War propaganda

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is right. The West and Russia are in a state, once again, of cold war.

As in any war national news organisations churn out propaganda. The Guardian is doing its bit for the war effort.

Here is a piece in the Guardian in which Dmity Medvedev’s comments to the Munich Security Conference are (mis)-reported. There are 3 pieces of false information before we even get to paragraph two.

Russia warns of ‘new cold war’ amid Syria accusations

This is a good example of how skilled propaganda writers work. It isn’t completely false. It is just heavily spun. What Medvedev actually said was that he sees that currently relations between Russia and NATO are at cold-war levels. He does this in the context of a call to restore co-operation and to join forces to combat terrorism. He is stating what he sees as a matter of fact. ‘Warning’ of course makes it sound like he is issuing warnings; threats maybe. So; an observation of how matters stand and a call for co-operation is twisted into a picture of Russia issuing warnings / threats. In the UK the local press operates in a particular way. They have a limited stock of templates (e.g. hero rescues puppy, struggling young person makes good through hard work) into which they fit stories. The Guardian does it too when writing about international affairs. The template, in case it isn’t obvious, is that Russia is aggressive; Russia doesn’t act on the basis of reason and self-interest. They are just inexplicably aggressive. And bad.

He rejected the widely held belief that Russian planes had hit civilian targets in Syria.

Well. What he actually said was that despite all the claims no evidence had been presented. [1] It is interesting in connection with this to note that the Guardian propagandist simply refers to the ‘widely held belief’ but does not present any evidence. This is one way that propaganda is constructed in the West. A briefing by the US State Department is taken as a matter of fact and soon the claims are accepted as being established as a matter of ‘widel;y held belief’. The role of the press in questioning and validating the claims is nowhere to be seen. They just echo and amplify them. Typically, as here, the claims are referenced with a phrase like ‘it is commonly accepted’ or some such evasion of the need to check.

However, Medvedev’s French counterpart, Manuel Valls, told the same conference: To find the path to peace again, the Russian bombing of civilians has to stop.¶

This sentence appears in the article after a paragraph reporting Medvedev’s comments about how no evidence has been presented of ‘bombing civilians’ (in the Guardian’s translation). However; in fact the French Prime Minister spoke first. [1] Reversing the order of events is a common trick in propaganda writing. A small point perhaps; but it makes sure the last word goes to the Western liberal version of events.

Russian aircraft were seen in action over northern Syria again on Friday. Its intervention in the conflict since late September has significantly strengthened the hand of President Bashar al-Assad, who on Friday vowed to regain control of the entire country.

His comments dealt a swift blow to international efforts to secure a ceasefire, deliver aid and promote a negotiated solution to the war that has killed more than a quarter of a million civilians.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, warned that if the peace plan agreed on Thursday night failed, more foreign troops could enter the conflict.

This is an interesting way of reporting events. Yes. Russia’s intervention has ‘strengthened the hand of President Bashar al-Assad’. His government was under attack from ISIS and Al-Qaeda and other right-wing Islamist groups such as Jaysh-al-Islam. [2] Russia has bombed these groups (certainly the first two, quite possibly the latter as well). This is presented as Russia supporting Assad. And this action is tied in with Assad’s reported comments about retaking the whole country. This all helps create the narrative about ‘Russia propping up Assad’. However; Russia has explained and Medvedev did again in his speech in Munich – that Russia is acting to protect their national interests. Russia is concerned about terrorists returning from Syria and fomenting a third war in Chechnya. It may be true that Russia has an eye on its Mediterranean naval base and that ‘propping up Assad’ is in part motivated by a desire to keep their influence over the country. But you would have to have your head in the sand not to see that the stated reason for their intervention is very valid for them. The West is concerned about the threat of returning Jihadis. The problem is the same only much worse for Russia – where returning fighters could re-start a whole war, not just commit isolated massacres. All of this is of course air-brushed out of the tale presented by the Guardian’s propaganda writer – keen as he is to present a tale about Russia propping up Assad and destroying the peace talks. Furthermore; at the same time that Russian airstrikes and Assad’s comments are presented as undermining the nascent peace process the Guardian blithely references plans by the Saudis to commit ground troops into Syria without any suggestion that these plans might be detrimental to peace. * Nor does the Guardian’s propaganda writer report on the fact that the opposition delegation to the peace talks in Geneva included representatives from Jayash-al-Islam – a Saudi backed terror group whose dead leader had a reputation for making virulent sectarian anti-Shia statements. [3] No question is raised that the presence at the negotiations of a group whose ex-leader had wanted to expel Shias from Damascus [4] might have been an inauspicious start to negotiations.

This Guardian piece is a good example of the style of Western propaganda. None of it is technically untrue. But a selective use of facts, carefully juxtaposed into a certain order is blended into a narrative. The underlying, or root, narrative is the same as always. The West intervenes in countries like Syria out of noble, moral and humanitarian concern – almost disinterestedness. Its bombs fall like flower blossom onto a grateful population who are yearning for ‘freedom’. On the other hand the dirty Russians [insert here any country whose interests do not align with those of the West and who is bold enough to assert those interests] are savagely killing civilians, acting in an ‘aggressive’ and irrational way just because they are bad.

Honestly; the people who write this sort of propaganda in place of news and analysis must, some of them, have been to journalist school. Do they not see what they are doing? Are they really blind fools? Or is it deliberate and conscious? It seems that it is the first – albeit with a considerable degree of conscious dishonesty.

* This tactic appears to be a coordinated effort between the US and the Saudis, threatening a military intervention if the other side does not attend negotiations and agree to what is demanded of them. This tactic is reminiscent of the kinds of pressure put on then Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the run up to the 1999 NATO terrorist operation against Yugoslavia over Kosovo. In this case Milosevic was told that the only way he could avoid his country being bombed would be to accept a de facto NATO occupation of his country. [5] The cases aren’t exactly the same. However the similarity is that, in both cases, the negotiations are pre-loaded by the West with the threat of force, in order to get the result that they want. At the same time they accuse the other side of bad faith at the negotiating table.


1. https://www.rt.com/news/332351-medvedev-munich-nato-cold-war/

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaysh_al-Islamhttps://www.rt.com/news/327094-top-syrian-rebel-killed/

3. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/30/world/middleeast/syria-talks-geneva-opposition.html?_r=0;  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/26/world/middleeast/zahran-alloush-syria-rebel-leader-reported-killed.htmlhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaysh_al-Islam

4. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/25/zahran-alloush-leader-syria-rebel-group-killed-airstrike

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambouillet_Agreement

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer