Analysing the construction of Western media propaganda. A case study.

by on October 16, 2016 in Media Comment

This is an editorial or comment piece in the Guardian which is presented as a serious round-up of the state of Russia’s relations with the West. As we would expect it is full of narrative distortions. If this was presented as an essay by a first-year undergraduate politics student it would have to fail on the basis that it doesn’t encompass reality. A tutor would not be able to give marks to something based on dreams. As always it remains surprising that these people continue, apparently, to think of themselves as serious journalists.

Let’s take a few examples:

Boris Johnson’s suggestion that Britain, the US and other allies are re-examining “military options” in Syria has sharply focused minds on a phenomenon western politicians have spent the last 15 years trying not to think about: post-Soviet Russia’s determined drive to re-establish itself as a major global power and the willingness of its ruthless and tactically astute leader, Vladimir Putin, to employ almost any means, including use of force, to achieve that end.

“Ruthless” is a classic piece of character assassination. Once this kind of language is used it is not longer necessary to seriously discuss political disagreements. ‘Putin’ is “ruthless” – so we must be right. The focus on ‘Putin’ is a tactical piece of narrative building. By always blaming ‘Putin’ the West avoids the fact that Putin has a team around him and is backed by a political party (United Russia) – which have, collectively, evolved a new foreign policy for Russia. And, shock horror, on occasion Russia has used military force to back up its foreign policy objectives. And the West never does that? The contrast is obvious: Russia has used force when it has rational and understandable concerns. The war with Georgia in 2008 was started by Georgia [1] and took place on Russia’s borders. This web site has discussed the situation in Crimea, filling in the gaps which the Western narrative writers omit. [2] Once this is done Russian actions in Crimea become understandable in terms of Russian history – not the ‘expansionist aggression by a swaggering Putin’ of Western fiction writers. And in Syria Russia is there by agreement with the government of the country. The US on the other hand invaded Iraq illegally in 2003 and is now in Syria illegally. As always aided and abetted by the craven UK. In neither case is there a valid case for the intervention being based on national interests – unless we accept that it is a valid US national interest to be the sole ruler of the world. Who is interested in projecting themselves as a global power at any cost?

The narrative that Russia is aggressive, expansionist, is simply not tenable. This is an analysis by the academic Professor Furedi in which he notes that Russia is acting as a classic regional power in its self-defence. [3]  Notice that this article contains an analysis. Unlike many articles in the Western media on Russia it goes beyond simply heaping on pejorative narrative-lines. This article by Brendan O’Neil in Spiked discusses the reasons why Western journalists make up stories about Russia.

The key question is no longer how best to remove the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. It is how to stop the Russian military, Assad’s main backer, which is held responsible, directly or indirectly, for numerous lethal aerial attacks against civilians, hospitals and schools, including last month’s destruction of a UN aid convoy.

Russia is “held responsible”. The use of the passive voice is a characteristic of this kind of propaganda. It gives the claim an air of objectivity which it does’t have. Who says this? It is of course the US which is accusing Russia of ‘numerous attacks against civilians’. They are likely doing this not because it is a ‘fact’ but as an information tactic to drive forwards their military campaign against the Syrian government. Honestly; we know that in war governments produce propaganda. Claiming that the other side is hitting civilians is standard propaganda. It is naive to the point of absurdity that Western journalists take all explanations offered by the State Department at face value. To balance out the narrative here just slightly: Russia has denied hitting the aid convoy. [4] Why assume that the State Department is telling the truth and Russia is lying? Isn’t a newspaper supposed not to act as the propaganda wing of its sponsoring government? Strangely this incident is getting a lot of coverage in the Western press. It is being repeated all over the place, all the time. But the US strike on a Syrian army position by the US which killed upwards of 60 Syrian soldiers [5] is mentioned then quickly forgotten. It may be that Russian strikes in Aleppo are killing civilians. War in urban areas does this. This was the result of Israeli bombing in Gaza in 2014 and Lebanon in 2006. [6] The issue is not ultimately whether the selectively adduced facts are true but the way the Western political leaders use facts selectively to generate narratives. We can see why the State Department might want to do this. But journalists are supposed to consider the bigger picture, which means weighing up a range of facts. Not just echo the narrative lines of the State Department…

So furious was John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at what he saw as Moscow’s deliberate sabotage of the latest Syria ceasefire that he broke off bilateral talks with Moscow. Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, accused Russia of “barbarism”. But repeating a pattern of behaviour familiar in Ukraine, Georgia and other crises, an unabashed Putin refused to back down. On the contrary, he rapidly upped the ante.

