Russia outlines aid package to Greece

Obligatory photo of the Parthenon.

Obligatory photo of the Parthenon.

MOSCOW

The Russian foreign ministry has issued a statement specifying the terms of its new aid package for Greece in the wake of its worsening debt crisis. According to ministry officials, Greece is to be provided with numerous vague promises of possible aid in the future, along with statements of solidarity.

“Of course we could easily provide financial aid to Greece,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters. “Do not doubt for a second that we could financially support the country. We are a superpower, just like the United States. We could totally pull that off.”

“However,” the foreign minister continued, “we have decided that the best way to help Greece is to offer an aid package denominated in empty promises of solidarity and vague insinuations that Greece is somehow joining our non-existent alternative camp.”

The aid bill, signed into law by Russian president Vladimir Putin, is divided into several sections. The overall package will contain 2.5 billion public statements of solidarity with Greece, plus an additional 50 million self-aggrandizing, gloating statements claiming that Greece is choosing to “side with Russia.” It has also been reported that the deal might include as many as 5 billion references to the “BRICS alternative.”

“We knew we could count on our friends in Russia,” Greek foreign minister Nikolaus Kotzias said in regards to the deal. “When it comes to vague promises about possible aid of some kind at an undermined point in the hopefully-near future, the Kremlin is second to none.”

Sources report that the delivery of empty promises and statements of solidarity is already well under way. Some experts say that the aid package may be amended at a later date to include “numerous insinuations that Greece could join Russia’s Eurasian Union.”

A 4th of July Message

Here at Russia Without BS, we wish you a happy American Independence Day, and hope that you have lots of safe fun on this holiday weekend. We know Russian patriots like Vladimir Zhirinovsky and possibly Sergei Markov sure did.

Yeah, he does this. I bet his pockets are stuffed with hot dogs too.

Yeah, he does this. I bet his pockets are stuffed with hot dogs too.

But there’s one very serious thing everyone needs to remember this 4th of July, and that is the plague on our great nation that is the state of Missouri. On the eve of the American Civil War, US Army Captain Nathaniel Lyon had no illusions about Missouri. When faced with Missouri state officials who had sympathy toward the Confederacy, Lyon famously responded to their objections and obstinacy with these immortal words:

“Rather than concede to the state of Missouri….the right to dictate to my government in any matter however unimportant, I would see you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and every man, woman, and child in the state dead and buried. This means war.”

With those hallowed words, Captain Lyon redefined what it means to be American- hating the state of Missouri. Yet in the decades since then, many of our fellow Americans have become complacent, and have thus allowed Missouri to continue its existence, thus tarnishing our country’s reputation at home and abroad.

Will this be another generation that idly stands by and lets the state of Missouri drag our great nation down into the abyss? Or will we stand up as one and make Captain Lyon’s dying wish a reality? It’s not too late. If we act now, we can stop the state of Missouri for good as early as 2020, according to the latest estimates.

Don’t stand by and let evil triumph. Don’t remain silent. Take a stand against the state of Missouri while there’s still time!

How many pounds of democracy would you like?

No discussion of the former Soviet Union is complete without talking about the lack or increase of “democracy” and “freedom.” Many Americans, in particular, grow weary of these terms by the time they reach adulthood. I think for my generation, we became burnt out and cynical not just because of the changing economy, but in particular because we experienced eight years of a president whose every speech since 11 September 2001 seemed to consist of few nouns beyond “freedom,” “liberty,” and “democracy.”

The understanding of democracy in Putin’s Russia is naturally more cynical. They call it “sovereign democracy,” as though all those other republics have no sovereignty. I’ve often seen Russian Kremlin supporters say that “democracy is an illusion,” or they take the ultra-literal definition of democracy: “Democracy means rule by the people! Do the people really run things in America?!” Many Americans and Europeans ask that same question, but the reason I find it funny coming from Kremlin supporters is that unlike those Westerners, they’re not proposing a system closer to that literal definition, i.e. anarchism or “true” communism. No, the solution to American or other forms of liberal democracy not being perfect and not allowing more participation is apparently a system that is by definition less democratic.

