The New Observer Uncategorized Propaganda Watch (monthly roundup)

Propaganda Watch (monthly roundup)

1) Poison in the machine (Russophobia)

This is an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, the journal of the ‘Council on Foreign Relations’ – a think tank. I have been wondering about subscribing. (I hope readers can see this article; it may be limited by a paywall – I am seeing it as a free ‘taster’ article). I would be willing to subscribe even though I know the overall line of this think-tank is very ‘pro-Western’ and is probably more weighted towards narrative production than clear analysis. But what puts me off is the sheer poison in the tone. But this article (and perhaps this journal) are not exceptions in the think tank world on Russia. It is not unusual to find texts discussing Russia to be positively dripping with poison. These are some examples from this piece:

Several weeks later, Putin announced his intention to stand for a fifth term in a choiceless election in March 2024 and later held his annual press conference, offering a phalanx of pliant journalists the privilege of hearing him smugly crow about Western fatigue over the war in Ukraine.

Ok. So, you want to make the point that the Presidential election in Russia was not ‘free’. You want to make the point that journalists in Russia are generally ‘pliant’ and you want to report that Putin has recently been boasting about military success. All of this is tenable. But, there is something about the tone here, which is unnecessarily arrogant and mocking. (Western media is also extremely ‘pliant’ towards narratives of power, but I am not even complaining about this one-sided treatment; just commenting on the tone with which it is delivered).

In 1999, Yeltsin, facing chronic health challenges and fearing that he and his “family” of corrupt cronies might face prison after he stepped down, chose Putin to preserve his liberty and legacy.

‘Corrupt cronies’. Well – Yeltsin was helped to win the 1996 election by a huge dose of corruption true, and aided by US election experts. However, I am sure Western liberals were absolutely delighted about all this, since the alternative would have been a free election returning a Communist Party candidate! But, again, it is just the mocking tone I am commenting on.

Finally, he [Putin] induced his counterfeit legislature to alter the constitution to effectively remove any term limits. Stalin, too, had stubbornly clung to power, even as his infirmities worsened. He refused to countenance the emergence of a successor; eventually, he suffered a massive, final stroke and fell into a puddle of his own urine.

And so it goes on. This is not objective analysis. Nor is it simple reproduction of expeditious (but false) political narratives. Almost every line drips with this mocking tone. It is what Lavrov, for example, calls “Russophobia”. It is ultimately, pathetic. It is hating the other because it is too difficult to make an effort to understand the other. Yet, this tone and attitude is widely prevalent in much of Western thinking in influential think-tank circles. It must affect policy. There may well be actual geo-political tensions and problems which push the situation towards conflict, but to carry on the debate in this manner is pointless and only makes a difficult situation worse. Completely unnecessarily.

2) Snippets to keep the brain on track

As I watch and read Western media I notice glaring falsehood after glaring falsehood. As I have mentioned elsewhere the tendency to simply insert pure fictions into the narrative seems to be growing.

In this Times Radio interview, [1.00] the interviewee, a former State Department official, says, of the recent vote in the US Congress to send ‘aid’ to Ukraine; “This very small number …. this minority”. He is referring to the Republicans who were opposed to sending more money to Ukraine. To be fair, only a small minority have been very vocal about this. But; the overall voting figures were that more than 50% of Republicans in Congress voted against sending more money to Ukraine. If the viewer is left with the impression that only a small minority of Republicans in Congress voted against this package then they have been seriously mislead. I am surprised that the journalist did not pick up the speaker on this point. (Not).

This is from a New York Times article about the same question; funding the war in Ukraine:

But few issues have been more central to the former president’s [Trump] creed than his foreign policy isolationism, his call for Europe to raise military spending in its own backyard, and his foreign policy shift toward Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia.

“Foreign policy shift toward Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia.” This is a convenient piece of narrative construction put out by Democrats to dirty Trump by associating him with Russia. (“Reds under the beds” type scare tactics). In fact after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 Obama declined to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine. Weapons started to flow after 2018, under Trump. [1] Robust sanctions against Russia were imposed by Trump. Here is Richard Sakwa: “In the event, instead of the hoped-for rapprochement, Trump imposed increasingly punitive measures against Russia. ” [2] Sakwa continues to list some examples. While Trump’s rhetoric is “I can sit down with Putin and talk to him” rather than Biden’s “crazy son-of-a-bitch”, his actions in no way embody some kind of “foreign policy shift towards Putin”. That is no more true than much of Christopher Steele’s paid for dossier about Trump.

