Delusions in place of knowledge and analysis – Western media coverage of Russia

Really this topic deserves a paper. I just have time for a quick post to point to the topic.

This is from an ‘associate editor’ at the Independent:

Russia has returned to type, arguably – paranoid, near-absolutist, revanchist, expansionist, nationalistic, imperial, and a place where human rights, in reality, don’t exist. Internally and externally, spying, espionage and assignation are a normal method of stagecraft. We know that Putin is close to being a modern-day dictator, a tsar in all but name, and the latest round of elections show he has no intention of releasing his grip on power.

Unfortunately this simplistic perspective seems to govern as a kind of meta-map of much of Western political-media thinking (I am not sure there is any significant gap between them) on Russia.

It contains an element of racial abuse.

More to the point it is simply wildly wrong.

“Paranoid”? Because the US has edged powerful missiles very close to your border? Putin might reply – just because they call you paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you.

“Revanchist and expansionist”. This is a myth. It is not just a misunderstanding; portraying Russia as expansionist justifies Western aggressive moves against Russia. (The ultimate dream of the West is to turn Russia into a compliant region of the world, integrated into the US global system, with no national political independence; they fully understand they will need to overturn the current Russian state in order to do this). This myth is often supported by quoting Putin who referred to the breakup of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century“. They usually miss the context. For the context we have to turn to an academic:

He reiterated that view in April 2005 when he characterized the break-up of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century’ but promptly added that it was impossible to fantasize about resurrecting the old Soviet state

Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia (p. 495). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

This point is confirmed by another academic – writing (it has to be said they can occasionally print something sensible) in the Indepdendent:

The view of some in the West that Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet Union is, I believe, a fantasy that a realist like Putin has himself rejected. Yes, in 2005 Putin commented that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century” and “a genuine tragedy” – a sentiment he shares with a majority of Russians. But pundits in the West are less eager to reference Putin’s other pronouncement that “He who does not regret the break-up of the Soviet Union has no heart; he who wants to revive it in its previous form has no head.” Ronald Suny History Professor Michigan

Where is the evidence for this “expansionism”? Since the collapse of the USSR where has Russia invaded? They have supported the regions of Georgia which wanted to break away – South Ossetia (which is tiny – a population of about 50,000 people) and Abkhazia. They support small regions which have heavy Russian-speaking local populations in Transnistria and Donbass. You don’t have to be a historian surely to grasp that with the fall of the Soviet Union there were always going to be a few contested border regions because of the way the USSR encouraged population migration. That’s it. They haven’t invaded anywhere – unlike of course the UK-UK who since 1991 have undertaken bombing campaigns and regime change operations all over the globe – killing hundreds of thousands and leaving whole countries in ruins. The idea of an expansionist Russia is a complete joke.

“Near-absolutist and imperial and Putin is like a Tsar”. Oh, the danger of reading a little history. The author of this article in the Independent has probably read one or two books on Russia imperial history and thinks he has sussed modern Russia. It is lazy thinking. “Imperial” – with no Empire? “Near absolutist” – in reality modern Russia bears no relation to a 17th century absolutist monarchy – or Tsardom. People have in their day to day lives as much (and as little) freedom as they do in the West. People have social, economic and geographical freedom of movement. They can participate in politics and express views on the political and economic direction of the country quite at divergence from the current view of the government. Elections are held and the make-up of parliament can change in response. Of course Russian politics tends to be conservative and centrist. There are limits on what you can call for in public. (It is out of scope but of course the Western system where you can say more or less whatever you like can be analysed as a sophisticated system for breaking up dissent). An “illiberal democracy” as some academics call Russia is different from the Western system – but it is a long way from Tsardom.

“a place where human rights, in reality, don’t exist”. This is used as a kind of abuse. I wish the ‘journalists’ who produce this line this would turn their attention to the human rights record of the West. Let’s just take one example; Afghanistan. A failed nation building project has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and none of its goals have been achieved. Once they finally admitted failure (and under cover of the pandemic) they left, pulled out their support, stole the government’s funds, and plunged the country into crisis with millions of children starving. Yes; Navalny may be languishing in prison – but the human rights issues of the West are more or less infinitely greater than those of Russia.

“spying, espionage and assignation are a normal method of stagecraft. “. And the West does not do espionage? We could of course talk about the people tortured by the CIA in ‘black prisons’ – but it is not a nice topic. “assignation” (he means assassination) – yes, quite likely, Russian state organs polished off Litvinenko and tried to polish off Skripal and some others. But it is a matter of cultural preferences. Russia may tend towards assassination and even have a preference for poison. But that is better than Britain which has a preference for mowing down tens of thousands of innocent brown people with machine guns or incendiary bombs or burying them alive in trenches with bulldozers.

