Well here’s a big shock- Russia’s most prestigious Sunday news program just ran a completely fabricated story, using hilariously bad fake documents as “proof.” In this case, phony leaked “CIA” documents are supposed to show a conversation between businessman Bill Browder and Alexei Navalny, wherein in the former personally asks the latter to organize some kind of color revolution and undermine the Russian government.

As the reader has no doubt guessed, the English text, supposedly written by CIA employees, contains numerous mistakes in grammar and syntax, leading some to suggest that it was most likely done with Google translate and then checked by a non-native speaker of English. In my cursory examination I found stylistic features consistent with the writing of a Russian native speaker, which are all easy to spot when you spend years proofreading all manner of Russian-to-English translations. And as you might have guessed, Navalny hasn’t been arrested for treason.

But do I really need to point any of that out? Do I really need to debunk any of this story? If you were reading the autobiography of a man claiming to be a trained ninja who got 300 confirmed kills in Afghanistan and saved earth from an ancient demon that had been awakened by an evil sorcerer, would you feel the need to pick out all the inconsistencies in the man’s story or would you just dismiss it off hand? Sure, sometimes it can be fun to point out errors in fake news stories just as it can be fun to do so with a really awful film. Then again, sometimes it isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s work. Therefore when I saw this story, I figured there was another angle I should cover. I want to tell you the real reason they did this story- it’s their answer to the Panama Papers leak.

“Now wait just a darn minute,” you say, talking like a character in a 1940’s anti-Communist propaganda film. “How can you compare this nonsensical made up story to the Panama Papers, a massive leak of documents that took dozens of journalists from many different countries over a year to investigate?” Well dear reader, look at the timing. It’s Kiselyov’s first Sunday program since the leak. It’s about a leak as well.

“Well alright but hold on one minute there,” you say, still in your 1940’s voice. “You may be right about the timing and the subjects are similar, but as I said before, the Panama Papers were part of a major international investigation and this story seems like they just pulled it out of their ass!” Ah but that’s just it, dear reader. To them there is no difference.

Obviously there are people working throughout the Russian state media and the state itself who are fully aware that they produce bullshit. Same goes for the audience. But in all those groups you have people who actually believe in this “information war” idiocy, and to them there’s no difference between the Panama Papers and their made-up, bullshit story about Browder and Navalny. Let me make something clear- it’s not that these people believe that their story is real. They know it’s bullshit. The thing is that they think the Panama Papers are also bullshit that someone just pulled out of their ass, and this justifies them making up their own stories.

One has to realize that none of the people who work in the Russian media have ever really lived under a free press. The Tsarist press was controlled and censored. We all know the Soviet press was. The 90’s Russian press was largely controlled by various oligarchs and there were no journalistic standards. As such, much of the Russian media, including foreign language outlets like RT, is now run by favored bureaucrats who don’t understand anything about journalism. They look at the rest of the world’s media and try to emulate what they think it is. The problem is that they also tell themselves that it’s really the same as their own media, and they’re waging information warfare against Russia- ergo their own media must answer back in kind.

I remember one writer used the term “cargo cult” to refer to RT and the rest of the Russian state media. This is very apt. Like a real cargo cult, they watch something they don’t understand (free press in other countries), and then emulate them without actually understand what they’re doing. The original cargo cults believed that the US and Japanese military personnel they observed were engaged in strange and elaborate rituals which brought favors from flying gods. When it comes to the Russian media it seems at times they literally believe that some Western journalists can just get together and cook up a story about Putin’s friends and offshore accounts with no actual investigation or evidence, and their bosses will sign off on the story with no questions. Either that, or they think CIA agents order these journalists, many of whom work for private corporations, to publish mean things about the Dear Leader. They do this, and nothing happens and nobody comes out and exposes it.

So the next time there’s a major story that’s got the Russian media in hysterics, keep it in mind. If you see a really hilarious or outlandish fake story in the major Russian media shortly thereafter, it’s probably their “answer.” In their mind, the other story was made up, so they can make up their own story. They tell themselves this and dissent is apparently not tolerated, otherwise we should have seen an improvement in their propaganda techniques over the past two years instead of a very noticeable decline. In 2014 they said Russia had weaponized information, but that weapon is starting to look really rusty now.