If you want to hear criticism of liberal democracy, and specifically American democracy which I can thoroughly savage for hours, I’m your man. But after living in Russia so long, and particularly after witnessing the rapid deterioration of the country’s politics post-2012, I’ve come to adopt one very important rule when it comes to critiquing conventional examples of democracies. It is so simple even a child, can grasp it, though it might sail over the head of your average “geopolitics expert”:

If you want to criticize existing forms of democracy, you should be in favor of a system that is arguably more democratic than that system you are criticizing.

Oh America’s two-party system is shit? I agree. What’s your alternative? A system where the whole parliament passes presidential initiatives unanimously and the same guy has run the country for nearly 15 years, only taking a break to switch with his little buddy? No, sorry. You don’t get to criticize.

Granted, there have been countries in history where the lack of certain democratic rights was largely a product of external forces, but I’m sorry that doesn’t describe Russia no matter how paranoid its leaders are about “color revolutions.” Moreover, if a system is legitimately less democratic due to some kind of historical or contextual cause, it doesn’t mean these measures should be advocated or seen as positive. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but those measures ought to be revised and preferably eliminated when the threat is no longer present.

That being said, part of the problem with cynicism towards concepts like democracy is the continual overuse of the term. This is especially a problem among people from traditional liberal democracies, who are unable to fully appreciate many of their rights simply because they have never been fully informed or deprived of them. I know that any time I get in a discussion over the question of personal freedoms with an American, they won’t fully grasp what it’s like to be deprived of certain rights. Most of the time they’ll make some inaccurate comparison or bring up some injustice which is often very real, but they can’t see the difference because they don’t experience what I’m talking about.

Another major problem when it comes to the overuse of terms like democracy and freedom is the lack of any accurate way to measure these things. American think tanks like Freedom House make it seem like democracy is something scientifically measurable and quantifiable, when in fact that is a highly contentious claim. After years of seeing these absurd “freedom ratings,” it seems like someone has finally taken aim at the idea that democracy can be easily quantified. What is more, a recent article from Buzzfeed shows the high costs of “promoting democracy” without actually understanding what that means.

As the Buzzfeed article is about Cuba, it’s very interesting to compare that country with Russia. Cuba had extremely legitimate reasons to oppose US attempts to “spread democracy,” which began with such interesting initiatives as the Bay of Pigs invasion, armed insurgencies, and numerous attempts on the life of Fidel Castro and others. All of this, of course, was accompanied by a cruel blockade of the Latin American country which managed to fight on in spite of the pressure.By contrast, Russia under Putin enjoyed massive investment from Europe and the US, and I know for a fact that in spite of all the capital flight, American and European companies do continue to invest in the country, as inadvisable as that is. The idea that the West is tying to destroy Russia is nothing but a paranoid fantasy, whereas the idea that the US was trying to crush Cuba is an indisputable fact. In any case, I think it’s clear that the US government’s attempts at “promoting democracy,” while possibly having good intentions in many cases, do more harm than good, especially in this age of foreign satellite media that just uses these efforts as proof that democracy is really just a propaganda tool in service to US-run  hegemonic conspiracy.

Obviously liberal democracy is fraught with problems, and people need to use what power they have to resolve those problems, even if it means replacing it with a system that is more democratic, not less. Russia does not provide a viable alternative in this respect. If you want to see a real critique of liberal democracy, one which explains its irreconcilable contradictions, I recommend starting with this lecture:

Messing with Texas

Those of you with enough morbid curiosity to watch the Kremlin’s bizarro-world reality show in the Donbas might already be familiar with the “American volunteer” who goes by the name of “Texas,” supposedly because he’s from the capital, Austin. I don’t for a second believe this man is “fighting” at all, knowing the nature of pro-Russian propaganda and its habit of using reality TV techniques to create “heroes.”

So who is this American volunteer who so willingly makes himself a mouthpiece in a conflict he clearly does not understand? Well when I first saw him in a video he describes himself as a “Communist,” one with a long history in the movement. He claims he came to Donbas to fight “Nazis,” but if you know your DNR/LNR facts, the rebels have their share of “Nazis.” Not only does he not seem to show the slightest grasp of Communist theory (which only makes him fit in even better with other pro-Russian “Communists”), but my connections in American Communist/Leftist circles haven’t managed to find anyone who knew “Texas” or knew of him. A lot of the language he has used on social media debunks the idea that he was ever a Communist or leftist. For example, in this video, he refers to Obama as a “monkey.”