(As for Putin not releasing his grip on power. They always claim that Putin grips onto power. Maybe. But they rarely tell you the other side; many people in Russia support Putin. I quite often meet people who genuinely even fervently support Putin. Older people tend to see him as a ‘strong leader’. Younger, middle-class professional people, may see him as bringing stability and continuity to the country. Russians tend to be conservative and value stability; they would probably see the constant change of leadership which we are familiar with in the UK for example, as strange and vulgar).

The kind of lazy uninformed view of Russia presented here by this journalist is no more than a facile caricature. It is babyish in its thinking – but potentially very harmful in its effect.

The Guardian ‘explains’ what is happening in Ukraine

When I see an “Explainer” in the Western media I know I am in for a full dose of propaganda. This example is replete with unscrupulous lies.

The headline sets the tone: “What is the background to the separatist attack in east Ukraine?”. This of course makes it look like an unprovoked and spontaneously initiated attack. In fact what took place was an exchange of fire across the ceasefire line. Both Kiev and the forces of the LNR and DNR violated the ceasefire. While the OSCE monitoring mission never ascribes violations to one side or the other, simply recording observed facts e.g “an explosion occurred 5 km NW of such and such a village”, we can still work out in most cases who did the firing. The report for 16 February shows violations by both sides. So – it was not an “attack” by the separatists. That is a crude lie.

Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are Russian proxy states and could supply pretext for invasion

No they are not ‘Russian proxy states’. They are self-declared republics within Ukraine. The 4 million inhabitants are much more likely to be Russian speaking than those in the centre and West of Ukraine. A 2014 Gallup poll [1] showed that in contrast to the genuinely popular support for NATO and EU membership in the West of Ukraine (but nothing like as overwhelming as the Western media claims) in the East of Ukraine support is much lower; less than 20% for EU membership and 13% for NATO membership. The one big lie which Andrew Roth is promulgating here is that the problem in Donbass is entirely caused by ‘Russian interference’. This is the line that comes out of Kiev and he simply repeats it. Russia no doubt does have a military intelligence operation in Donbass and they are supporting them financially and with humanitarian aid. But the aim of the line that the states are “Russian proxies” is to deny / suppress the fact that non-integration into the EU and NATO is overwhelmingly the popular choice of people in the East. These people were disenfranchised by the 2014 Western backed coup in Kiev which enabled the country to sign a partnership agreement with the EU. To deny these people, in the East, their agency and voice is, if not genocide itself, to enable genocide.

Firstly, they provide Moscow with important leverage in its battle with Kyiv. Russia wants the territories reinserted into Ukraine, but with their leaders having a veto on major foreign policy decisions, such as entry into Nato. If Russia recognises their independence or annexes the territories, then that plan, along with the Minsk ceasefire deal signed in 2015, will collapse.

Andrew Roth is doing the kind of journalism he usually does. When he writes on Navalny he simply repeats the lines issued by Navalny’s press office. Now it seems when he writes on Ukraine he simply repeats what Kiev is saying. This line about Donbass having a veto on Ukrainian Foreign Policy is something which the Ukrainian side has been saying recently. This is lazy journalism. This claim does not appear to be true. As far as I can see there is nothing in the Minsk agreements anywhere at all that says anything whatsoever about a future autonomous Donbass having a veto on Ukrainian Foreign Policy. (This can be checked). I think what Kiev is saying is they can’t face the prospect of having elected representatives from Donbass in their State Duma which is what will happen if the conflict is resolved. Such deputies would have a vote like deputies from any other region of Ukraine. It seems this is what the voices in Kiev cannot stomach. Interestingly Roth here presents an argument the logic of which is that Russia will not invade Ukraine and annex Donbass – which seems to contradict all the shrill voices promising an invasion tomorrow. The actual situation with regard to Minsk is that Kiev is refusing to talk to the ‘separatists’ as required by point 4 of Minsk 2 and thus the project is stalled. In fact recently Kiev is more or less openly repudiating Minsk 2.

Secondly, many Russians don’t feel a strong affinity for the region. While ordinary Russians view Crimea as an important part of their cultural history and the Russian Black Sea fleet is based there, there is little that ties ordinary Russians to east Ukraine.

I’m afraid this made my blood boil. It is a nasty cynical untruth. I live in Russia (where I teach English). Recently I have been asking my students (aged 14-19) what they think about Donbass. All of them expressed very strong support for Donbass which they clearly understood as a region which ‘belongs’ to Russia – either spiritually or, in some cases, legally and physically. All. None of them sounded like they have been brainwashed. When I had the conversation in depth with two of them I found them articulating well-informed reasons why these regions actually belong to Russia. Support for Donbass in Russia (most of my collocutors are in Siberia but I also spoke to people in Moscow and Kazan) is just as strong as support for Crimea. Roth is (let’s be kind) misinformed.