This follows on from the previous paragraph. The claim that Russia hit the aid convoy is now taken a fact. There is even an implication that Putin has accepted this – he ‘refused to back down’. It simply isn’t true. Here we see how initial fictions based on fact-selection develop rapidly into accepted fact. (This is what happens when you hallucinate something which isn’t there; after an initial mis-perception the mind quickly finds adducing ‘evidence’ to support the reality of the initial mis-perception). As we have seen, the Russians denied hitting the aid convoy. In fact President Putin himself personally made this rebuttal. [7] So it was not about Putin “not backing down”. According to Putin they had nothing to back down on. By omitting the facts though the Guardian’s propaganda writer has managed to re-fuel his narrative about an aggressive (‘swaggering’?) Putin. They love talking about ‘Putin’ as if he were a naughty child. Phrases like ‘pattern of behaviour’ are characteristic of this kind of discourse. No wonder the Russians feel insulted by the Western press. This kind of language substitutes for rational analysis. Presumably as a way of avoiding rational analysis.

Almost simultaneously, Putin scrapped a US-Russia agreement to reprocess excess plutonium to prevent its use in nuclear weapons and two other nuclear cooperation agreements. The deployment of short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in eastern Europe bordering Nato members Poland and Lithuania, was confirmed. And, not coincidentally perhaps, massive civil defence exercises were held inside Russia, in apparent preparation for a nuclear war

As always Western propaganda writers build their narratives by omitting the context. The background to the cancellation of the arrangements about re-processing plutonium is that the American side has changed the way that they reprocess plutonium under this agreement. According to the Russians the new way the Americans are using would enable the plutonium to be recovered for use in weapons. This disagreement and the Russian basis for it has existed for some time. [8] The move of Iskander missiles to Russia’s territory of Kalingrad is also reported without context. Again; the Russians have explained for some time that this is a move they may have to make in response to US plans for a missile system to be based in Poland. [9] (According to the Russians the missile system targets their nuclear weapons and could also be re-purposed to launch cruise missiles against Russia). [10] The Russians have indeed just held civil defence exercises. The Guardian suggests that this may not have been a coincidence. According to Russian state broadcaster RT the same exercise took place last year on Civil Defence day. [11] We see how the narrative about an aggressive Russia is built by omitting context.

That said; it may well be that Russia intended to send a signal to the US by bringing various simmering matters to a conclusion following what they see as the US failure to deliver on the Syria ceasefire deal and their attempt to shift the blame onto Russia together with their public cancelling of cooperation with Russia. [12] That is, Russia is likely to have been sending a signal that says “if you don’t cooperate with us there will be a price to pay”. By only telling one side of the story however the rational basis for the Russian actions is denied. The actions are then presented as “not backing down”, “upping the ante” etc.

“They started this hysteria, saying this [hacking] is in Russia’s interests, but this has nothing to do with Russia’s interests,” Putin said. His government would work with whoever won the election “if, of course, the new US leader wishes to work with our country”.

This latter statement was chilling. Putin was plainly saying that Russia, no longer the post-Communist economic and military basket-case it briefly became under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, does not need or seek American approval or agreement to take action in its own interests in Syria or anywhere else. If Barack Obama or his successor want to do business in future, then Russia must be treated as a global equal, not as an irritant or a spoiler or mere regional actor.