From the moment I heard of this guy something was very fishy. Turns out I was right. Remember yesterday’s post about how pathetic the Russian “information war” really is? Well here’s another example of how they tried to create another fantasy that quickly unraveled.

“Texas” is in fact Russell Bonner Bentley. Here is his Facebook page, and here is some more info that includes his associations with far rightists such as the German Manuel Ochsenreiter, and everyone’s favorite American Duginite, Mark Sleboda. I’m sure anyone with more knowledge of the European far right can look at those names and find even more fascist friends of the guy who says he came to Donbas to “fight fascists.” Conspiracy theorist Pepe Escobar is there, as is RT Crosstalk host Peter Lavelle.  But it just gets better and better.

Turns out Bentley is a convicted drug dealer/smuggler. Here’s a news story about his sentencing, and here are the court documents. To be totally fair, the drug he was convicted of smuggling was marijuana, so it’s not like he’s Scarface or something. It’s just another example of Russian propaganda making a “hero” out of someone who doesn’t deserve it, and using them to regurgitate their propaganda. This also says a lot about the kind of people who are attracted to the Kremlin’s cause. Put simply- they aren’t exactly winners. Oftentimes these Russophiles support the Kremlin specifically and paradoxically because they benefit from the effects of corruption and degeneracy which Putin’s system maintains. Occasionally you get someone who’s at least clever and senses the government’s willingness to throw money at any foreigner, particularly a Westerner, who is willing to repeat their message. All you have to do is show up and write a few paragraphs, liberally sprinkling in words like geopolitics, neocons, neo-liberal, BRICS, and color revolution. Incidentally, I don’t think Russell is one of those people.

The only thing that really pisses me off about this guy is that he appears in videos and calls himself a Communist. He clearly isn’t a Communist and most likely never was, and yet he had to say that, thus giving ammunition to status-quo supporters who have been working very hard for the past decade or so to equate the far left and far right. Russia, of course, has done a fine job of helping them in that effort as well. If Russell hadn’t made  these claims, I would have dismissed him as another confused American right-winger and I wouldn’t have even cared to learn anything about him.

Sadly for Russell, there’s a lot of rumors flying around that the DNR and LNR are not doing so hot, and might not last to the end of the year. Remember that Russia is basically footing the bill for virtually everything in these quasi-states, and the Kremlin knows that there’s bad economic news on the horizon. Let’s hope that in the event of a collapse, the Russian authorities at least remember to grant “Texas” a Russian visa so he can fly back home to anonymity from Moscow rather than get left behind in Dontesk to explain himself to the Ukrainian authorities.

Don’t Panic

Ever since 2014 European and American politicians have been shitting bricks about Russia’s “information war.” I’ve written numerous articles and responses to articles on the subject, and quite frankly I’ve found the response to be rather overblown and panicky. And when you have an opinion about such a hot issue of the day, what better backup can you have than Mark Galeotti, who wrote this piece on the matter for The Moscow Times?

A few key points deserve highlighting.

But let’s not assume it’s all a product of Russian infowar, or that the Kremlin is some grandmaster of the memetic chessboard. These debates also reflect an underlying malaise of politics, leadership and legitimacy in the West.

“We are willing to doubt the mainstream not because RT exhorts us to “question more,” but because we already believe our leaders, our power structures and even our media lie to us.

We find ourselves exposed to conspiracy theories and sensationalist nonsense not because of the Russians so much as our own competitive media environments, the speed with which a fun, compelling or exciting lie or half-truth can be reposted, retweeted and re-reported around the world, outdistancing any fact-checking or sober analysis.

To this end, the West is simply suffering from its own internal contradictions. The Russians have been able to exploit them, but they have also often demonstrated themselves to be counterproductively clumsy.”

Amen! I suspect this is one of the reasons why it’s mostly Western leaders and politicians who are so afraid of Russia’s otherwise clumsy “information war.” The only really way to win it, and win it quickly, is to handle those internal contradictions Galeotti refers to.

