Guardian propaganda watch – fake news on Russia

The Guardian seems to be obsessed with criticising Russia. This is strange in itself. The Guardian is a UK newspaper. Its readership have no democratic say over what happens in Russia. They do (in theory) have a democratic say over what happens in the UK. There is plenty wrong in this country that one would have thought that a liberal democratic newspaper would want to concentrate on. But for some reason the Guardian wants to cover a lot of screen space criticising Russia instead.

There probably is plenty to criticise in Russia – if you want to. This is why it is all the more surprising that the Guardian ‘journalists’ who write on Russia have to consistently make up stories. Why do this? That they do this (and this website has demonstrated that they do this  time and time again) gives away what is going on. They aren’t even criticising Russia from some kind of real, genuine, indignation. They just want a straw-dog to shoot down.

This is typical example; a story about the head of Russia’s National Guard who has released a video in response to claims by the nationalist “anti-corruption” blogger Alexei Navalny of corruption in tendering by the National Guard. In the video the head of Russia’s National Guard, Victor Zolotov, refers to the age-old tradition of fighting a duel with someone who insults you, and, in this context, offers to fight Navalny on the mat or in a boxing ring.

The article is standard Guardian fare. It stops short of outright lies (mostly they avoid outright lies) but is spun in such a way to support the fixed narrative on Russia. Zolotov is described as a “close ally of Putin”. He obviously is a connection but the point of mentioning this, which isn’t really relevant to the story, is to tarnish Putin. The report by one of the Guardian’s propagandists in Moscow (that these people can live there and write this propaganda quite freely undermines half the narrative on the ‘harsh media climate’ of course) omits the context in which Zolotov made his comments – the tradition of the duel. Without this context it does appear as a “bizarre rant”. Since “bizarre rant” is the preferred story they omit the details which give the video a more coherent meaning.  The “investigation” by Navalany, referred to by the Guardian, appears, in his own words, to depend solely on looking at the website of the National Guard (where tenders are openly published, as government tenders are in the UK).  [1] Finally, the Guardian mentions that protesters have been detained in recent political demonstrations against recent pension reforms. (Not really relevant to their non-story about Zolotov but it is all part of the anti-Russia narrative so it finds a home here). This is true; people have been detained. But, as is standard in how the Guardian reports on protests in Russia, they omit the fact that people have been arrested on a proper legal basis. In Russia there is a law, (passed by an elected government), that it is an offence to hold a rally if the authorities have not given permission for it to go ahead. This may be a somewhat more authoritarian law than we are used to in the UK, (though police here also take a robust attitude to policing demonstrations where the organisers have not cleared it with the police), but that is the law in Russia. The protesters have been arrested for breaking Russian law. All this will be known to Andrew Roth in Moscow, but he chooses, for whatever reason, to omit it and instead promote a false narrative on Russia. As for the police “using batons on people who are in their teens and early twenties”. Gosh, Andrew, have you never attended a political demonstration in the UK? Hey ho; the police here use batons as well – and against people in their “teens and early twenties”.

There is plenty to write about in the UK – massive social inequality, laundering of public money to private corporations on an absolutely massive scale, use of solitary confinement as a routine punishment on teenagers in schools etc. etc. Are we being distracted from all this with these endless fake tales of how bad things are in Russia?



Guardian propaganda (102)

The Guardian was predictably enough quick off the mark to produce the anti-Russia propaganda that Russian provocateur Alexei Navalny was aiming for by holding an illegal rally in Moscow.

Russia – a country in which the President and lower chamber of Parliament are elected under constitutional elections monitored in the past by the OSCE – has laws relating to rallies. Organisers of rallies have to seek permission from the authorities. If they hold a rally in an area for which permission has not been granted people who attend the rally can be arrested. There is a penalty for breaking this law.

Alexei Navalny is the leader of a political movement in Russia which is opposed to the current leadership. He is noted for holding illegal and unsanctioned rallies. It is likely he does this in order to produce images of himself and others being arrested – which suits his platform. The Guardian duly obliges.

In this latest incident and the associated ‘coverage’ in the Guardian the Guardian informs its readers that Navalny represents a “minority” in Russia. According to a poll by the Russian Levada polling institute he has the support of around 2% of the population. It may be therefore be quite a small “minority”. (Navalny is a nationalist figure rather than a classic ‘pro-Western’ liberal. His main platform appears to be to be opposed to the “crooks” in United Russia).