The overall direction of current Russian Foreign Policy is clear. There is no especial secret about it. They will pursue their national interests through the framework of international law and agreements. (Their actions are consistent with this. In Syria they are working with the legitimate government. Crimea may be arguable though here they point to the legal precedents with Kosovo which was allowed by a UN court to separate from Serbia without agreement with Serbia. [13] In Eastern Ukraine Russia is a party to the Minsk agreements. If they have given military support to the militias in the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine that is at least more defensible in terms of national interest that US interventions in the Middle East). Russia expect to be treated as an equal and not ‘mentored’ or told what to do. Why is this ‘chilling’? Surely this – working with other countries on the basis of diplomacy and within the framework on international law – is exactly what the West claims to be doing? Why is it ‘chilling’ that the other party now seems willing to stand up for themselves? That said; it is true that Russia is no longer the push-over that it was in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it follows that the West does need to adjust. But this rare moment of rational analysis is then immediately lost and we are back into the safe old myth of Russian aggression:

Poland and the Baltic states, threatened by the Kaliningrad deployment and border troop build-ups, demand a more muscular Nato stance. Neutral Finland and Sweden, troubled by Russian air and sea incursions, edge ever closer to the western alliance.

It is NATO which has been building up its presence in the Baltics. This was their declared aim early on in the Ukraine conflict. [14] Once NATO has done this it is inevitable that the Russians would have to re-think their military deployments (within their own country). [15] The deployment of Iskander’s to Kalingrad (temporary or permanent) is, as we have discussed above, a planned response to a specific development – the planned US missile base in Poland. The ‘sea incursion’ may be a reference to the Swedish claims about a submarine in their territorial waters in 2014. As the Guardian itself reported at the time no trace of this alleged submarine was ever found. [16] A Swedish admiral subsequently claimed that the alleged submarine was a workboat. [17] We can’t be sure because what exact alleged ‘sea incursion’ is being referred to is not mentioned. But this looks like another case of an allegation being floated and by a process of magic characteristic of Western media propaganda writers shortly afterwards being treated as an absolute fact. That the specific claim is not substantiated is also characteristic of this kind of propaganda as general claims are harder to refute that specific ones. As far as air incursions into Finish and/or Swedish air-space go Finland has apparently made such claims. Russia has denied them. Naturally the Guardian takes the statements of NATO member countries (Estonia) – and allies (Finland) – as true. They don’t even mention the Russian denials. [18]

In Britain, meanwhile, as Johnson splutters impotently and contradicts himself over no-fly zones, the Labour party claims against all known facts that there is some kind of equivalence between Russian and US actions in Syria. If opposition fighters vacate Aleppo (handing victory to Assad), Labour suggests, all will be well. Its script could have been written by the Kremlin.

Heavens above. An ‘equivalence’ between Russian and US actions in Syria. The very thought that those lovely Americans could have any equivalence to those nasty Russians. Interestingly this Guardian article links to another one where we can read the actual statements by the Labour party:

“Independent assessments are that there have been very large-scale civilian casualties as a result of the US-led coalition bombing. There are several cases of large numbers of deaths in single attacks, and there hasn’t been as much focus on those casualties,” the spokesman said.

The Labour spokesman said said he wasn’t drawing a “moral equivalence” between Russia’s actions and those of the US, but when asked whether it was as equally legitimate for the public to protest outside the US embassy as the Russian, he replied: “People are free to protest outside the intervening powers’ embassies, and there are a number of them.” Asked if that included the US, he said, “obviously”. [19]

The Guardian writer in our original article says that the claim that the US is also killing civilians goes “against all know facts”. We don’t know what ‘independent assessments’ the Labour party spokesperson was referring to but we can do some research ourselves. Immediately we can find a report in the Guardian itself which discusses the numbers of civilians killed by US airstrikes in Syria. [20] The report is based on figures from Amnesty International and ‘Airwars’. Airwars is a monitoring group quite largely staffed by people who have worked for the BBC or on BBC projects. One staff member is a current Guardian sub-editor. [21] Amongst its funding sources is the Open Society Foundation [21] –  an organisation set up by US based international financier George Soros. [22] Airwars is likely, if anything, to be more favourable to the West than to Russia. Based on these sources the Guardian’s July 2016 article on civilian casualties in Syria says: “The US says its bombs have caused 55 civilian deaths since the coalition air war against Isis was launched two years ago. But campaign groups that keep a tally of the war’s civilian toll – including Amnesty and Airwars – say the real total is at least 10 times that number – and could be far higher.” [20] In one strike alone 210 civilians were possibly killed in Manbij. Airwars provides data on civilian casualties caused by both the US coalition and Russia with the data cut up in various ways. We can look ourselves at the source data which the Guardian will have used. Reviewing one set of data shows Airwars claiming that in the period October 2015 to March 2016, and based on an assessment criteria of ‘fair’ for the likely reliability of the reports, the US killed civilians 358 and Russia 1734. The period starts from when Russia started its air campaign in Syria. The US strike at Manbij which took place in July 2016 and caused heavy civilian casualties is therefore not reflected in the figures. (Table ‘Coalition v. Russia: Alleged civilian deaths and levels of reporting’). [23] This particular data set is not matched directly against the numbers of strikes carried out. While the figure for Russia is substantially higher this may reflect a much higher rate of strikes. Given the reliance of Airwars on social media accounts of NGOs their figures may not be all that reliable. [24] At any event even if we take the Airwars figures as reliable it is clear that the claim by the Labour party does not in fact “go against all known facts”. There may well be a valid concern about the level of civilian casualties caused by Russian bombing in Syria. Overall they may have caused more casualties than the US coalition. But what the Labour party said was “Independent assessments are that there have been very large-scale civilian casualties as a result of the US-led coalition bombing” and, far from being “against all known facts”, that indeed appears to be the case.