I’ve said plenty of times before- Russian foreign-language propaganda feeds off of alienation and justifiable distrust generated by years of indisputable lies, military campaigns fought for false pretenses, and blatant hypocrisy. When RT’s advertisements abroad make reference to the invasion of Iraq, status quo supporters and intellectuals want to dismiss it as whataboutery and move on. Sure, the invasion of Iraq doesn’t justify Russian foreign policy, and yes it was a long time ago, but you still need to deal with the consequences of that invasion and the policies which surrounded it. Obama’s speech in Cairo just doesn’t cut it.

Millions of Americans want to see more concrete answers from their politicians. They want some kind of assurance that this kind of thing isn’t going to happen again. They never got those assurances, nor has there been any concerted effort to publicize the actual positive changes the US has made in foreign policy since that blunder. As a result, it’s only natural that people are going to remain skeptical of their government, and especially anything that smacks of government propaganda. Sure, outlets like RT are another kind of government propaganda, but I think a lot of people in this discussion forget that many of the guests on RT are Americans or other Westerners expressing their own opinions about topics.

One feature of the propaganda machine that’s supposed to make it so menacing is that now, as they say, the Kremlin is no longer bound by ideology. Whereas during the Cold War they were pretty much restricted to appealing only to the global left, now they can, and do, appeal to both left and right at the same time. To be sure, Russia is more aligned with the right both at home and abroad, but that being said, just saying that out loud, that they are simultaneously appealing to both far right and far left, should reveal how stupid this idea is. Yes, there has been a long tradition of populism which hews to the right but reaches its tentacles into left-wing movements. That being said, you’ll notice those movements tend not to make any lasting impact. Occupy is the latest example.

To reuse one of my previous analogies- think of it as one of those cliched sitcom plots where a main character has a date with two women on the same evening. Eventually they find out about each other. Personally I’ve seen plenty of examples of far rightists and far leftists acquiescing to their strange bedfellows, introduced to them by Russian propaganda, but at the same time you see a lot of cognitive dissonance, confusion, and most of all, cynicism. That’s the core of the Kremlin’s ideology, t the extent that it has one- ideals don’t matter. With that in mind they go and court some of the most romantic idealists they can find. If they have principles, they will desert Russia’s cause when they learn the truth. If not, they will become cynical and ineffective, simply going through the motions. No, the fact that the Kremlin is not bound by ideology isn’t an advantage. It’s one of the reasons they’ll ultimately fail.

And what about the vaunted troll armies? Even here at Russia Without BS we saw how pathetic that gets. First of all, one thing a lot of Anglophone readers forget is that most of the troll activity is, and always has been since its inception, aimed primarily at the domestic audience. The whole project was set up after the protests of 2011-2012 because it became clear to the government that while they controlled the conventional press, they were out of their league on the internet. Most of their activity is aimed at Russian citizens, and from what I’ve seen a lot of it may be aimed at very young people. The very fact that such an operation even exists should be cause for laughter, not fear. This is a country that is spending untold thousands, perhaps even millions of dollars to shout down or otherwise distract internet users complaining about dozens of local problems, rather than just taking that money and fixing the damned problems.

As for the English-speaking trolls? Please- they look like the people who comment on Yahoo! News stories. You’d be hard pressed to find people significantly dumber than that demographic. Anyone who’s had the displeasure of observing such comments would find it difficult to distinguish between some half-literate Alabamian ranting about Obama and Benghazi and a Russian twenty-something with an intermediate level in English ranting about Obama and Ukraine.

Even Americans who are just becoming aware of this “troll army” are justifiably skeptical about its efficacy. Tom Tomorrow, creator of This Modern World, gives us a pretty good reaction:

Tom Tomorrow

Tom Tomorrow

Tom’s right on target. If Russia wants an internet war, America’s trolls would bury the Internet Research office in days. I’ve gone round after round with 9/11 Truthers,”Men’s Rights” advocates, White Nationalists, and “Anarcho-Capitalists,” who are sometimes combinations of all those things. Russian trolls just come in and leave some comment like: “I am PATRIOTIC AMERICAN and I don’t afraid to tell OBAMA I am NOT wanting my tax dollars spent to help to the NAZI KIEV JUNTA IN THE UKRAINE!” There’s no “debate” or engagement. By contrast, America has uh…”talented” young men who will gladly bang out a ten page post as to how middle class white males are in fact the most oppressed class of people in the United States. Your responses will be hit with a barrage of accusations about logical fallacies, both real and imagined. All in all, Russian English-language trolling is at best, less intimidating than a Gamergate raid.

