I’ve often said in the past I probably wouldn’t bother with RT or Sputnik if they would just more or less openly come out as far right media outlets. If they simply came out and resembled something more akin to the ultra-reactionary Tsargrad TV, for example, it wouldn’t merit the same kind of scrutiny any more than all the other right-wing crap that floods the internet. My problem with outlets like RT is that they often try to court the left as well, and for a long time they have managed to take advantage of the Western left’s unfortunate propensity to believe anything that seems to be the opposite of what they perceive to be the narrative of their own governments.
In the left’s struggle on the home front, this is a great boon to the ruling class and their army of pedantic pundits. Jamie Kirchick types can seize upon any perceived connection between a leftist group and Russian state-owned media. They can expand the guilt by association even further by pointing out all the far right, fringe figures on the same network- “See?! Horseshoe theory is real!” Sure, this is often a fallacious or at best unfair characterization, but politics is rarely about what’s fair, but rather what is effective. For a leftist to associate with RT or literally anything associated with the reactionary Russian government is to essentially join in a deliberately constructed red-brown alliance with fascists and other assorted reactionaries, and there will always be a neoliberal status-quo apologist more than happy to seize upon any such connection to distract from the weakness of their own arguments.
Unfortunately, to this day many leftist parties and organizations which should know better fall for Russia’s lures for the stupidest reasons. Probably the most ridiculous example concerns Russia’s so-called “election observers” in the Donbas and Crimea. These were recruited from a list of mostly far right and even neo-Nazi parties in Europe, but on each list you see a couple representatives of leftist, even Communist parties. Clearly something is very wrong when a member of the Communist Party of Greece ends up associating with representatives of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but to date I haven’t noticed any of these parties raising this issue.
The good news is, however, that word is spreading. Leftists are starting to catch onto Russia’s attempts at co-opting and exploiting their movements for propaganda purposes. And the more they discover and learn to react to this the more they will begin to question the Russian government’s narrative on other issues, such as Ukraine and Syria.
My optimism comes from a recent article by one of the Occupy Movement’s leaders who told The Guardian about Russian attempts to co-opt both Occupy and subsequent protest movements. What’s even better is that the author proposes a way to fight back against these approaches:
“Genuine social protests tend to boomerang around the world. So let’s ensure that foreign governments fear that the protests they create abroad will return home. To protect against fake activism in America we must insist that every protest be globally oriented.
That means exporting our protests to every country, especially those suspected of supporting, co-opting or controlling our movements. If Russia wants to create civil rights protests in Oakland then they must be prepared to deal with those same protests back into Moscow. From this point forward, our best defense is a global offense.”
Occupy, for all its faults, was to some extent a global phenomenon which also roughly coincided with larger protest movements in other countries, including Russia (the Occupy title was used on a small scale for some peripheral protest actions in 2011-2012). International solidarity with Euromaidan could have led to a revitalization of the Occupy movement or something much better, but alas- leftists, largely due to ignorance of the region and its politics, bought into a Russian narrative hook, line, and sinker. Had more of the left reached out to Ukrainian protesters they could have learned a lot and gained much inspiration, but due to the aforementioned ignorance and old knee-jerk biases they dismissed the protesters as hapless dupes of Soros and the CIA. By the same token, Ukrainians who looked beyond their borders saw leftists falling for the Russian line, and many of them were turned off by the left in general for this reason. Why would you respect people who, knowing nothing about your country, enthusiastically repeat fabricated claims that would be laughable to anyone who lives in Ukraine or in some cases merely visited? As such, the opportunity to globalize Maidan was missed. Let’s not make that same mistake again, because the idea of an American Maidan is sorely needed now more than ever.
Every leftist must be made aware that the Russian government is not on your side, and they never will be. They don’t care about your cause or your values; if anything they may even despise and actively suppress them in Russia. They also don’t care about your reputation or credibility on the home front. The Kremlin is concerned only with maintaining its own power and wealth. Furthermore, every leftist needs to be aware of Russian sources or organizations which claim to be independent of the state. More often than not, these organizations are nothing but fronts, and their actual policy positions and narratives coincide with the Kremlin’s foreign policy.
To determine whether a Russian (or in some cases Ukraine-based) organization is worthy of consideration, I present the following checklist. It is designed so that even people without a background in the region’s politics can benefit from it.
The most effective way to find out if an organization or source is pro-Kremlin is to check their positions on certain key issues:
-Do they support the annexation of Crimea or talk about it as though it were legal and just? Do they only refer to it as a “reunification?”
-Do they only refer to the war in Ukraine as a “civil war?”
-Do they demand “peace” in Ukraine, but only direct this demand at the Kyiv government? Do they say that Kyiv should recognize the self-proclaimed “republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk or do they say they must engage in direct negotiations with them (this could be seen as de facto recognition)?
-Do they refer to Euromaidan as an American-funded coup of some kind?
-Do they condemn Russia’s foreign policy in Ukraine and/or Syria? How do they condemn it? Do they call out Putin?
-Check out their web-page and especially their social media pages on Facebook and/or VK. Do you see any reactionary memes, avatars, etc?
-When discussing the war in Ukraine, do they constantly talk about Ukrainian far right groups without mentioning the far right organizations fighting for Russia’s side?
-Do they openly call for Putin’s replacement and condemn fake opposition parties like the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF)?
-Can you find any evidence that this group has worked with a pro-Kremlin group (cossack organizations, the Night Wolves biker gang, the “Anti-Globalist Movement,” etc.) before?
-Do they condemn “both sides” in Ukraine on an equal basis?
-How often do you see the work of people from this organization on RT, Sputnik, or other pro-Russian sites like Fort Ross, Russia Insider, etc.? If you’re not sure whether a particular source is pro-Russian, you can look over their content and check it with many of the items on this same list.
-Do they talk a lot about self-determination and support independence and separatist movements in almost any country except Russia?
As you can see, pro-Kremlin people or front groups typically don’t contradict certain key narratives of the Kremlin, particularly those related to foreign policy. This is the thing to key in on. If you get multiple hits on this checklist, and especially if there is a pattern of such behavior, you’re probably dealing with either a Russian government front organization or just a genuinely pro-Kremlin individual. Avoid them like the plague, otherwise they’ll stain your organization or individual work via association. Never accept an offer of an interview from outlets like RT or Sputnik. The association with far right cranks and conspiracy nuts, plus the Russian government itself, will far outweigh any benefits their platform could provide. Most importantly, spread this warning and advice (mine and that of the linked article’s author) to your comrades and friends.
Struggle for yourself and your values- not for the Kremlin.