Assuming Trump loses, a Clinton administration has three possible courses of action. One is to acknowledge Putin has a fair case when he argues that the US, the EU and Nato ignored or trampled on Russia’s interests in the post-Soviet era, accept that Crimea is lost and that Assad stays in power for the time being, and focus in future on pragmatic, one-off “transactional” deals where interests coincide.

A second approach is a longer-term variation on the first, containing Russia wherever possible, maintaining or toughening sanctions, and waiting for the departure of Putin and what some economists say will be Russia’s inevitable economic collapse as its oil and gas runs out and international ostracism, corruption and a declining working-age population take their toll. The plan would be to re-set relations (again) with a post-Putin “new Russia”.

The third possibility, and one that seems most likely at this point given Clinton’s policy positions, is that the US will move on to the front foot and purposefully confront Russia directly, not only in Syria but on a number of other areas, backed up by the possible use of military force

This is a fair assessment which outlines some strategic options which the US might choose. Though it does rely on an out of date stereotype about corruption in Russia. The idea of corruption in Russia has widespread traction. The reality that the current Russian authorities, (Putin’s government), has taken substantial steps to tackle corruption – as this OECD report indicates [25] – is less well-reported. Why give up a myth which has served you so well in the past?

The Guardian propaganda writer continues:

This prospect [option 3] is fraught with danger, especially since Putin has shown repeatedly that he reacts badly to diktats and threats. When cornered, Putin does not back down. He escalates. He does not have a domestic electorate, critical parliament or independent media scrutiny to worry about. He disdains international opinion and international law.

“When cornered”. This is part of the language on Russia where is is the norm to discuss the President of a large country as if he were a naughty child (“patterns of behaviour”) or even, as here, a wild animal.

He [Putin] does not have a domestic electorate, critical parliament or independent media scrutiny to worry about. He disdains international opinion and international law.

