Look out, Margarita and Kiselyov- there’s a new counter-propaganda project in town and it has vowed to protect “Western values” from Russian attempts to undermine them. That’s right, RT, Sputnik, get ready to face the wrath of…Nick and Mauro! Yeah…Seriously.
I stumbled across this site for the first time when someone shared this article, in which the authors decide that it’s time to “retaliate” against Russia because we have been “bombarded” with their propaganda. Let’s look at a few choice excerpts:
“It was the Kremlin’s toxic propaganda, with R.T at the forefront, that for years instigated the unprecedented anti-European sentiment which lead to Brexit.”
Errr…No. Only someone who has never met any Brits would say something like this. Brits have been complaining about the EU, often comically so, for many years. Before Sputnik, before RT, before Putin even. Britain has a world-infamous tabloid press that has been stoking anti-EU, anti-immigrant sentiment all this time. Seeing as how these publications are not state-financed and they’re still in business somehow, I’d say they have a much larger audience in the UK than RT or Sputnik.
“It was fake articles, sponsored by the Kremlin, that prompted the rise of radical groups throughout Europe by purposely brewing hatred towards immigrant communities.”
Oh really? Which ones, exactly? Last time I checked, far right parties have been a thing for decades. In fact, one could reasonably argue that far right groups and figures from Europe and America had an impact on Russia first, and then the Kremlin merely adopted their rhetoric for its own political purposes. If the entire Russian propaganda machine simply disappeared overnight, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment would still be just as much of a problem, and Western domestic media would be guilty of stoking it as well.
“During the 2016 election, Kremlin media targeted and exploited the grief felt by those on the fringes of the left as well, by shamelessly promoting Green party candidate Jill Stein as the only ethical choice. Although she did not win, Stein served her purpose by helping Russia achieve its aims. Her vote totals in the crucial states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan were all greater than Clinton’s margin of defeat, and arguably denied Clinton an Electoral College victory.”
Well that’s a bold claim. The author must present some serious evidence for it, right? Well no. All we get is this tweet:
Let’s see…What’s wrong with this picture?
- There’s no evidence these people would have voted for Hillary.
- They might have been swayed to Hillary if she had campaigned in their states.
- TST’s implication is that these people were somehow influenced to vote for Stein thanks to RT. No evidence is provided to support that.
“It is finally time for some reciprocity.”
Nah. I think it’s time for some GAME THEORY!
“The U.S. could launch a counter-propaganda campaign and hit the Kremlin where it hurts most by sowing dissent and distrust between Putin and his small but loyal oligarchy.”
Okay how is this supposed to work, exactly? Do we start a special news network that broadcasts fake stories claiming, for example, that Igor Sechin is complaining about Putin behind his back? Show your work.
“If successful, this initiative will mark the first centralized counter-propaganda push-back against the Russians since the 1990s.”
What counter-propaganda campaign was used in the 1990s? Maybe he means since the Cold War, which effectively ended in the 1990s? Who knows?
“Yet as grim at it might all seem, there is a silver lining to our new commander in chief . Before the Trump phenomenon, this ever-encroaching Russian propaganda was receiving nowhere close to the attention it deserved. In the US that meant none at all. The recent election of a suspected Kremlin puppet however, is bringing a new level of awareness to this issue. This is key because merely recognizing the networks used to peddle Russian falsehoods is half of the battle, and right now more Westerners understand that RT stands for Russia Today. And for that we thank you Mr. President.”
Russian propaganda received little attention in the United States because very few Americans actually consume it, at least directly. And much of what they do consume is simply rehashed material from the American political fringes. If we speak about propaganda undermining American values, the biggest threat comes from Fox News and AM talk radio. Freakin’ millennials think this is all novel.
“When I say we are fighting a war I don’t mean that as some sort of figure of speech. The threat is real and the stakes couldn’t be higher. And they should, as the eventual victor will decide which values are preserved, and whose ideology ends up on the wrong side of history.”