  1. Asehpe

    And that, despite everybody also believing that “journalists lie” all over the world, so you can really trust none of the stories you read?

    See, this is one thing I didn’t quite understand about the Russian mind set. If they admit that their press lies (but that this is OK because the foreign press also lies), then they should believe none of the news they read, Russian or foreign, right?

    And yet, they seem quite happy to believe the news they see on Russian TV, and to not believe whatever reaches them of Western news.

    How can this be? How can they at the same time believe that journalism is a bunch of lies, yet also take seriously what Kisselyov tells them?

    My impression is that this has to come from the competition mindset: I don’t trust any news, but since it’s us (= Russia) against them (= the West) in an information war, I will trust “their” news even less than I trust “ours”. Yes, our news are full of lies, but they are “our” lies!

    Is that perhaps the explanation?

  2. Estragon

    BTW partially on topic (since it’s about media), have you noticed the current scandal/meltdown at Russia Insider? Peter Lavelle (on Facebook) is accusing the founder of that site, Charles Bausman, of having cut him out of his share with a fake contract.

    If he’s right (not saying he is), they don’t just lack journalistic standards, but ethical ones too!

  3. Tulip

    Dude, sometimes you really make me laugh with your style of writing. However, I think you might be on to something. I remember a top diplomat once telling me that the Russians don’t invent anything, they copy our (US) stuff, or, copy it as much as they can.


    Something’s telling me, that you are not familiar with the notion of “a reverse cargo cult”, that was introduced by Yekaterina Shulman some 6 years ago. It is IMO a more apt metaphor for what you are describing.

    1. Chukuriuk

      You’re right, Shulman’s “reverse” cargo cult incorporates the element of projection (“their planes too are made of straw and manure”) that Jim highlights.

      1. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I concur. But sometimes it seems like they’re in two minds about it, at least with the media. They know they have to look like the free media to a certain extent, but when pressed that’s when they retreat to “THEY ALL DO IT!”

  5. Andrey Kirillov (@andysingingbird)

    The point is not what journalists believe themselves or how plausible the story is, but that the vast majority of Russians watching national TV do believe and not a slightest shadow of doubt will ever cross their minds… until they are told otherwise by that same national TV.

  6. TimoT

    I remember in the early 90’s a Finnish journalist on TV asked from a Soviet Union/Russia expert what kind of country Russia will become. Will it be like Germany or France?

    He said, “No, more like Brazil”.

    I think there are many similarities, especially with the malfunctioning political systems. Well, at least in Brazil they are trying to impeach the up-to-no-good, totally corrupted, megalomaniac (woman) president 🙂

  7. Tone

    To the average Russian though, the letters will be unintelligible. They will take the news story at face value. Despite the content being a hoax (a bad one at that), the TV station won’t counter the argument and the story will ring true for many millions in the run up to elections. The authorities can do anything they want, they have the population in the palm of their hands. Navalny will be traitor number one. Another link to the whacko story below.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Naturally they cannot read the documents, but Russian propaganda tends to backfire and raise other questions. For example, why is this proven traitor allowed to walk around with impunity? Why is he charged with piddly little embezzlement claims and not treason? Not even the US would allow such an activist to go free.

      Then one could also ask why this man Browder would personally handle something like this.

      Okay, granted, we’re mostly talking about a lot of babushkas or late middle-aged people, but still…

  8. Russian Avos

    “Either that, or they think CIA agents order these journalists, many of whom work for private corporations, to publish mean things about the Dear Leader.”

    That is precisely the narrative that they’re pushing:

    ‘Top German Journalist Admits Mainstream Media Is Completely Fake: “We All Lie For The CIA”‘

    Notice how Zerohedge, which often acts as part of the Russian infowar echo chamber that Russian Insider has just defrauded, is citing an RT interview.

  9. Pingback: It wasn’t you | Russia Without BS

  10. Pingback: Russia Without BS: It Wasn’t You – To Inform is to Influence

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