Then Guardian writer thus launches himself into an astonishing piece of phantasy. Putin does not have a “domestic electorate”. In reality the President of Russia is an elected position. Readers who wish to take an informed view about the absence or not of a domestic electorate for the position of President of the Russian Federation could, for example, read the report by the OSCE on the 2012 Presidential election which saw Putin elected. [26] As a first point we can note that the OSCE was invited to monitor the election. Were it to be the case that the election was to have been systematically rigged then it is unlikely that the OSCE would have been invited. The report paints a mixed picture of the elections. All candidates were able to compete unhindered. Protests by those claiming fraud in previous elections were allowed to proceed. Voting itself was well-manged. However there were ‘procedural irregularities’ in the count.  The OSCE report sums up the actual voting: “On election day, the OSCE/ODIHR EOM observers visited over 1,000 polling stations. Voting was assessed as ‘good’ and ‘very good’ in 95 per cent of polling stations visited; however, the process deteriorated significantly during the count that was assessed as ‘bad’ and ‘very bad’ in almost one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities.” The kind of irregularities mentioned include a failure to cross-reference ballots cast back to voting lists at the point the ballots were cast. Some, but by no means all, of the irregularities then simply reflect a lack of administrative skill and knowledge rather than deliberate manipulations. Russia has only been holding open elections for a short-time and it would be unreasonable to expect an overnight transformation to the standards say of a UK election process. That said, the OSCE does cite significant instances of actual vote manipulation. These instances took place in Kalingrad and St. Petersburg in particular. The leading candidate, President Putin, received much more coverage on TV than the other candidates. And there were examples of state and regional authorities directing people which way to vote. The reality is that there is (measured against equivalent Western standards) partial democracy in Russia. Putin had to stand. People could vote. Other candidates were able to stand unhindered. Putin received favourable treatment from the media. There was a mixture of open corruption and administrative failings in the count. On balance however the fact remains that President Putin is enormously popular in Russia as polling indicates. [27] This author recently visited Russia and was able to observe first-hand that Putin is indeed popular. While anecdotal, he met people ranging from a University professor to an unemployed ex-soldier who were both favourable to Putin and his policies. The Western liberal media narrative on Russia simply brushes over any of the nuances of the situation and pretends that popular support for Putin is all manufactured. Because Russian elections are not conducted exactly like those in the UK with 99.9% probity they are completely dismissed. No account is taken of 70 years of one-party rule. The possibility that Russians may prefer and expect a certain degree of authoritarian rule is never discussed. Wider analogies are avoided. For example; in Singapore the same party has been elected continuously since 1959. The government has strong control over the media. The government claims to represent the long-term national interest of the country and positions itself above party politics. [28] All this is similar to the Russian model. But we don’t see liberal journalists in the West up in arms about the lack of democracy in Singapore. It is true that (rightly or wrongly) elections in Russia are not conducted with the same degree of impartiality as they are in, say, the UK. However; it is not true that Putin installed himself in office without reference to an electorate. The claim that there is no “independent media” in Russia has the same status; it is an oversimplification of a more nuanced situation. It is true that the state controls a large percentage of broadcast media and that these outlets report favourably on the government. However in the print media sector ownership is more diffuse. [29] Independent and critical journalists can and do work in Russia. The Guardian recently carried some reports by one such journalist – who has worked for a number of different outlets in Russia. [30]

The claim that President Putin “disdains international opinion and international law.” is even more outlandish. Firstly; we shouldn’t even really discuss this claim. It is made without any substantiation at all. That is not journalism. But let’s consider if it does bear any relation to reality. The claim shows a considerable degree of ignorance of current international affairs. If the writer of this piece had ever taken the trouble to familiarise himself with current Russian foreign policy he would notice that the policy is to work within the framework of international law. For example; were Russia to really disdain international law and opinion would the Russian Foreign Minister have continued to persistently and despite all the insults heaped on him and his country continued to, time and time again, meet with the US side on Syria? Even on Crimea the Russian side, as we have discussed above, went out of their way to justify their actions in terms of international law. It was important to them that their actions could be so justified. If Putin really held international opinion and law in disdain they wouldn’t have bothered. Leading Russian politicians believe that Russia is acting in line with international law more so than the US. [31] It may be possible to construct a legal argument that this is not the case (though the long list of US and/or NATO interventions in countries from Yugoslavia to Iraq and Syria would make it quite hard to construct such a case) – but if we are to weigh up matters with any degree of responsibility we should at least understand how the Russians see the situation. The Western media and political class frequently express concern about the growing influence of the English language version of Russian broadcaster RT. RT exists in the main to explain the Russian point of view on international relations to a Western audience. Would the Russians trouble to do this if they did not care about “international opinion”? The truth here is the opposite of what the Guardian suggests. Russia cares very much about international opinion. What the propaganda writer means to say perhaps is that when Putin believes he is defending Russian national interests as on Crimea for example he will stick to his guns and not be swayed by pressure from the West. (In fact sanctions rather than ‘opinion’). But this is not the same at all as having “disdain for international opinion”.

Despite last month’s bust-up, Kerry and Lavrov met again on Saturday to try to agree another Syria ceasefire. But a lasting solution looks as far away as ever. If the past 15 years show anything, it is that Putin, like a marauding Red Army tank, has no reverse gear.

A naughty child. A wild animal. A “marauding tank”. Anything but a human being. This really is disgusting.

