The New Observer Uncategorized The “scholarly” basis for Western propaganda

The “scholarly” basis for Western propaganda

It never stops. This is a “research fellow” at King’s College, London. An expert on Russia it seems.

Comments: her research, carried out from the point of view of Russia apparently, has led her to understand that Russia believes it is a Great Power which has the right to interfere in its neighbours. But she does not mention or know that this is simply a feature of all Great Powers. Most odd.

She makes the most profoundly insulting claim imaginable by saying that the reason that Russia dates WWII from 1941 is to cover up the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, whereby Stalin and Hitler carved up the Baltics. This is indeed a stain on Russia but serious history puts it in context of the jostling for power in Europe at that time between all the powers and points out that Stalin had tried to form an alliance with France and Britain first.

“The Soviet Union which is then often then reduced to Russia in this [the current Kremlin] narrative…”. You have to laugh. She hasn’t noticed that Western propaganda does just this – collapsing modern Russia onto the USSR?

The “research fellow” then makes the claim that Russia believes it has a right to all the land the USSR occupied in 1945. People who spread this story often cite Putin’s talking about how the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century but often omit to mention that he went on to say that it was impossible to phantasize about resurrecting the old Soviet State. [1] A few nationalists occasionally make provocative claims e.g in relation to Kazakhstan, but this is not the same as a policy of aggrandisement at the state level.

She claims that in his ultimatum in 2021 Putin demanded that NATO “leave” the post 1997 NATO countries. This is a piece of propaganda which is doing the rounds. In reality the demand was for forces to be pulled out; no one was asked to leave NATO.

When talking about the media she admits that some Russians access news on Telegram. She then acknowledges that “pro-war” channels are quite popular in Russia. Which she has to admit rather undermines the story about people being brainwashed by Kremlin TV propaganda.

Another claim the speaker makes is that “..whilst television has always been well not always but has long been under quite strict controls there’s ideological manuals that are given out in order so that people know or the journalists editors know exactly what lines to follow…”. When I heard this I accepted it at face value. She is, after all, a scholar and presumably, even if her analysis is skewed she is trustworthy with facts. Since then I think I may have found the source for this story about media manuals. [2] The Daily Mail references, at least a similar story about media manuals – in connection with the mobilisation, not in general. The source for the Daily Mail story is Meduza. Meduza is a Russian outlet critical of the Kremlin. Prior to the war it was designated a “foreign agent” because it receives foreign funding. Since the war it has been banned outright in Russia. One of the funders of Meduza is Mikhail Khodorkovsky – a dedicated foe of the Kremlin. The organisers of Meduza are not open about their funding. One other opposition media outlet received funding from the government of the Netherlands. It is possible that Meduza does too. If the basis for Dr Jade McGlynn’s story about “media manuals” is the one referenced here by the Daily Mail and sourced to Meduza it is not reliable and does not meet the criteria for a scholarly reference.

The speaker is also developing the story that Russia is a colonial power. In a single sentence she casts the break-up of the USSR as countries throwing off “oppression” and this leads into an explanation as to how this been very difficult for Russia. The idea is that Russia is some sort of post-colonial wounded animal trying to restore its former glory. The problem with this story is that, as Professor Mearsheimer points out, there is very little evidence for it in Putin’s speeches or the discourse of senior officials over the last 20 years. But the narrative – that the war is chiefly about Russia perceiving a security threat from Ukraine is backed by things which have been repeatedly said by senior Russian officials over the years. If the former is the case we have to also accept that there was a huge long-term planned con job being carried out by multiple Russian officials in multiple foreign meetings for about 20 years. A problem the “scholarship” glides over.

Notice the journalist portrays the Russian justification for their military action as being a threat from Nazis. They did. But they also mentioned the question of the rights of the people in Donbas and the question of Russia’s strategic security. Even the Nazi question was linked to a possible conflict between Russia and NATO being started by loose canons in Ukraine. While Russia is partly responsible for this by over-stating the “Nazi” line it is not the whole justification by any means.

I like the way the speaker coyly admits that Bandera was allied with the “Germans”. She knows she can’t say Nazis because suddenly the whole Western line goes pop.