There’s only one thing that can make this propaganda offensive, which is consuming so much state money, seem effective, and that is the continued panic surrounding it. At best, Russian propaganda is good at appealing to people’s cynicism and alienation. This is why first and foremost Western governments need to deal with their skeletons and even encourage more criticism within their societies. At least that way it will be principled criticism. As for Russian propaganda? Like Galeotti suggests, it doesn’t do any good to counter it with more propaganda. And yes, any such effort as the ones that are currently being discussed will inevitably end up becoming just that. What is needed is mockery, satire, and parody. People want to feel they know some hidden truth, but they also have a strong need to be taken seriously. Anybody who doesn’t- well what good are they to anyone?

So less panicking and more laughter. That and clean up your act, because Russia’s regime feeds off of cynicism, corruption, and hypocrisy, which it uses as propaganda capital. “The rot,” as a good friend of mine put it. There’s your solution. Now it remains to be seen if Western leaders will actually live up to their rhetoric.*

*They probably won’t. They’re slow learners.

Hell freezes over

What better way to commemorate the US Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage than to take a look at the reaction of Russian TV host Dmitry Kiselyov after hearing the news? Man he must have had a field day with this, seeing as how he’s always trying to portray Western society as degenerate and perverse. Listening to him and some other Russian propagandists, you’d think every major street in America has a gay pride parade every weekend. I’m sure he must have blew his top on his last show. Let’s see what he said.

“One of the most controversial conservative pundits in the Russian television, Dmitry Kiselyov, has unexpectedly stated his support for same-sex civil unions.”

HA HA! He- Wait. What? He said what?!

“On his TV show this week, Kiselyov told viewers, “We can manage to make life easier for adults who want—both informally and formally—the responsibility of taking care of each other. In the end, love works wonders, and who’s against that?” Kiselyov also stated plainly, “The LGBT community is a fact.”

What is going on here? Did Victoria Nuland give him a cookie? Did someone put Russophobia drugs in his tea? How did this happen?

All joking aside, I actually commend Kiselyov not only for what he said, but for not using what would have been a perfect opportunity to stoke not only more homophobia, but more anti-American hatred as well. Kiselyov is by no means a little guy, but his position is also another reason why his statement could be considered bold, especially in these times.

Yes, everyone remembers what this man has said before about LGBT people. Yes, he is part of a propaganda machine that will no doubt continue to put out homophobic propaganda to distract from the failures of the corrupt government, but it’s hard to believe that Kiselyov would take such a risk of saying such a thing, especially considering his audience, if he didn’t have some sincere feelings backing those words.

And yes, those words are a far cry from taking a firm stand on equality, but few heterosexual people my age can honestly claim they were for total LGBT equality all their lives. I was raised in a conservative, religious environment. I wasn’t exposed to Westboro Baptist Church-levels of hatred and I never obsessed over the issue, but to say my views were enlightened or progressive would be an utter lie. I harbored negative opinions about gays and their rights in spite of the fact that for many years I lived in a neighborhood with a very large, noticeable gay presence, and I even worked a summer job at a gay-owned business. Years later I would kick myself for being so stupid as to harbor negative thoughts towards people who had never once done anything remotely negative toward me. Looking back it seemed like wanting to see people treated like second-class citizens because they happened to have green eyes or brown hair.

I know I said and wrote a lot of horrible things back in those days and I’d hate to be judged by those words instead of what I believe since I learned the truth about issues like this one. We cannot rule out the possibility that Kiselyov might be going through his own transformation, trying to express a sincere opinion and still remain safe. When it comes from Kiselyov, we should not give into the crushing Russian cynicism and give the man credit, with caution of course.

I have to admit I want to believe he’s being sincere. I want to believe love wins.

We Report, You Question More

So lately I learned that some people are really upset about my attitude towards RT. While I believe my attitude toward the network is justified, it’s necessary to go back into Russia Without BS history and examine how and why that stance changed over the years.