As if to back up his fictional narrative the Guardian propaganda writer concludes his piece with some punchy little summings up of the current main bones of contention between Russia and the West. Not surprisingly Russia is 100% at fault in every case – except where the fault is a lack of hawkishness on the part of the US.

Barack Obama’s decision not to intervene militarily after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons left the door open for Russia. By going to the aid of his long-term ally Assad, Putin saw a chance to expand Russian influence in the Middle East at American expense and secure military bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Fighting Islamic State terrorism was a secondary consideration. The US insists Assad must go, but its limited commitment so far means the non-jihadist opposition continues to struggle while civilians bear the brunt of the violence.

The reality that the fight to Assad is being carried on by Islamic terrorists and right-wing Sunni Islam groups is airbrushed out of the picture. [32] This has been the case since as far back as December 2013 as reported by the Guardian. [33] The idea that an increase in US arms supplies to the “non-jihadist” opposition would somehow solve the crisis in Syria remains to be tested. Hopefully it won’t be. Is the author really suggesting that the “non-jihadist” opposition be armed to the extent that it can defeat, in turn, ISIS, Al-Qaeda and then the Syrian “regime” with its allies in Hezbollah and Iran? That would imply a lot of arms. But does this “non-jihadist” opposition even exist? The September 2016 ceasefire agreement between the US and Russia included a requirement that the US would try to separate this moderate opposition from Al-Qaeda. By their own admission they failed to do so. [34] By many accounts the “Free Syrian Army” – i.e. the “non-jihadist” – opposition no longer even exists. [35] The Guardian writer might have a hard job even finding “non-jihadists” to arm. Oh. The US already tried. But they could only find a few dozen in the north of Syria. And most of these were quickly killed or captured (with their weapons) leaving only 5 left. [36]. (Though this doesn’t stop the CIA arming heaven knows who in the South of Syria). [37] The idea that all problems will be solved in Syria by pouring in more arms to one small part of a multi-faceted opposition is fanciful.

Despite the US-orchestrated imposition of international sanctions on Russia, Putin shows no sign of reversing his 2014 annexation of Crimea. Moscow’s not-so-secret support for separatists in eastern Ukraine opposing the pro-western government in Kiev continues unabated, with renewed fighting reported last week. Peace efforts led by Germany in the so-called Minsk group have stalled. Given the US believes it is upholding an important principle of international law, a future Clinton administration is unlikely to recognise Russian-made “facts on the ground”.

Annexation. The narrative is fixed. We could say of Western propaganda writers that once they’ve fixed on a line there is no reverse gear. A referendum was held. Approximately 80% of the population voted to join Russia. This 80% figure has been confirmed in polls conducted by Western polling organisations [38]; which shows a) that it reflects a real percentage and b) that the referendum was a real act of voting. Crimea was a part of the Russian republic until Khrushchev transferred it as an administrative arrangement to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine in 1954. The question of Crimea re-joining Russia came up at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union but was not resolved then. [39] At least 60% of the population of Crimea are ethnic Russians. [40] They could at least say “disputed annexation” or something like that. When liberal Western journalists say “annexation” it sounds like the wishes of all those people who voted to rejoin Russia don’t matter – because they are Russian.

It is interesting to note that the Guardian propaganda writer does not try to apportion blame for the uptick in fighting in the DPR last week. That’s probably because he doesn’t want to go into the details. The OCSE monitoring mission in Ukraine publishes daily reports. For the 14th October they report multiple violations of the ceasefire on both sides. Of particular interest are the multiple reports of heavy weapons on the Ukrainian government side which have been relocated from their permanent storage sites and multiple reports of heavy weapons also being moved on the Ukrainian government side in the disengagement zone in violation of the Minsk agreements. [41] The Guardian article, incidentally, is illustrated with a library photo of “pro-Russian rebels”. The tag “pro-Russian” is itself a piece of propaganda designed to suppress the actual motives for the revolt. The largely Russian speaking Eastern regions of Ukraine were not represented in the 2014 coup in Ukraine. The coup saw the toppling of an elected President. The President had had particular support in the East of Ukraine. [42] From the point of view of the people of the East of Ukraine the coup disenfranchised them. But all this is highly inconvenient for the narrative about a ‘democracy uprising’. Hence the need to re-cast the rebels as some kind of a Russian (Soviet) proxy army. Hence “pro-Russian” rebels. The basic lesson is that if you disagree with Western liberals they won’t try to disagree with you back. Rather they will try to extinguish you out of existence.