This is supposed to be scholarship. Surely it would behove a scholar to mention that the so-called Revolution of Dignity in Maidan was far more complex than simply an uprising against oligarch corruption and an alleged “pro-Russian” President? That the West of Ukraine was more represented in the Maidan movement especially in the latter stages. That Yanukovych was more a pragmatist who, for example, had not pushed NATO membership but had allowed certain cooperation with NATO to take place. That oligarch corruption was not solved by Maidan. The speaker claims that it was Russian domestic propaganda that labelled the Maidan movement as Banderas. In reality of course Bandera was iconic for many Ukrainians involved in the Maidan “revolution”. For example: “A giant portrait of Bandera was positioned to the left of the stage (from the viewer’s perspective) during the Maidan protests, understandably alienating the Russophone population.” [3]

Russia, the Kremlin, was certainly not trying to “completely discredit any form of Ukrainian sovereignty”. Richard Sakwa analyses Ukrainian politics in a serious and scholarly way and points out that there were two competing ideologies in Ukraine. [3] A “monist” one (“Banderas” in a simplistic characterisation) and “pluralists”. The latter envisaged a Ukraine which gave voice to both Russian speakers and Russian culture and Ukrainians. The former wanted a single unitary state based on Ukrainian and dispensing with Russian culture. The Kremlin was not trying to “discredit” Ukrainian sovereignty. They had a different vision. One can argue (and I would) that the Kremlin has over-estimated the extent of the popular support for the pluralist vision. But, on the other hand, it is clear that Putin’s preferred solution up to 2022 for Donbas was to see it as part of a federalised Ukraine.

The speaker clearly sees insulting Russians as a big part of her role. She makes the claim that Russia sees Ukraine as a nation of “collaborators”. I have seen nothing like that. But this then enables her to lead into the sickening claim that “Russia was the biggest collaborator” in the WWII in percentage terms. I wonder if this speaker realises what harm this kind of insult does. (I can’t make out the word she uses as an example of collaboration but I am struggling to believe that a greater proportion of Russians “collaborated” with the Germans than French people in France).

The “scholar” then seriously tries to advance the idea that the idea that the Maidan revolution led to nationalists coming to power in Kiev is a “trope”. This is staggering. This is what happened and it is well documented. This just one example, from early on in the Maidan when it was still possible for Western media to be truthful:

Ukraine’s far-right is gaining support and confidence through its role in the street protests, with the Svoboda party assuming a leading role in the movement and paramilitary groups leading the street fighting.

In December US senator John McCain travelled to Ukraine to offer his support to the opposition, appearing on stage with leaders of the three opposition parties leading the protests – including the far-right Svoboda party.

Svoboda is currently Ukraine’s fourth biggest party and holds 36 seats in parliament. It is also part of the Alliance of European National Movements, along with the BNP and Hungary’s Jobbik.

Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok is one of the faces of the protests, appearing regularly along with opposition leader and former boxer Vitali Klitschko (see picture right) voicing opposition to Putin’s influence over the region.

However, Tyahnybok has provoked controversy in the past with his anti-Semitic claims that a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” controls Ukraine.

Right-wing politicians gained seats in the post-Maidan government. This is all factual and documented.

Then we have “Russians feel betrayed because Ukraine has chosen not to be with Russia”. And here is the whole problem. The point being that there were divergent views in Ukraine. Most, in 2021, wanted to be independent of Russia, though about 7% wanted to be part of Russia. [4] But many, especially in the East, wanted to maintain ties with Russia and not be forced to choose. A Gallup poll showed support for joining NATO and the EU in 2014 running at below 20% in Eastern and Southern regions. It is simply not factually accurate that “Ukraine has chosen not to be with Russia”. It is much more accurate to say that the West has levered Ukrainian nationalism to prise the whole country away from Russia, disregarding the actual wishes of real people in the East of Ukraine and Russia’s legitimate security concerns, in the process.

The speaker talks about how she has been to the frontlines in Ukraine and has spoken to Ukrainians and she has a nicely propagandist story about how Russian solders were begging for forgiveness. Strange – that she managed to spend time at the frontline and didn’t meet any of the many people in that region who multiple Western journalists report want to be in Russian controlled territory. [5] Having complained that Russia (apparently) characterises Ukrainians as collaborators Dr Jade McGlynn then has no problem using the word “collaborator” for those who have links with the Russians. She admits reluctantly that there are “real divisions” but quickly claims that these have been instrumentalised – presumably by Russia. But – if they are not “instrumentalised” what then? Because, it is a matter of historical record, the post Maidan government was not able or not willing to actually listen to and respect the wishes of those on that side of the divide.

The speaker reproduces a story she was told about Russians burning a lot of their own soldiers bodies’ in Ukraine. She cites this emotional story as evidence of a large number of hidden deaths of Russian soldiers. A scholar of course would have asked to see the physical evidence.

I love the Times journalist talking about “Russia being attacked by drones and partisans seizing territory”. Honestly; don’t these people have any journalistic honour? One (or two) small groups of self-claimed Russian dissidents operating from Ukrainian territory supported by Ukrainian intelligence briefly seized a few houses inside Russia. Once. This is not the first time I’ve seen this event used to generate this amazing propaganda line about “partisans seizing territory”.