First of all, I started this blog in the early autumn of 2013. I mentioned RT in the original FAQ because insofar as the blog was intended to critique media coverage about Russia, that question was bound to come up. Even before that, RT was being dismissed as a state-run propaganda channel in a manner that was rather blunt and ignored very important nuances.

My best friend had been working at RT for quite some time back then and believe me, he was no Putin supporter. He explained how at RT they would not make things up, nor were they ordered to do so, but rather they would jump on certain stories while ignoring others. Stories that made the US or its allies look bad were always welcome, but stories about problems in Russia or the opposition tended to get a cooler reaction. That being said, this doesn’t mean they went unreported in general, it just means the reaction to a story about a protest in the US and an opposition protest in Russia would be totally different.

Realistically speaking, at that point RT didn’t really diverge from practices that are very common in the news media. When it comes to covering Russia for example, Western outlets typically focused on more sensationalist things such as bombastic quotes from nationalist figures, military parades, and prostitution and/or mail order brides. Naturally many editors must be thanking their lucky stars over Russia’s recent attempt to portray itself as menacing with bombastic rhetoric and provocative military exercises. Even with all that, a story about prostitutes in some regions raising their prices due to the falling ruble still made big headlines in the English-speaking news media. The fact that lots of companies were raising prices on everything, you know, because that’s what inflation essentially leads to, just wasn’t interesting enough. When it’s Eastern Europe, you’ve always got to mention prostitution or desperate foreign men seeking brides.

The fact that RT would often have some weird guests on the air also doesn’t set it apart from many Western outlets. CNN, to use Team Russia’s favorite whipping boy, gave a whole show to Lou Dobbs, who not only had guests that were tied to white supremacist groups, but also mainstreamed the “birther” conspiracy, which claimed Obama’s presidency was illegitimate due to his not being a natural born citizen. CNN’s Crossfire originally starred Pat Buchanan, and apparently now has folks like Newt Gingrich and S.E. Cupp. Glenn Beck also got his start in TV on CNN. Piers Morgan interviewed Alex Jones. Ann Coulter still gets regular appearances on TV. I want to make the list longer but I’m trying to limit it to faces that appear on all networks as opposed to say, Fox News.

In short, RT definitely doesn’t have a monopoly on giving a platform to fringe figures or letting people speak with authority on issues they know nothing about. There was a time, and I would say it was before 2013 and especially before Euromaidan in Ukraine, when you really couldn’t honestly say that RT was significantly different from some of the major “Western” American media networks. What happened is that since then, not only did RT change, but the whole Russian media underwent a change. Some outlets such as RT, The Moscow News, and the English version of RIA-Novosti were too objective and thus had to be replaced by “information warfare”-outlets or at least get in line with such tactics. This is where it started to kick into high gear and RT jumped the shark.

Incidentally I have a theory as to why this happened at that moment. If you observe RT, you’ll notice that it can be rather balanced on issues that aren’t a priority for the Kremlin. They’ll even report on serious problems in Russia, as I’ve pointed out in the past. Where it goes haywire is when the Kremlin is trying to prop up its line on the international stage. This is why the most egregious examples of propaganda tend to revolve around topics like Ukraine.

Of course when you point out the network’s bias, the response from supporters is usually- So what? The “mainstream” media is just as biased! Well no, no it isn’t, and when it is, it’s for different reasons most of the time. For example, according to Team Russia, the “Western media” was covering up the nationalist presence in the Maidan movement. I find this hard to believe, because if they actually knew there was such a presence they would have made more of an effort to take photos that excluded nationalist flags and symbols. If anything they unwittingly exaggerated the nationalist presence. Unwittingly is the key word here because one main reason Western reports weren’t chock full of talk about nationalists is that most of their writers and reporters don’t know dick about Ukrainian history and the history of Ukrainian nationalism. I bet if they thought anything at all, they probably assumed the red and black flags belonged to anarchists. Loads of reporters have to do short, routine stories about what’s going on in the world, and for them it’s just easy enough to say that there’s this continuing protest in Kyiv, and it’s all because these people want to join the European Union. Incidentally, Russian propaganda didn’t dispute that point, whereas many Maidan participants would.