The deployment of Russian nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, the isolated enclave it controls on Poland’s and Lithuania’s border, is the latest move in a war of nerves along Europe’s eastern flank. The Baltic sea has also become a contested area as Russian submarines and aircraft test western reactions. Nato has beefed up its defences, and Britain has pledged its support. But the uncomfortable question remains: would an American president go to war to defend Estonia?

Isolated enclave. Well; Kalingrad is part of Russia. Agreed so at the Potsdam conference at the conclusion of WWII. I suppose then we should refer to the Falkland Islands as “distant island which Britain controls” and Gibraltar as “isolated enclave which Britain controls”. With its reference to “Russian submarines testing Western reactions” this passage seems to confirm that the writer believes in the Russian submarine in Swedish waters (which has now become submarines in the plural) – though no evidence of the same was ever found. And then; the wild idea that Russia is contemplating an invasion of NATO member Estonia.  And to confirm his lack of grasp of foreign affairs the writer suggests that an American President would rip up their NATO commitment should this (wildly unlikely) event actually occur.  But here we are long since in the realm of vacuous words.

The US has formally accused Russia of launching a hacking campaign to disrupt the American presidential electoral process. The suspicion is that Putin, who has been praised by Donald Trump, wants Hillary Clinton defeated and the credibility of the election result put in doubt. Trump has already claimed the poll is fixed against him. Putin denies involvement. But the affair resembles previous cyber attacks on countries that were blamed on government-backed Russian hackers

The accusation was free of proof and the US admitted this. The charge rests on a claim that the attack came from Russia and then on the assumption that the Russian state must have authorised it. [43] Note; it was Trump who praised Putin, not the other way around. The claim that Russia actively wants Trump elected is therefore not substantiated. And then a stupendous piece of logic. Last time there was a similar attack we blamed Russian then. Now this one looks like Russia. So it must be Russia! This is the logic of the ducking stool. But this is indicative of anti-Russia narrative building in the Western media. It really doesn’t matter how you get there so long as you manage to demonise Russia.

The US and Putin’s Russia have clashed repeatedly in the UN Security Council, most recently over Moscow’s veto of a resolution demanding an immediate halt to the bombing of Aleppo. The standoff has raised wider concerns about the effectiveness of the UN system when permanent members appear permanently at odds and its aid convoys are blown up. Russia is accused by the US of ignoring international law and of possible war crimes, and there are moves to refer it to the International Criminal Court.

The resolution in question was not serious. It was introduced by the US after they failed to deliver on their part of the ceasefire agreement [34]. It was part of an attempt to effect the narrative and paint Russia into a corner as the one ‘obstructing’ a peace settlement in Syria. It was introduced in the full knowledge that Russia would block it. [44] Again; note the tactic of using the passive voice. By saying “Russia is accused of …” the propaganda writer is attempting to give some objectivity to his claims. Who is accusing Russia? Ah. The US (and its allies who are also involved in a illegal bombing campaign in Syria). The accusation came on the heels of the failed ceasefire. It was linked to an attack on an aid convoy. (The Guardian propaganda writer has luridly managed to turn this into aid convoys in the plural). Russia has denied that it hit the aid convoy in question [45] and the US has not presented proof of its claims. During this same ceasefire the US ‘accidentally’ hit a Syrian army position killing upwards of 60 soldiers. The Syrian side claims that this attack was deliberate. [46] At any event one can see why this might have made them lose confidence in the ceasefire. Notice too the way that the propaganda writer links an attempt to abolish the Russian veto at the UN with a contested claim about an aid convoy. Abolishing the Russian veto at the UN would be a serious matter, not least since it would mean in effect ripping up the current UN treaty and starting again without Russia. It would not be wise to base this on one incident. (Even you are convinced that the Russians are lying about this). As far as the International Criminal court goes the propaganda writer needs to inform himself about the terms of reference of this court. The court’s jurisdiction is limited to cases where the crime was committed on the territory of a State Party or by a national of a State Party or in cases of a referral by the UN Security Council. [47] The US, Russia and Syria have not ratified the relevant treaty. [48] The propaganda writer here has leapt on some colourful language employed by the State Department and reproduced by the UK’s Foreign Office without doing his research. All of this narrative is told straight from the point of view of the Western powers. As the Russian side have pointed out if you want to start talking about war crimes let’s get busy… [49]