Russia’s ruling class doesn’t have an ideology, beyond boundless greed and sheer survival. Incidentally, boundless greed is the closest thing the United States has to an ideology these days. The US, as it is, will surely win this “New Cold War” for reasons that ought to be obvious to any honest observer, but the problem that led to this will still be there.
“The good news is that we’ve faced this same opponent before and won. The bad news is that we seemed much more united when we did so.”
Okay first no, we haven’t. The Soviet Union can’t be compared to Putin’s Russia. The differences are extreme. Second, what do you mean we were more united? Look I graduated from high school in 2000 so I understand a lot’s changed, but did they really stop teaching about the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-War movement, McCarthyism, the Counter-Culture movement, all of that stuff? There was a time when people with actual authority were going around accusing people of being Soviet agents; it wasn’t like now when the people doing that are just mental cases on Twitter.
If you think this is as bad as it gets, think again. This ride is far from over. In another article, the author laments the death of the “Tear Down This Wall Republican.” Yes, the problem with Republicans isn’t that they’ll gleefully try to deprive people of healthcare in order to shovel more money into the gaping maw of America’s richest- it’s that they don’t recognize Russian propaganda as the biggest threat to the United States. Seriously- they wrote that:
“It used to be that the pursuit of basic birthrights around the World was a pillar of U.S. foreign policy. And although a bipartisan issue, Republicans always seemed to champion an active role around the world more vocally that their democratic counterparts.”
Again how old is this guy? How could anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history even write that without irony? When did this used to be the case? When the CIA helped overthrow Allende to install the dictator Pinochet, or was it earlier, when the US was dropping more ordnance in the former Indochina than they did in the entire Second World War? It’s often said, and quite rightly so, that Russia’s current leadership views human rights as nothing but a cynical ploy for achieving geopolitical goals. They are not entirely correct, and they use this interpretation to justify horribly immoral actions, but it’s also painfully clear that they did not simply pluck this notion out of thin air.
Of course the author isn’t unaware of this either, but their understanding is rather limited, as this paragraph indicates:
“The big elephant in the room, of course, always being our relationship to Saudi Arabia. How can we, with a straight face, stress human rights while maintaining a close alliance with a literal authoritarian monarchy?”
These days Saudi Arabia probably is the biggest elephant in the room, but it’s not nearly the only one. Let’s just say the US once had enough elephants in the room to run its own circus. Also these days it’s important to understand just how immoral the US relationship with Saudi Arabia is. Taking into account what the Kingdom has been doing in Yemen, it is basically the equivalent to Russia’s relationship with Assad (no, it doesn’t cancel out Russia’s actions in Syria- they’re both wrong).
Then there’s this hyperbolic statement:
“I’ve said this before (yes even before the Trump phenomenon): Russian propaganda is the single biggest threat facing Western society today.
Not the Russian military. Not the political discourse in the USA. No. Our biggest threat is non-countered propaganda spewed by our enemies designed to seed doubt in our American institution, and career professionals, while simultaneously spreading false news.”
Um…No. No it is not the biggest threat. The biggest threat in America today is the fact that the entire federal government, along with many of the state governments, is controlled by a party that openly and almost enthusiastically declares that it is unconcerned with the suffering and potential death of millions of American citizens. It is the same party that engineered what may be the worst American foreign policy disaster of the 21st century, namely the invasion of Iraq, which has thus far been responsible for untold death and suffering far beyond the borders of that small country. This party, often with the collusion of their so-called opponents, has literally killed thousands of Americans via their policies. Excuse me if I find that just a tad more threatening than a foreign network whose most watched video is about a homeless guy who sings really well.
As further proof of ignorance, take a look at this next part:
“I don’t believe that the solution should be to censor RT, Sputnik, or any of the many channels peddling Putin’s garbage. The solution instead, should be to counter misinformation with facts.