The Guardian article also informs its readers:

During the previous rally on 26 March, more than 1,000 people were detained in Moscow alone, including the Guardian journalist Alec Luhn. Most were released after a few hours, but some were given 15-day jail sentences, including Navalny.

A few people have been given more serious jail terms, with one protester sentenced to 18 months in what appears to be an attempt to use random repression to deter people from protesting.

There is no source and no factual basis for this claim at all. We should know we are in the realm of propaganda and “interfering in elections” here. Contrary to the claim about “randomness” made here Russia has a system of laws. A sentence of 18 months could not have been given simply for attendance at an illegal rally. There is a law which makes repeated breach of this law punishable by a long jail sentence. It is possible that this was the case with this 18 month sentence. However; the penalty for a first breach appears to be 15 days. [1] The information here is wrong and also misleadingly creates the impression that Russian courts just give random sentences. The author of this piece is based in Moscow and will know that he is misleading people.

The piece also explains:

The protest comes as Russia enters an election cycle, with a vote due next March expected to give Putin six more years in the Kremlin. Navalny, a lawyer turned anti-corruption campaigner, has announced his intention to stand, though few expect him to be allowed on to the ballot.

This is entirely misleading. It gives the impression that whether or not Navalny will be “allowed to stand” will be down to an arbitrary decision by the authorities. In fact Navalny has been convicted in Russia of corruption (a fact missing from this article). This article on RT explains that under Russian law because he is still serving a suspended sentence Navalny will not be permitted under Russian law to stand. A result of the rule of law is presented here as an act of arbitrary authority. This of course feeds into the narrative of an ‘oppressive, authoritarian regime’ which large sections of the Western press wish to tell. But is is fake. It is of course possible to argue that Russian law is applied somewhat selectively and in favour of the authorities. But this piece doesn’t attempt that. It simply misleads.

This Guardian article is written by Shaun Walker – one of the Guardian’s resident propaganda writers based in Moscow. Mr Walker is lying and demonstrably so. This is our discussion of an example of Mr Walker’s propaganda on the situation in Ukraine.

Mr Walker may have written this propaganda because he knows that this is what the Guardian wants and he, Mr Walker, wants to keep his job. Quite why the Guardian does this is not 100% clear. Most of the Western press is owned by finance capital. Finance capital has a strong motive to overturn the current nationalist system of rule in Russia – with its irritating restrictions on inward foreign investment. It is hardly surprising then that the Western press is used in a propaganda role to undermine that nationalist system of rule. But the Guardian is a slightly curious case. It is owned by a Trust which is simply in the business of producing the Guardian. With the Guardian it appears to be something personal and ideological. They hate “Putin”. It may be because Putin’s Russia is not one which is especially favourable to the culture of hedonism, gender reassignment, “marriage equality” etc. which seems to have become the main credo of the kind of liberal media classes who work at the Guardian.

Finally; before falling for the story here about “Kremlin repression” – don’t forget that the UK has pretty strict laws about what happens in public spaces. (Some of which is critiqued by the Manifesto Club here).  Including legislation which permits local authorities to ban groups of 2 or more people gathering in a space. We could ask why the Guardian is so keen to produce these pieces of theatre about Russia but has relatively little to say about the situation in the UK.



Guardian propaganda (101)

One of the Guardian’s propaganda writers in Moscow has been discharged by a court after attending an illegal rally.

Mr Luhn was arrested in March when he attended an illegal rally in Moscow – held by convicted fraudster Alexei Navalny. Alexei Navalny is one of those public figures in Russia who command fractional support inside Russia but are touted by the Western media as the “opposition” to “Putin”.

In Russia rallies have to be sanctioned in advance by the authorities – or they are illegal.

Mr Luhn was arrested at the illegal rally in March and was released shortly afterwards. [1]

The Guardian report on Mr Luhn having his charges dropped is a nice example of how the Guardian (and other Western media) spin these stories. Nothing in the story is as it stands factually untrue. But by placing the weight in various ways, emphasising aspects, omitting other facts and so on they manage as always to create the story they want to tell. Here, the subheadline for the report is “Alec Luhn was detained by police while covering a protest in Moscow organised by opposition politician Alexei Navalny” –  which fits nicely with the idea of an outrageous arrest at a legitimate political rally. Later in the article they admit that the rally was illegal. (In fact the authorities offered alternative locations which were declined by the rally organisers, though these, admittedly were probably in the suburbs and would have denied them the publicity they are seeking). [1] So; the fact is there but by introducing it only as a detail half-way down the article after the clarion call headline has already had its impact the propaganda writers manage to shift the story from facts to the creative narrative they want to tell. This is characteristic.