Leaked documents suggest there are just under 3 million people remaining in the territories, 38% of whom are pensioners. That’s less than half of the pre-war population. Anecdotal evidence has shown that many of the people who remain are those who strongly opposed the 2014 revolution that toppled the former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych (his hometown is in the separatist-controlled regions) and those who are too poor or were unable to leave when fighting broke out. Public opposition in the territories is virtually non-existent.

I don’t know what these leaked documents are. As usual we are not given a reference where we can check. [2] Nor are we given any kind of source for the “anecdotal” claims. However; it is probably true that due to departures for Russia by the more able the population is now more weighted more towards pensioners than it was. At least Roth now admits that there are people in Donbass who “who strongly opposed the 2014 revolution that toppled the former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych”. In other words these people were disenfranchised by this “revolution”, (in fact a coup). Nonetheless he manages to downplay this, suggesting that this is some kind of pensioner and/or hardliner rump. (Anecdotally, I met one ‘refuge’ from Donbass in Moscow. She was in favour of Donbass joining Russia. At least some of those who left are ‘pro Russia’). Shouldn’t a democratic newspaper be championing the cause of these people who are no longer represented by their own government?


  2. This German think tank says just 2 million and the 3.7 million official figure is a false doctored figure.

Watch the media shielding Keith Starmer

This is a piece in the Guardian about a mob surrounding the Labour leader Keth Starmer and shouting peadophile slurs at him. MPs we are told are accusing Johson of being responsible because of his ‘false’ claims about Keith Starmer having failed to prosecute the notorious BBC paedophile Savile when he was head of the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).

Johnson made a jibe about this in parliament last week. The liberal media widely referred to the claims as false. Of course they aren’t. Keith Starmer was head of the CPS in 2009 when that body decided not to prosecute Savile. As head of that body he bears responsibility for its decisions. This is the case even if he wasn’t kept in the loop about the case – which given its high profile is rather unlikely. * However the media are so desperate to protect Starmer that they appear to have simply abandoned the whole concept that the head of an organisation is responsible for its decisions. Apparently because the case was handled by a subordinate it has nothing to do with Starmer. Weird.

For example, the Independent tells its readers: “A week earlier, Mr Johnson falsely accused Sir Keir of failing to prosecute Savile while he was director of public prosecutions” which is ‘false’. As we note above while Johnson’s remarks may have been below the belt they certainly weren’t false. This is a desperate attempt to protect Starmer as well as generally cover up establishment failings in relation to Savile.

In the case of this ‘mob’ shouting paedophile slurs at Starmer that isn’t borne out by the video clip on the story in the Guardian. In the clip I can hear one paedophile slur shouted in the background. But the prominent voice asks Starmer; “What about the working class? Why have you become the party of the elite?” and “Why did you go after the journalist Assange?”. (Under Starmer the CPS pressurized the Swedes to prosecute Assange even after they wanted to drop the case). All eminently reasonable questions. Starmer didn’t answer them and allowed himself to be led into a police car. The media (there is a similar version of the story in the Independent) doesn’t seem to think that these questions matter. This is why they bury the story in a fake narrative about a mob attacking Starmer shouting paedophile slurs.

This is an especially blatant example of the media manufacturing consent. They are protecting Starmer from difficult questions which might expose him as an establishment plant.

Update 11-2-22

And this is why the media is rallying round Keith Starmer. A tribal commitment to the planet’s most aggressive military grouping, NATO.

Of course he has to be protected. A Labour leader who talks about the current government of Russia in the language of the cold war – more or less calling it (absurdly) a “communist regime” is a hugely valuable asset to the Western war machine.

* Apparently Starmer claims he wasn’t told about the decision. I don’t think it is libellous to express a certain amount of scepticism in relation to this claim. In any case, again, the point is that if you are the head of an organisation you bear overall responsibility for its decisions. For example; if he really wasn’t told about this, why not? Surely he should have issued an instruction that as head of the CPS he should be kept in the loop about high-profile national cases? Of course he should. Starmer himself directly claims he has zero responsibility for the decision not to prosecute Savile. He is amazingly enough simply defining the concept of leadership accountability out of existence. Thereby showing that he is totally unfit for leadership. And the media waves all this nonsense through!

Russian bombers penetrate UK airspace

At least according to the Telegraph.

Of course they haven’t. They are in the area which the RAF describes as the “UK area of interest” which seems to correlate with a wide area in which the UK runs international air traffic control.

This mistake is quite routine. It seems that many journalists have a totally distorted idea of what is going on. The editors don’t catch the mistakes. Not true. No one cares. Russians are invading. Just make up anything. Distract the population. Goad Russia into war. Sell more newspaper advertising space. Sell more bombs. Probably not my blood anyway.