The Baltic countries have been leading on this front:
In Lithuania a small army of bloggers of who’ve dubbed themselves “elves” — patrol social media, coordinating their actions through Facebook or Skype to expose fake accounts.
Latvia, intends to launch independent quality media in Russian, which could include a Russian-language TV channel to counter Kremlin propaganda.”
Okay in another article he said that the US should “retaliate” by creating a network that would sow dissent among Putin’s ruling class. I’d imagine that somewhere in that operation you’d have to lie, simply because the people behind such a network would not be privy to the internal dialog within the Kremlin and Russia’s elite. But never mind that- why is he saying that the Baltic countries took the lead in this effort without ever once mentioning Ukraine’s StopFake, which has been all over the media in the past few months?
Bear with me, but I’m going to quote from one more piece on the site to complete our sampler for today.
In a piece which carries the bizarre headline Projecting The Russian Federation’s Soft-Power Abroad Via Its Visa Program, we learn some interesting things about the author and their possible motivations. First, the author is basically implying that Russia’s “visa program” is somehow an incarnation of Russian soft power. “Russia’s visa program,” is the visa regime it maintains for foreigners- other countries decide their own policies when it comes to admitting Russian citizens. This cannot be considered a form of Russian soft power. You could argue that Russia maintaining a visa free regime for former Soviet nationalities like Ukrainians is a form of soft power, but in reality that has far more to do with economics and cheap labor. But let’s get to the red flags in this piece:
“If you’re a citizen of the Russian Federation and want to jaunt off anywhere across the globe, it’s common knowledge that many popular and regularly visited places you choose as your destination will require you to obtain a visa. Annoying, time-consuming, and on a broader state level, a political game of chess. It’s a way to irritate the folks over at The Kremlin and to tell Vladimir Putin that he’s not so welcome in their backyard, and if he really wants his citizenry to travel there, they have to shoulder this bit of extra burden.”
This is exactly what Putin wants. For one thing, several million Russians are already banned from traveling abroad for security reasons. Second, when conditions in Russia did improve during the 2000’s and thousands of Russians went abroad, what happened? They saw how much more modern and functional the West was in comparison to Russia, and then they started protesting. Putin no doubt wishes he could be dealing with the Soviet population, little of which had ever visited the West and thus could not make comparisons. Anything that makes it harder for Russians to travel to Europe or the United States would be a gain for Putin.
But the article gets even more bizarre because in the next paragraph you can’t even tell who the author is talking to. Are they making recommendations to the West or to Putin?
“So what better way to stick a thumb in the eye of the United States, NATO members and others, while at the same time exercising a projection of Russian power on a global scale? Slap these countries with visa requirements of their own and one-up them by making the process as onerous as possible, requiring sponsorship from an organization inside the Russian Federation, strict limits on the days one can remain traveling, and also adding transit visas to the mix to make it even more burdensome. Even meeting this exceedingly strict series of measures will not guarantee an automatic approval and more often than not, those applying are denied and must start the process all over again, meaning more money, time, and resources wasted.”
Russia has strict visa rules, but they’re by no means the worst. Keep in mind there are countries where American citizens, or in some cases anyone, must book a guided tour just to visit. It is, as I’m told, rather easy for an American to get a visa to Iran, for example, but you won’t just be able to wander around as you please. Also, these rules have been in place for quite some time, yet the author acts like they were implemented as some kind of “soft power” by Putin. If that’s the case, it would suit Putin to relax visa laws so as to bring in more tourists and potentially, useful idiots. And indeed, the Russian government has relaxed visa laws over the years. They have done it for special events like the UEFA Championship, and they signed an agreement with the United States which allows US citizens to get a three year multi-exit tourist visa.