They also claim that people at this rally were arrested “at random”. Which sounds quite sinister. But is in fact the police arresting large numbers of people who were breaking the law. In this article at least the Guardian does not mention that the authorities accused the rally organisers of deliberately involving teenagers in their illegal protest. [1] Or that a policeman was badly injured. [1] There are of course always two sides to a story  – but we can be sure that when it comes to Russia and the Guardian 90% of the time we will only get one.



Expert analysis or crude regime-change info war?

This is a story in the Guardian about apparent links found in the ‘Panama papers’ between relatives and friends of two people who work in the Kremlin and offshore accounts.

The Panama papers recall is a leak of private information sponsored by extremely wealthy free-market financier George Soros [1] and, arguably, through its sponsorship of one of the pseudo-journalistic bodies involved by the US government [2]. It is not illegal to use an offshore bank account (unless specific laws in the user’s home country have been broken). In fact then there is very little to the story. This is why it has to be dressed up with smears and innuendo.

This article is no exception. The author starts off with a mention of the recent death (possibly a murder, the investigation in the US continues) of the former head of RT. There is no suggestion about why this is mentioned in this context. It isn’t clear if we are supposed to think that this was a Kremlin sponsored murder. If not – why is it mentioned at all? Then there is a story about how the son of someone who used to be the head of the Russian railways owns property in London despite his father being an ‘anti-Western idealogue’. (That probably means he criticized the West). That’s it in terms of pre-smears.

Then we get to the real meat of the story. The wife of the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov managed some companies through an offshore structure. And the godfather of Putin’s daughter had some money in an offshore account. That’s it. Not exactly a steak.

The above is reported as:

While ordinary Russians were being instructed to tighten their belts in the ideological battle with the west, their rulers were employing Mossack Fonseca to infiltrate their money into enemy territory

This sentence contains so much that is false and erroneous it is difficult to know where to start. In fact the leaked documents do not show that the ‘rulers’ of Russia were using offshore accounts. In this report at any rate two friends or relatives of the ‘rulers’ were. And then – what ‘ideological battle with the West’? The author seems to be living in an imaginary world of his own making. Russia has been trying to form a partnership with the West for some time. For example; they seek Western capital to develop their oil industry. They have been seeking to work together on counter-terrorism and security more generally. Russia is a member of the WTO. They are signatories to the European Human Rights Convention. They have been modernizing their social infrastructure along Western lines. Yes; it has all gone sour over Crimea – but where is this ‘ideological battle’? (One suspects that by ‘ideological battle’, the author really means ‘they disagree with our view of how their country should be run’). And ‘enemy territory’? That is just silly. The author is mocking the ‘rulers’ of Russia for investing funds in ‘enemy territory’; but who created the recent wave of enmity? It was the US and EU who started sanctions and broke off various relations – such as PACE and some NATO forums, not Russia. This is childish in its lack of bearings in reality.

Then we have:

It is of course not a secret that Kremlin insiders run Russia for their own enrichment, but this barrage of revelations provides extraordinary levels of detail, and lays bare the nature of how Russia is governed in ways we have not seen before.

When we have phrases like ‘of course it is not a secret’ or (another typical phrase in this genre) ‘it is widely believed’ we know we are being fed narrative lines which are not being substantiated with fact-based reporting. Even a glance at the news from Russia shows a series of decisions being made from the (elected) leadership designed to develop Russian interests. To develop the economy and society. The picture of a basket-case third-world country run by a dictator creaming off the wealth of the nation and stashing it away in offshore accounts is phantasy projected onto reality. Again; anyone who follows the news (not just Russian media) can see that the leadership of Russia is working to develop the country. The British government for example promotes Russia as a suitable country for British firms to do business with:

Russia improved to 62nd in the World Bank ˜Ease of Doing Business” ranking in 2014. It’s making some headway in meeting President Putin’s target of reaching 20th position by 2018 after starting from the position of 122nd.


Russia has started major investment and modernisation programmes which will provide opportunities for UK firms. It is looking for foreign investment, expertise, technology and resources to help. [3]

This summary from the OECD also reflects the fact that the current leadership of Russia has been successfully developing and modernizing the economy:

The new fiscal rule has anchored budgetary policies, but there are loopholes due to the possibility of tapping into oil funds, providing guarantees and shifting unfunded spending obligations on regions. Increasing attention is being paid to public sector efficiency. The monetary policy framework benefits from the transition to inflation targeting and a flexible exchange rate regime, although the importance of administered and food prices in inflation increase transparency requirements. The banking sector is stable but a consumer credit boom poses risks.