Okay, so the people whose job is to write short stories about international news are just ignorant, but what about the correspondents who live in those countries? Are they biased? You certainly do get the occasional self-righteous correspondent who comes here with preconceived notions and then seeks only to confirm them *COUGH!* LUKE HARDING! *COUGH!* Excuse me. That does happen, but the recent crop of correspondents I’ve seen working for outlets like ViceThe Guardian, etc. are pretty objective. I know this because I see them getting continually attacked by people on both sides of Russia vs. Ukraine, upset because these reporters won’t confirm their personal narrative of the conflict. It’s not just private media either. Voice of America is literally state-run and yet they made stories like these, showing both sides of the Donbas conflict and showing the suffering of civilians on the rebel side.

Another important point to consider is the fact that many pro-RT critics of “the mainstream” media are happy to use “mainstream media” articles to back up their claims. But if that media is so biased, and deliberately so, why would those articles ever get published? Going back to claims about the Western media covering up the nationalist element in Maidan, I have, since the riots broke out, kept track of every mainstream outlet article about the far-right in Ukraine I happen to run across. They come from a diverse spectrum of outlets, such as the BBC and The Guardian, and even the rabidly anti-Kremlin publication The Interpreter. Mark Adomanis has written on the subject, as have Leonid Bershidsky and even extremely pro-EU, liberal writer Anton Shekhovtsov. Add to this list of journalists Christopher Miller, Mark Galeotti, Simon Ostrovsky, Oliver Carroll, Alec Luhn, Anna Arutunyan, and Natalia Antonova. Why them? Simply because I have seen all of them get labeled as Kremlin propagandists because they failed to strictly uphold some people’s narrative on the Ukrainian conflict. If the allegations of a deliberate anti-Russian information war were true, these people shouldn’t have jobs. All of them routinely go “off script,” typically with no consequences beyond some angry Canadian Ukrainian on Twitter calling them a Kremlin whore.

Still, there are some who insist that the Western media doesn’t give enough credit to “the Russian side.” Well, the problem with that is twofold. First of all, there is never just one Russian side. They tend to shotgun their claims, throwing out multiple, often contradictory explanations and hoping that one sticks. Their coverage on MH17 is a perfect example, and this is just dealing with RT, not other state-owned outlets or the Russian domestic press, which have put out even more theories. Second, look what happens when you try to confirm stories from “the Russian side.”  Correspondents who know Russia and see stories such as the “Crucified boy of Sloviansk” aren’t obliged to take these stories seriously for the sake of artificial “balance.”

What this all boils down to is basically this: No, RT is not like the “mainstream media,” with one exception- Fox News. Allow me to demonstrate.

-Fox News does not claim to be a conservative network. Instead it claims the rest of the media, which it often refers to as the “mainstream media,” is biased. Sound familiar?

-Fox News will put almost anyone with a conservative message on the air, often allowing them to speak on topics they know little, if anything about. “Joe the Plumber” comes to mind. At RT, any guest that can regurgitate what they read on Sputnik News can get the title of “political analyst” and speak with authority on any subject, including countries they’ve never been to. And before any RT fans balk at that, I learned this from former employees at RT, one of whom told me that “political analyst” is a sort of generic title whenever they have someone who lacks any real credentials. Here are a couple articles about RT’s guests with unusual theories, and one about a very mislabeled guest. What is more, RT has actually misrepresented guests quite frequently when it comes to Ukraine.

-Fox News will make scandals out of certain issues while ignoring others, often asserting that the other networks aren’t reporting on the scandal because of their liberal bias. This is similar to any number of claims about the “biased, Western, mainstream media.”

-Fox News is known for having a severe lack of decency at times, for example demonizing unarmed black youth who are shot by police. By comparison, RT published this conspiracy theory about the Charlie Hebdo massacre within about a day of the attack.

-Fox News has been known for its worshipful coverage of certain figures, for example George W. Bush and especially Ronald Reagan.

*See footnote for full documentary

RT does the same with Putin.

-Fox News is clearly biased in favor of conservative republicans, so while they’ll have “opposing views,” these are usually people who aren’t really very well known on the left. Often times they cave into the conservative host, thus demonstrating the correctness of the conservative talking points.