This is an interesting article about the impact of the war on the industrial plants in the Donbas in Ukraine in the New York Times. Generally, it is journalism of a high standard; an interesting topic, actual economic data, interviews with people close to the question, local people and ‘experts’. But in the middle of the article is inserted a falsehood: “Russia justified its full-scale invasion two years ago in part by asserting without evidence that Ukraine was repressing Russian speakers in the eastern towns.”. Simply not true. In 2021 Kiev imposed a law mandating use (to some extent) of Ukrainian in the service industry and making it the language of education. In Eastern Ukraine where many used Russian as a first or daily language this was experienced as discrimination. [3] This law may not be a valid justification for Russia’s military intervention; but all I am doing is pointing out the sheer fabrication involved in this text in the New York Times. This is the point that even if you don’t accept that Russia’s intervention was justified anyone who looks at the situation objectively can see that Russia had legitimate concerns. It is a central part of Western propaganda to deny even that. Thus dialogue is excluded.

Talking of narrative constructions to keep the Western cult children citizens on track check this from the Guardian. (US edition). Also in an article about the USD 61 billion: “Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, and launched its similarly unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022; while Ukraine, an independent and sovereign country, has acted in self-defence.” This text simply appears straight after the Guardian has quoted official Russian reaction to the 61 billion. Not surprisingly Russia is less than thrilled and spokespeople and politicians comment that this will harm Ukraine, prolong the slaughter and (with her usual hyperbole) Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova referred to it as supporting “terrorism” as well as (more reasonably) “deepen the crisis”. It seems that the Guardian feels they should get official Russian reaction but – they somehow have to cleanse that by immediately informing their readers of the ‘reality’: “unprovoked and illegal invasion” of a “sovereign country”. Nothing here, of course, about Donbas, Azov battalion, failure to implement Minsk, Ukrainian nationalist antipathy towards ‘pro-Russian’ pluralists in the East, strategic considerations relating to NATO on Russia’s borders, the West’s role in turning Ukraine and so on an so forth. All of this is excluded and the children are to be told the highly unlikely tale that Putin risked everything for Russia (and himself) without any “provocation” at all. This is the official line. It’s aim, again, is to block any possibility of dialogue. It is relentlessly inserted into the narrative to brainwash the children of the ‘free world’. Real 1984 type stuff.

Another oft-repeated and equally implausible line being inserted into the narrative is the idea that “after Ukraine Putin will move on and attack a European country”. This tale is being told by Zelensky and company, for rather obvious reasons. Some in the Baltics, and Poland, are also promoting it. Here, perhaps, there is a real historical basis for them to be afraid of Russia. The story is then picked up by Western politicians who want to continue the war (and, if Mearsheimer is right, stave off the moment, when they have to admit the whole project was ill-conceived). I’ve seen British Foreign Secretary David Cameron peddling it recently. Here is a former British army officer spinning it on Times Radio: “Putin wants to push West as far as he can”. [0.0] “Nobody who looks at these things believes that Putin is going to stop at Ukraine”. [1.30] (This speaker also talks about Iranian drones being sent to attack civilians in Israel [1.10]. Maybe; but everything I have read suggests that Iran aimed its 13 April attack at military structures). “Nobody who looks at these things”. Well, that seems really quite strange. I would say that anyone who looks at this seriously can see that Putin is not going to advance on Western Europe. (There are two possible exceptions; if something started in Moldova where the country is split, somewhat in the way that Ukraine is split between a Westernising part and a part which seeks to retain ties to Russia, and if NATO accelerates its push to have Georgia as a member, I can see Russia believing, once again that they have no choice but to intervene). In general Russia is making heavy work advancing very slowly in Ukraine. It seems unlikely that they would even contemplate starting a war with NATO, when they would be faced with all the armour and weapons, such as modern fighter jets and strategic missiles, which are ‘denied’ to Ukraine. But, and more to the point, there is a key propagandist point here. (I credit Hamish de Bretton Gordon with being childish enough in his political thinking to actually believe what he is saying). The point about the “Putin will attack Europe next” line is it feeds into and promotes the account of how the war started by saying it is driven by Putin’s desire (which is supposed to have just sort of popped up after 22 years in power) to rebuild the old Russian Empire. And, in turn, the point of this narrative, is to suppress any serious analysis and any serious discussion of the real causes of this war; the attempt by the US to make “Ukraine a NATO bulwark on Russia’s doorstep” (John Mearsheimer’s phrase), and, to a much lesser extent, the tensions in the Donbas, affecting ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who wanted to maintain ties with Russia. I don’t notice the motherly looking journalist even querying this outlandish claim about “Putin will attack Europe next”.

This is just a day in the life of Western media propaganda. We see a mix of quite good journalism , especially in the New York Times, and the insertion of editorial glosses to reinforce the official State Department line together with, Times Radio, a determination not to ask their speakers any difficult questions. (To be fair to Times Radio they are only a YouTube channel and may be afraid they won’t get the prestigious speakers to come onto their programmes if they challenge anything but the result is still the dissemination of propaganda).


  1. Obama refused to authorise the transfer of lethal weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces for fear of escalating the confrontation, but the Trump administration reversed the policy in March 2018. Sakwa, Richard. The Lost Peace: How the West Failed to Prevent a Second Cold War (p. 305). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition. +
  2. Ibid. (p. 351)