Russian propaganda on Ukraine

On Facebook yesterday, I was talking to friends about how my blog is now getting spammed with pro-Russia comments. I don’t know what to do about that except trash them and move on. They look like run-of-the-mill propagandists (broken English), and I am not going to allow my personal blog to become a platform for that nonsense. Longtime readers know that I am certainly not someone who shirks from contrarian opinions and values free thought – however, those kinds of discussions must be offered in good faith.

But there’s clearly some fraction of MAGA folks who romanticize Putin as a big swinging dick alpha male (as we used to call them in finance, before the woke era) and genuinely see no problem with his antics, even if it entails a lot of innocent lives lost. It reminds me of the master morality that the philosopher Nietzsche considered the antithesis of Christianity. (You cannot escape them scrolling the most recent Ukraine tweets on Twitter – really good look for the GOP, especially given all that has happened.) Perhaps these comments are coming from readers who have been internalizing Russian propaganda, but I’m over humoring that too. Either way, you send that stuff to me, you now know where it’s going. Sorry not sorry. I am way too busy for that crap.

On this point, however, I found this article from CNN’s Moscow bureau chief on what the proto-conflict looks like from Russia’s side of things worth sharing:

Foreign forces bristling with weapons are rolling toward the Ukrainian border. Reconnaissance planes streak overhead. Rumors of “false flag” operations run rampant.

If you’re watching state TV in Moscow, you’re seeing video of troops and tanks, barbed wire and snipers taking aim, but it’s not Russia’s forces that are poised for attack — it’s NATO’s.

Welcome to Russia’s mirror-image depiction of the showdown over Ukraine. In the country’s alternate media landscape, NATO forces are carrying out a plan that’s been in the works for years: Encircle Russia, topple President Vladimir Putin and seize control of Russia’s energy resources.

In Moscow’s view, repeated in nearly every newscast and talk show, Ukraine is a failed state entirely controlled by the “puppet master” — the United States. Europe is a weak and divided collection of lap dogs taking orders from Washington. Even the US, as frighteningly threatening as it is, is weak and divided too, torn apart by political division and racial unrest.

But wait. How can those powers be a threat — and be weak at the same time? That’s one of the conundrums of Russian state propaganda. Thinking things through isn’t what they’re trying to encourage. Rather they’re trying to raise the blood pressure of their viewers — and to make them very afraid.

Russian state TV’s flagship political news show, Dmitry Kiselyov’s “Vesti Nedeli” (“News of the Week”), opened this past Sunday with Kiselyov saying: “Instead of answers to the peaceful initiatives of the Kremlin, they’re burying us with accusations and new threats.”

Any hint of disagreement between Europe and the US or NATO is headline news in Russia, and one of the top stories on Kiselyov’s show featured comments by Germany’s naval chief that Putin “deserves respect” and that Crimea — a Ukrainian territory annexed by Moscow — is “gone forever.” The report ended on the satisfied note that the officer had to resign.

Ukraine may not be caught up in a full-blown invasion for now, but there is already an all-out war of words in Russian media.US government statements are dismissed as comments from the “Ministry of Information,” and Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has accused Washington of “information hysterics,” “lies” and “fakes.” (The word “fake” is now a Russian word, pronounced pretty much the same as the English.)And maps on Russian state TV showing Russia’s ally Belarus surrounded by NATO forces bear an uncanny resemblance to maps in Western media reports showing Ukraine surrounded on three sides by Russian troops.

Accusations of possible Russian attacks on Ukraine are dismissed as the “half-mythological threat from Russia” or as “Russophobia” from the “Anglo-Saxons.”

Tensions aren’t high because of Russia, the Kremlin says — it’s because of NATO.

In a striking piece of mirror-image propaganda, Russian TV has taken to re-broadcasting, with translation, comments by Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, whose anti-NATO and anti-US President Joe Biden screeds neatly align with the Kremlin’s line. “He [Carlson] ought to be on your show!” one guest on a Russian talk show told the anchor.

The state media blitz seems to be having an effect. A December poll by the non-governmental polling and sociological research organization the Levada-Center, showed that half of respondents blame the US and NATO for tensions, while only 3% to 4% blame Russia.

The poll found that slightly more than half of Russians believe the crisis in Ukraine will not escalate into a war between Russia and Ukraine, with more than a third (39%) saying that they think war is “inevitable,” or “very likely.” A quarter of respondents said they think a war is possible between Russia and NATO.

In another poll from Levada-Center, also from December, more than half of respondents (56%) said relations between Russia and NATO have seriously deteriorated, the highest result since the conflict with Ukraine began in 2014. And more than half of respondents (56%) say they are worried there will be a world war.

Many Russians think they’re being dragged into a war by the West, according to a focus group conducted by Riddle, an online journal on Russian affairs.

“Russia will have to respond … We are being pinched from all sides; they’re biting us. What are we supposed to do? Give in?” one focus group respondent said.

Meanwhile, Levada-Center pollsters say Russians are “mentally fatigued” by the topic of Ukraine which, they say, “seems to be imposed by major media outlets.”

As a result, viewers don’t analyze the news or double-check what they hear from TV show hosts.

To be sure, the Russian media landscape is shifting, as a younger generation goes online to get information. But most alternative news outlets in Russia have been shut down or marginalized — and the Kremlin’s parallel reality continues to dominate the airwaves.

It’s somewhat amusing, but not surprising, that Tucker Carlson’s anti-NATO rhetoric is popular/useful in Russia. I tend to think of him as a grossly uninformed observer who mostly tells his audience what they want to hear, but I suppose it’s possible he’s mainlining Russia Today. I’m honestly never going to forget how deep he was into covid hysteria, only to flip on a dime when it became clear most conservatives were having none of it. Very telling.

Bear in mind that Putin started gathering troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine almost immediately after Biden was sworn in as president and before the failed withdrawal in Afghanistan. He has been at this for nearly a year now. Not only was there not an instance of NATO “aggression,” there wasn’t an opportunity for it during a transfer of power in the United States. (Not to mention the fact that the world was in the throes of covid obsession and lockdown chatter. We were still in our “just wear masks for 100 days and we will have zero covid on the planet” stage of Biden’s term.)

There is some minority out there that thinks Putin will never invade Ukraine, which reflects what the Russian government is telling its people, but western intelligence is obviously sufficiently worried about it that they are starting to evacuate their embassies and have told citizens to leave the country however they can manage to do so. Neither of these are small steps to take, and have historically indicated that violence is imminent.

So far, Putin has not had his troops leave his own territory though. For them, it’s just some really high maintenance camping trip. He could do this indefinitely just to drive western democracies insane. He also might conclude that not invading Ukraine would further undermine the credibility of western leaders with their own people, who are preparing mentally for World War III, so it’s not like there’s not some benefit from simply hanging out. The longer he draws things out with hints of aggression to come, the more our financial markets tank as well.

Of course, there is also the fact that the Pentagon has given notice to 8,500 US troops to prepare for deployment on a moment’s notice. For its part, Moscow has been staging large-scale “combat-readiness” drills involving thousands of troops and at least 60 warplanes along the border with Ukraine and in Crimea. Imagine living in Ukraine and watching that take place overhead.

Another thing that is funny about all these claims is the idea that NATO would initiate some false flag operation to justify … invading Russia. Western intelligence agencies (and Ukrainian spies) have been saying that is what Putin is planning to do to justify invading Ukraine. Accuse your enemy of planning what you intend to do yourself.

So much weirdness, and so unnecessary.

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