This Guardian / Observer article was written by someone called Simon Tisdall. He is described as an assistant editor at the Guardian and one-time foreign editor at the Observer. [50] If we look at the article it is clear that it is attempting to build a certain case (Russia is bad, more intervention is called for). It does this by being highly selective with the facts it mentions, omitting the context, introducing small but pivotal distortions in the re-telling of the tale, inflating unsubstantiated claims to the level of absolute fact and deploying various linguistic ruses such as the use of the passive voice to lend partisan claims an air of objectivity. There also a tendency for singular events to be multiplied into the plural. Sometimes these devices occur twice on the same event creating a real sense of unreality. It doesn’t qualify as journalism if journalism includes a mandate to be careful to stick to facts and avoid creating a distorted effect. It belongs to a certain style of Western propaganda writing. It as if these people are incapable of emerging from a shrink-wrapped bubble where the wrapping is provided by the US State Department.

Notes

1.

Daily Telegraph. 2009. Report on EU fact-finding mission on Georgian war.

The Daily Telegraph quotes from the report:

None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation.

14. Guardian. August 2014. NATO to build up forces in Baltics to “deter President Putin from causing trouble in the Baltics”

15. RT. May 2016. Russia announces creation of 3 new military divisions

16. Guardian, October 14. No trace of alleged Russian submarine

17. International Business Times. April 2015. Swedish admiral says alleged Russian submarine was workboat

18. RT. October 2016. Russia denies incursions into Finnish and Estonian airspace

19. Guardian. October 2016. Labour party says that all intervening parties in Syrian conflict have a responsibility

20. Guardian. July 2016. Civilian casualties caused by US in Syria

21. Airwars

22. WikiPedia. Open Society Foundations

23. Airwars – data. Retrieved 16 October 2016. Copy of data available from New Obs.

24. Airwars. Methodology

25. OECD report on Russia 2013.

26. OSCE report into 2012 Presidential election in Russia

27. RT. September 2016. Putin does well in opinion polls The poll was conducted by the Levada centre, a Russian based organisation which is listed as a foreign agent under Russian law because it receives funding from abroad: Sputnik news. September 2016. Levada centre can appeal foreign agent listing

28. Wikipedia article on Singapore

29. Wikipedia article on press freedom in Russia

30. Wikipedia article on journalist Oleg Kashin

Oleg Kashin on the Guardian.

31. RT. February 2016.

32. New Obs. October 2016. What is happening in Syria?

33. Guardian 2013. Report on growing influence of Islamic groups in Syria

34. New Obs. 2014. Report on State Department briefing about failed Syrian ceasefire

35. International Business Times. October 2015. Summary of rebel groups in Syria

36. Guardian. September 2015. Report on failed programme to arm rebels in the North of Syria

Guardian. September 2015. Report on failed US programme to train Syrian rebels

37. New York Times. June 2016. CIA programme to arm Syrian rebels

38. Forbes magazine. March 2015. Western polls confirm Crimean choice

39. Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail on the history of Crimea. http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/02/a-not-so-brief-history-of-crimea.html

40. Wikipedia article on Crimea

41. OCSE Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. October 14th 2014

42. The party of Yanokovich the Party of the Regions was strong in South Eastern Ukraine. Source: Wikipeda

43. Guardian. October 2016. US accuses Russia of being behind political cyber attacks

44. RT. October 2016. Report on UN resolutions on Syria following ceasefire collapse

45. RT. October 2016. Russia denies it hit aid convoy in Syria

46. Independent 2016. Assad accuses US of deliberately targeting Syrian army positions

47. International Criminal Court

48. Wikipeda article on State Parties to the ICC

49. RT. October 2016. Russian Foreign Ministry response to war crimes cry

50. Guardian. Simon Tisdall

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