Following the above the expert suggests that “it will take the defeat of Putin” to change public opinion in Russia. It could happen but how, exactly, is Russia going to be defeated?

The journalist then repeats the glib and standard line about how the Russian action is about trying to “make Ukraine Russia or at least put it under Russia’s control”. The problem for the Western media is that there is a long trail of evidence about how the West has neglected multiple opportunities to resolve the problem of Ukraine in partnership with Russia. The West in fact tried to seize Ukraine and put it under their control. They talk about the “invasion” to cover this up. (On the failure of the West to negotiate consider, just as one example this: “for example Barroso [EU Commissioner] being quoted by news agencies as late as 29 November 2013 as saying: ‘Russia’s inclusion in the talks on setting up an Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine is wholly unacceptable.’” [6]

The speaker says “these are Putin’s words from his writings” when discussing a claim that Russia sees Ukraine as an artificial state created by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She is probably referring to Putin’s online essay on Ukraine. [7] Putin does make such an argument. He also links Ukrainian nationalism to a local intelligentsia. I think here Putin makes a mistake; probably most movements of national independence are led by an intelligentsia. But, the main point, is in that essay Putin clearly envisages working together with Ukraine. It is just convenient for the West to extract one line in that essay and use that to bolster their “Russia is a revanchist imperial state” story.

Interestingly, the speaker acknowledges that the idea that Russia in Ukraine is under attack from the West has “considerable resonance” in Russia. Is it possible because there is some truth to this? Or is everyone deluded? She has already admitted that people can get whatever news they want “on Telegram”, so she can’t say everyone is brainwashed.

The speaker then elaborates the following; the ruling elites in Moscow hold the West in contempt because we (the West) complained about human rights but all the while invested in their businesses and enabled them. I haven’t seen that. Maybe she has. But I have seen Putin make speeches in which he, on very solid grounds, complains that the West goes on about human rights but commits the most egregious human rights violations itself all over the world, killing hundreds of thousands of people. I think trying to characterise this as “contempt” is a way of trying to slip away from the actual problem raised by Russia; the West talks about a “world order” and “human rights” but in fact acts in contrary ways. (As an aside at 32.37 the speaker nearly admits that “it is very hard to know what Russian elites think of us” which would mean that she had just made up what she has just said. She just manages to save herself by changing tack mid-sentence).

The speaker then has a lively little monologue about how the West could perhaps try and influence Russian public opinion by “micro-targeting”. This is actually quite drole. Is she not aware of the huge furore which took place when Russia allegedly did this in the West? An interesting moment because it reflects the “double-standards” problem. The journalist, naturally, does not query this.

The speaker’s actual answer to the question: “what could we have done” is “more sanctions in 2014”. Sensible people will answer this question by saying; we could have engaged with Russia on their legitimate and substantive concerns; the EU-Ukraine Association agreement as it affected them, NATO enlargement, and the fulfilment of Minsk, for example.

(The speaker admits that the Ukrainian army was in a bad state in 2014 and claims this was due to “Russian engagement”. She admits it was due to “corruption issues” but then immediately links that to Yanukovych, who she has already described as “pro-Russian”. Thus she obviates the problem that corruption was (is?) endemic in Ukraine and certainly not unique to Yanukovych. This is all rather dishonest. She seems to admit that already at this point the West was gearing up for a war with Russia and just decided that the Ukrainian army was not ready. I don’t know if that is true, but, interestingly, it seems to align with Russian claims that this war was a long time in preparation by the West).

The propaganda is completed by the journalist who refers to the “overtures made by the Obama administration”. The narrative is, of course, “we tried to engage with Russia but it failed because they are just aggressive and evil and this war was inevitable”. The speaker plays her part and agrees that the “overtures” were misguided. Sakwa discusses how Obama himself was somewhat adrift on Russia but his Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was fervently anti-Russia. [3]

Jade McGlynn thinks that a “military solution is necessary”. It is clear that she has fully taken on board the monist Ukrainian world-view. (She mentions she has friends in Ukraine). The idea that “the Russian army has committed atrocities and the Russian society is complicit in this” is straight from her middle-class Ukrainian friends I would hazard a guess.

According to her University biographical page Jade McGlynn is a frequent contributor to the Western media.

What is somewhat worrying is the number of comments underneath this video by people saying how they appreciate this “clear analysis”. This is entirely light-weight. It contradicts the historical record. The only sources she mentions in 35 minutes of interview are unverified war-crimes stories from people she met in Ukraine. It is a joke. And yet, this “research fellow” with her friends in Ukraine is, apparently, a go-to source for the Western media.


  1. Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia: A History (p. 495). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
  2. This Daily Mail article gives the source for a similar claim as Meduza.
  3. Sakwa, Richard. Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (p. 19). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  5. For example:
  6. quoted in 2.