RT doesn’t even go that far, which is one reason why Ofcom took the network to task in the UK. On RT you can have guests who say Euromaidan was engineered by the CIA to spread liberal, left-wing values, and you can have a left-wing guest that says it’s all about spreading fascism and neo-liberal economic policies, but I’ve yet to see any conversation with, for example, actual, verified Maidan participants, particularly from the more popular segments of the protests. Just as Fox News viewers tended to believe that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11 in spite of the fact that the network didn’t explicitly make this claim, it would seem a lot of RT consumers seem to have bought into the “fascist coup d’etat”/”illegitimate junta” claims. I also see a lot of concern for the bombing of civilians in the rebel occupied regions of the Donbas, but nothing about those civilians on the government-controlled side who were shelled by the rebels. Incidentally, those people were, up until last year, also “poor persecuted Russian speakers” and residents of the rebel “republics.” VOA apparently has no problem showing the story of those who have suffered at the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces. Why can’t RT show the same on the other side?

I could go on, but I think the reader gets the idea. While there are key differences, Fox is the closest analog to RT- they have an agenda, though Fox claims it’s “fair and balanced” in response to liberal media bias and RT says it’s just an “alternative, Russian point of view(or 37 alternative points of view),” again all in opposition to a conspiratorial media bias. Both networks are often the odd one out when it comes to their coverage, and yet this is used to prove that they are somehow providing truth that the establishment doesn’t want you to know. I must digress a bit here, but I find it funny that the network of the neocons and the people who constantly drone on about neocons are so remarkably similar in every way. Hey, “political analysts,” perhaps the “mainstream media” said no WMDs were found in Iraq, but Fox was just trying to provide an alternative point of view! Is that so bad? Question more!

In conclusion, I have been extremely fair to RT since long before I started writing. I’d even considered working there in the past and I still know people who work there or used to work there. Call me a Kremlin whore all you like for admitting that. I condemned those hypocrites who attacked former employees of the company, and I staunchly oppose those who say that any CV with RT on it should be immediately discarded. Sure, you can say that even those people who work behind the scenes are contributing to the final product, but how far are you willing to take that? Are we going to start condemning the secretaries, the janitors, and the IT people who work for that outlet? Are you really sure that your employer isn’t involved in anything unethical or questionable, or investing in companies that are? The fact is that RT does have a lot of employees who don’t agree with its message or practices. You can condemn them all you like, but just be sure to leave them a few suggestions as to where they might seek better employment. This is the kind of condemnation that could actually extend to almost any person employed in Russia.

As for those who produce the content, as far as I know there still is a lot of editorial leeway on most issues, which means critics should save their criticism for those who willingly promote propaganda when they do not have to. For the rest, I’ve been told many times, by multiple people, that the network changed. If I noticed the same changes from the outside, it stands to reason that they are right. I sympathize with them because in a way, the same thing happened with Russia. People have treated me with suspicion because I live here and tend to vehemently dispute certain talking points on the “Western” side. As the situation seems to get worse with no end in sight, I begin to wonder how I’ll be received abroad, especially back in the US. How do I explain to people that it was a completely different country up until a couple of years ago? In 2006 choosing to live in Russia was a totally apolitical issue.

At the end of the day, if RT isn’t taken seriously its management and news makers have nobody to blame but themselves. If they truly have real editorial freedom, they ought to be able to correct a lot of the practices they’ve been busted for. Maybe get some rational pro-Ukrainian people on there for once and stop selling the myth of the “fascist junta,” seeing as how Russia has recognized the Ukrainian government since at least the election of Poroshenko, whereas by contrast the Russian government does not recognize the separatist republics in the Donbas and often refers to them as “self-proclaimed.” Maybe stop implying that people only get out in the streets and protest because the US instigates it. RT was actually nominated for an Emmy award due to its coverage of Occupy Wall Street. Were those people paid to protest? Did the Russian government engineer that? Were they all on drugs?

Nobody can claim RT isn’t aware there’s a problem because if that weren’t the case, they wouldn’t filter out some of the Russian domestic media’s wackier claims, particularly those that involve made-up stories or poor Photoshop-altered images. Someone there must know about the concept of journalist integrity and credibility. If they really have as much editorial freedom as they claim, let them take advantage of it and clean the place up. Otherwise, well, let’s just say: If the shoe fits…

*Outfoxed – The must-see documentary.