The authorities seem to have become more energetic on fighting corruption and strengthening the legal protection of businesses. However, capital outflows and the low market valuation of Russian companies suggest that business is not yet fully convinced. Law enforcement appears to be uneven, whistleblower protection is weak, and civil society organisations and non‑aligned media face constraints. Red tape has been reduced, and recently adopted federal initiatives tackle many administrative barriers. There has been less progress on the regional level. Governance of state-owned enterprises has improved somewhat, but privatisation plans were recently downsized. Notwithstanding WTO accession in 2012, market opening is meeting resistance. Transport system bottlenecks pose barriers to more geographically balanced growth. [4]

We’ve quoted the full extract. It is of course a mixed picture. (Though the critical reader will be aware that the OECD is firmly behind privatization of state assets and a market-run economy and this necessarily influences their assessment).

At any event it is clear that the reality is as far from the image of Russian being run by ‘rulers’ for their own benefit as it could possibly be. The author of the Guardian piece is doing what so many Western based ‘Russia experts’ seem to do; they make a living out of embellishing a narrative about ‘Russian corruption’ and crooked leaders. That Russia is developing. That the facts are otherwise is simply ignored. After all there is a circuit on which these people can write these articles and books and it would be bad for the industry to tell the truth. We cannot tell whether the author of this article has looked and then decided to stick with his phantasy world anyway – or whether he never even bothered to look at the subject about which he is writing in the first place.

This Guardian article has the not unusual attribution at the top-left. In this case it is credited to something called the New East network. Recall at this point that the Guardian has started carrying content provided by amongst others the Bill Gates Foundation [5] and US government propaganda outlet – Radio Free Europe. [6] This appears in part to be another route by which interested parties can place content in the Guardian. The Guardian has a page describing their ‘New East network’.  What is striking is that so many of the ‘partners’ i.e. those who will be providing the content, are not journalists. They are partisan think-tanks and single-issue media groups. For example; take one partner ‘Caucasian Knot’. Briefly looking at their web site this appears to be a campaigning organisation devoted in particular to ‘human rights’ and defending journalists in the Caucuses. Who funds it? We are told no more than “The edition is funded from various charitable foundations“. – Why not tell us which? (Does that include “USAID”?) Caucasian Knot is registered with the Russian state media regulator. Presumably then they are allowed to do business and print the stories that they print. At the same time as the Guardian tells its readers about the “greater censorship of online publishing” in Russia  [7] they are teaming up with those ‘censored’ outlets to print – and re-print – their stories. Other members of the ‘New East network’ include the Carnegie Foundation – a US based foundation. Specifically the partner is the Moscow office of the Carnegie Foundation. Again; while telling stories about repression in Russia the Guardian reveals that Western NGOs and independent media can and do operate in Russia. At the very least the real picture is much more nuanced than the one-sided narrative line about ‘crackdowns’ and ‘censorship’.

There is nothing wrong with a media outlet reporting on stories produced by lobby groups. However; in ‘proper’ journalism what happens is that the journalist assesses the press release (for that is what it is) and reports on it, in context; such and such an organisation has claimed she might say. She might then fact-check the claims and report these results to her readers. She might also inform her readers about the allegiances of the organisation making the claims. The new form of ‘journalism’ which the Guardian is developing is to skip this step. Lobby groups of various kinds can simply place content directly in the Guardian. The Panama papers leak itself is an instance of placed content; the leak was helped by funding from wealthy financier George Soros, who has a track record of interfering in political processes. [8] The material in this stream of Guardian articles is presented as journalism. The only tell-tale sign for the reader who might otherwise take this at face value is a small attribution on the top-left of the page – an attribution which is easily missed. These are information products planted in the news with a specific aim of manipulating public opinion.

What we are looking at is sponsored ‘information products’. The target of these products is the current (elected and popular) Russian government with its belief that businesses of strategic importance should be in state hands. The likely aim is to replace this government with one run by the pro-Western liberal opposition in Russia. The pro-Western liberal opposition in Russia is a very minority interest – coming behind the actual opposition, which is the Communist party and the parliamentary socialist Fair Russia party, in elections. [9] Nonetheless the democratic preferences of Russians notwithstanding the aim is perhaps to finally achieve that longed-for goal of total acquisition by Western finance capital of all of Russia’s extractative industries. All of this will be done in the name of ‘human rights’ of course.