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Kathryn Mullen and Jim Henson perform Kermit and Miss Piggy in front of Moscow's Red Square in August 1988, filming a segment for Free to Be... a Family.


Gonzo and Carlos whizzing past, in the Muppet Babies reboot episode "Muppet Space Camp" from 2021.

Russia is a country that stretches over a vast expanse of Europe and Asia, with an area of 17,075,400 square kilometres. The largest country in the world by land mass, it covers almost twice the territory of the next-largest country, Canada. It is also close to the United States and Japan across relatively small stretches of water. The capital city is Moscow.


Formerly the dominant Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) while under Communist rule, Russia is now an independent country and an influential member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, since the Union's dissolution in December 1991. During the Soviet era, Russia was also officially called the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Russia is considered the Soviet Union's successor state in diplomatic matters. The country is known for its frozen regions, for bringing about Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat when he attempted to conquer it, for such dietary staples as borscht and vodka, and for its contributions to literature, such as War and Peace. P.G. Wodehouse once described later examples of the Russian novel as "grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide."[1]


Russia has also made significant contributions to the development of ballet, influencing the New York school of ballet in the United States. Tchaikvsky's The Nutcracker is one of the more popular ballets worldwide, and Rudolf Nureyev is considered the most influential Russian dancer of the mid-20th century.

Despite its current independence, Russia is also closely associated with the Communist ideology, to a greater extent even than China, and for the long-standing Cold War which erupted between the USSR and the United States. The earliest known reference to Russia in Muppet productions is indicative of this perception; in a Wilkins Coffee spot, Wilkins and Wontkins appear in a Communist Russian store, where Wontkins sells "Party Line Coffee" but sneaks capitalist coffee like Wilkins to certain customers. A de-politicized view of Russia can be seen as the March image for the Sesame Street 1978 Calendar, which featured a global travel theme. That same year, The Muppet Show featured a Russian-themed opening number in episode 310, with Muppet pigs twirling around doing Russian dances.

Muppet Ambassadors

The cast of Ulitsa Sezam celebrating their 10th Anniversary in 2006.

Initially, Soviet Russia naturally viewed the Muppets with suspicion. Sesame Street in particular was denounced in the Russian newspaper Sovietsa Kultura in 1973 as "the latest example of United States cultural imperialism":

We don't know whether the authors of that program gave it that title intentionally. The word "sesame" comes from the orient and means "open up." One thing is certain: With that type of program, imperialism is eeking to penetrate into other people's homes, even if door and windows are tightly locked. The passkey is to be global television.[2]

Later that same year, however, slight inroads were evident: nine Soviet educators visited the Children's Television Workshop offices and studios, and "were especially delighted" by Sam the Robot.[3]

The Muppets have occasionally made personal visits to the country as well. In 1984, Kermit the Frog claimed top-billing over John Denver at a children's concert at the American embassy in Moscow. Newscasters referred to the visit as "Kermit sees the Kremlin." Denver introduced Kermit and asked him why he was there. According to Kermit, "I'm here visiting other Russian frogs. Actually, I think they're all hibernating though... It's very cold out there." Denver opined that maybe frogs in Russia might be red, sparking mixed reactions from the audience and from Kermit, who deemed it a "reptilian slur," despite the fact that he's an amphibian.[4]

During the same visit, Jim Henson filmed an episode of The World of Puppetry with Russian puppeteer Sergei Obraztsov, who Henson called "the father of international puppetry." Henson also presented the older puppeteer with four puppets to add to Obraztsov's Moscow Theater puppet museum: a Fraggle, a Skeksis, Beauregard, and Robin the Frog. "They're happy to be in such delightful company," Henson said, and recalled that when he started out, all he knew about puppetry he gleaned from books, and Obraztsov's was the first one he read. Obraztsov jokingly referred to Henson as "his son" in the traditions of puppetry.[5]

Between 1985 and 1986, Children's Television Workshop considered filming a TV special called Big Bird Goes to Russia after producers partook in location scouting around the country. Ultimately, the idea was abandoned.

In February 1988, while the country was still under Soviet rule, Jim Henson attended the American Film Celebration in Moscow, the second American film festival held in the Soviet Union, and conducted a puppetry workshop. Later that year, Kermit and Miss Piggy posed in front of Red Square, an image reproduced in several magazine publications, while filming the Marlo Thomas special Free to Be... a Family. The special was announced as the first Soviet-American co-production of an entertainment show and had the Muppets participating in a puppet summit with a Russian pig puppet.

Also in 1988, Henson and Anthony Minghella began mining Russian folklore extensively for use in The StoryTeller. This is perhaps most evident in "The Soldier and Death," involving a returning military man in Tsarist Russia. At one point, the soldier uses his gifts to save the Tsar of Russia himself.

In 1989, the governing Soviet television body, Gostelradio, broadcast an episode of Fraggle Rock, which drew unprecedented ratings and letters from 3,500 viewers. As a result, the organization agreed to allow both Fraggle Rock (as Скала Фрэгглов) and The Muppet Show to air the following fall, becoming the first Western series to air on Soviet television.[6]

In 1996, in the wake of a changing post-Soviet Russia, Ulitsa Sezam debuted as a Russian co-production of Sesame Street. In keeping with Russian culture, the key local Muppet, Zeliboba, originally designed with an earthy brown coat of fur and leaves, became blue, a color traditionally associated with spirits. Grover has occasionally incorporated elements of Russian culture on the US series as well, with Russian cossack dancing and in a Waiter Grover sketch involving Charlie's Russian restaurant.

Scene from the 1978 Sesame Street Calendar.



  1. Wodehouse, P. G. "The Clicking of Cuthbert." 1921.
  2. "Sesame Street Denounced by Soviet as Imperialistic." The New York Times. August 16, 1973
  3. "Sam the Robot Delights Visitors from The Soviet." San Rafael Independent Journal. September 1973
  4. Gibson, Charles. ABC News. November 25, 1984.
  5. Smale, Alison. "Henson Takes Kermit to Meet Russian Puppetmaster." The Associated Press. November 23, 1984
  6. "Names in the News." The Associated Press. April 7, 1989
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