of a more experienced man. He stopped being interested in interns a long time ago, he prefers porn stars, and not just any old porn stars, but the best, and the stakes must be higher."

HeraldScotland:

Kirill Kleimyonov on Vremya 

So the world, Mr Kleimyonov tells Russians, averted its eyes as Trump prepared to wipe an unlucky country off the map. "But something got in the way of Donald finishing his maneouvre," he added. "Something - or someone." That someone? "It can't be ruled out that it was us."

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There follows a report from Damascus. Officials tell Vremya's reporters that they found no poisons. The chemical weapons attacks that provoked Mr Trump's rage, Russian viewers are told, did not happen. 

So Russians woke up on Thursday to a pro-government tabloid front page in which Mr Trump appeared as the Statue of Liberty, clutching a starting pistol rather than a torch.  "Will Trump start World War Three?' went the accompanying headline in Kosmomolskaya Pravda. By the evening they were watching pro-Kremlin TV telling them that a war was unlikely. 

HeraldScotland:

Syrians celebrate on Vremya

Vremya continued with sneering skepticism of the poisonings of Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. The same evening, on the same channel, state-owned Channel One, a TV chat show had discussed events in England at length. And at least one guest found a direct link between the chemical attack in Salisbury and the one in Syria. Both, said Yelena Suponina, an advisor to the director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, were what Russians call 'provokatsiya', news stories staged by secret services to discredit Russia.  "The whole thing stinks of provocation." Ms Suponina said. "It should be taken in the context of a general cooling of relations between Russia and the West. 

"The thread stretches from London to the suburbs of Damascus. Somebody in the west obviously does not like the growing influence of Russia and all these provocations have to be seen as links in a single chain."