The New Observer Uncategorized Propaganda watch (round-up)

Propaganda watch (round-up)

1. The raid killed them. All by itself

According to the Guardian an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed three Palestinians. All by it self.

Middle East crisis live: CCTV footage shows Israeli security forces engaged in Jenin hospital raid that killed three Palestinians

Not, of course, that an Israeli soldier might have killed 3 Palestinians. Not “Israeli forces raided a hospital and killed 3 suspected militants”.

The deaths are attributed to the ‘raid’. It is bizarre. There is clearly an instinct to gloss Israeli actions. Hardly surprising perhaps. In some versions in this raid Israel shot 3 unarmed militants in their beds.

2. Hallucinations about Russia

Maybe my friend Eugene has been reading something like this article in the New York Times about how Russia is gearing up to invade a NATO country. This idea is, of course, heavily plugged by Zelensky in order to try to bamboozle more money and weapons out of the West. It is also promoted by the Baltic countries. In this case, (as Putin once remarked), they do have a valid historical reason to fear Russia. But; do they seriously believe it? To be honest when I read accounts of politicians from the Baltic states expressing this view they absolutely sound like they believe it. Quotes and comments on the article follow:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia once proclaimed the dissolution of the Soviet empire “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” At the time, back in 2005, few expected him to do anything about it.

This is an absolute staple of the propaganda about Russian neo-imperialism or Putin trying to reconstitute the USSR. And, as always, it takes the quote out of context. Putin went on to say that it was not possible to think about rebuilding the USSR. [1][2]

But then came Russia’s occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008, its backing for Ukrainian separatists and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and, most resoundingly, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The Russian-Georgian war was started by Georgia [3] (probably over-estimating the support they would get from the West).

For “full-scale invasion of Ukraine” – Professor John Mearsheimer tirelessly points out, the attack on February 24 2022 was in no way a “full-scale invasion”. The force numbers were simply nowhere near big enough. It was what is said it was; a military operation with specific military-political objectives.

That could happen in as few as five years after a conclusion of the war in Ukraine, according to some officials and experts who believe that would be enough time for Moscow to rebuild and rearm its military.

The “that” here is Russia invading a NATO country. Stop. Russia is making only incremental progress against Ukraine – a much smaller country armed, but only to an extent, by NATO countries. It seems like a Russia-NATO conventional conflict would be decided very clearly in NATO’s favour. But it would be difficult to keep it conventional. Even if the Kremlin felt they had right on their side (for example, let’s postulate, as these people like to, about some conflict involving the ethnic Russians in Lithuania) it seems they would do everything they could to avoid starting a war with NATO. One of the (stated) reasons for the attack on Ukraine was precisely to stop it becoming part of NATO and thus create a risk of a NATO-Russia war.

Anxiety over what experts describe as Mr. Putin’s imperial ambitions has long been a part of the psyche of states that border Russia or are uncomfortably close.

I’ve seen this a few times recently. There is no attempt to acknowledge that “Putin’s imperial ambitions” is just a particular political theory and there are other views. This is a contested area amongst scholars. (We can put it this way). No – they just assure their readers that “experts” have said (see another example here). This is a really alarming lack of even an attempt at scholarship.

Just as Mr. Putin played down the Biden administration’s warnings that he was planning to invade Ukraine, Moscow has dismissed concerns that Russia is planning to attack NATO.

I love this one. They (the authors) must know that this is ridiculous. Of course Russia played down warnings that they were about to “invade” Ukraine. Just as, I can recall, when they invaded Iraq in 2003, the US told everyone that the military build-up in the Gulf was for a training exercise. This is part of war. This cannot seriously be used as an argument that Russia is lying about invading a NATO country.

Much of the rest of the article seems to be given over to predictions by an Estonian colonel, a Norwegian “military commander” and the inevitable ‘expert’ from the Atlantic Council, of a resurgent Russia threatening NATO. All of which is great if you have a career in a NATO army or have shares in Lockheed-Martin. But lacks credibility. Unless, of course, they somehow manage to engineer this war. Like they have engineered the current one.

(One final note. This web site discounted US warnings about a “Russian invasion” of Ukraine in February 2022. My first thought at the time was that I had got it wrong. Obviously I had. But not quite in the way I thought I had. There was no “invasion” of Ukraine as per the US warnings. I was correct that Putin, at that time, would not have intended to “invade” Ukraine. For example, one of the reasons I gave was that there was no way that the Kremlin would have wanted to occupy Ukraine. I also expressed the view that they would probably defend the LDNR from an assault by Kiev. What happened was a) a pre-emptive move to secure the LDNR territory, b) a move to secure Crimea by establishing a land-corridor [I am not sure if this was one of the initial goals, or came later] and c) an attempt to force regime change in Kiev – essentially reversing Maidan. I did not anticipate at least b) and c). Regime change ops are usually the preserve of the US; I didn’t expect it from Russia. My next thought was that this “invasion” was ‘out of character’ for Russia. Russia, since 1991 at least, been defensive and cautious. But, at this point, it now seems to me that the “special military operation” can also be understood as being essentially defensive in character. They see a developing combination of Ukrainian nationalists and NATO on their doorstep as an unacceptable risk. The attempt to thwart it is essentially defensive in nature).

3. Mark Galleoti

Mark Galleoti is interesting. Sometimes he has some real insights into Russia. But, from time to time, he gives himself away as a propagandist.

This is a classic example.

Here Galleoti builds a case of Putin as some sort of wannabe spy, citing as evidence that Putin, despite having no actual military experience, loves to be photographed in tanks or planes.

The problem of course is this is just how multiple British Ministers, from Michael Fallon to Liz Truss behave – posing for photos in, or on, military hardware. All it actually shows us is that Putin is an adroit politician, careful to curate his public image. Nothing special here.


  1. “The idea that Putin’s comment in his state-of-the-nation speech of 25 April 2005 that the break-up of the Soviet Union represented ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the twentieth century and a ‘tragedy for the Russian people’ has too often been taken out of context, and taken to mean the exact opposite of what Putin went on to say – that there could be no question of restoring the Soviet Union”. Sakwa, Richard. Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (p. 115). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. “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: A History (p. 495). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
  3. “As Georgia strengthened its ties to the West, Russia bolstered support for two secessionist areas of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, populated by a non-Georgian majority; Russian peacekeepers had enabled both territories to remain virtually autonomous since the early 1990s. In August 2008, in a bid to reassert control (and with the promise of American support), Georgia launched an offensive in South Ossetia, but quickly suffered a devastating defeat at the hand of Russian forces”. Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia: A History (p. 521). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.