Confused yet? Read on:
“Following the splintering of the USSR back in 1991, Russia wasted no time in crafting together a bulwark to NATO in its own backyard with the creation of the CIS, or Commonwealth of Independent States. This association is comprised of countries that were once part of the Soviet Union; I like to think of this group as a “mini Warsaw Pact”. These countries also enjoy visa free entry into the Russian Federation and this along with the very existence of the CIS further serves to poke a stick in NATO’s direction.”
The CIS was not a “mini Warsaw Pact” and countries joined and left freely of their own accord. It does involve visa free travel and free trade agreements but how is this “poking a stick in NATO’s direction?” Please, explain the threat that is posed to NATO when Russia allows Uzbek citizens free travel into their country.
This is where the author really loses the plot, and goes off the rails with a personal anecdote:
“From experience, this author has seen first-hand just how exhausting it can be to enter Russia if you don’t enjoy the benefit of being a citizen of any of the aforementioned countries. While on a trip throughout Scandinavia back in the summer of 2012, I entered Russia by way of Finland, utilizing my Nicaraguan passport in order to avoid the migraine that obtaining an entry visa would have entailed; and even then, things did not go smoothly. If you’ve ever seen a movie featuring a gulag, or Siberia full of pine trees, with the occasional outpost filled with barbed wire fence and Russian security forces walking around with attack dogs, then you’re picturing the VERY remote border crossing between Finland and Russia that I encountered. The hour spent there seemed like the very definition of eternity, with confused and clearly untrained officials looking at my passport every which way while sounding out “N-i-c-a-r-a-g-u-aaaaaaaaa?” in a mix of bemusement and disbelief. To play devil’s advocate, I’m sure that these Russians stationed in the most remote of outposts had probably never heard or even known the existence of a Central American country located thousands of miles away. After being peppered with endless questions about why I wanted to enter Russia, what my business and purpose(s) for doing so were – all while having uniformed KGB-like officers with trained attack dogs at their side looming over me – I was coldly told “Da”, “Yes”, and allowed to enter.”
Notice how the author claims to have entered via a remote border post. How many Westerners (discounting Finns, who might have business on the other side of the border) do you think they encounter out there? When you go to a remote border post like that, expect to be asked questions. Also, while the border guards are certainly aware of the existence of Nicaragua, I doubt they were aware of the fact that Nicaraguan citizens do not require visas for entry to Russia (up to 90 days). Random border guards don’t have a database in their head detailing the visa policies for every nationality on the planet- they often have to look them up.
Also I don’t see on what grounds the officers were “KGB-like.” Was that simply because they were Russian? They had attack dogs? Again- you’re at a remote border post. Dogs are used to patrol the borders, and certainly not only in Russia. Need I remind you that the President of the United States campaigned on building a giant wall?
“Talk about a first impression entering the Russian Federation, and this while holding a passport of a place where both countries enjoy very warm relations. Had I dared use my US passport, I’d be spending my remaining days in some even more remote part of Siberia.”
No, you would have been refused entry for not having a visa- it’s that simple. Just last year an American tried to enter Russia via Kazakhstan without a visa. He was in a car and was turned around at the border. He then tried to drive around the border post and was, naturally, caught. So was he packed off to Siberia? No- he was fined about $107 and then flown to New York at the Russian government’s expense.
If the author had used his American passport and had a visa to Russia, he probably would have gotten through the border crossing more easily.
Moral of the story is really simple here, folks- get a visa before entering Russia, and if you don’t want undue hassle just enter at an airport instead of trekking across the wilderness to some remote border post.
Also, the author might want to consider the US’ requirements for Nicaraguan citizens (who are not fortunate enough to also have US citizenship) to enter the country.
With all that out of the way, I think it’s time for a general evaluation. First, on the page’s “about” section it says that the site’s sole purpose is defending Western values. Yet I only had to scroll down to the bottom of the second page to see an article about Harambe the gorilla. Not terribly disturbing but a possible clue that the site was originally launched as some kind of blog project and then maybe was refashioned as an “anti-propaganda” effort later. Later, as in when it started to look like one could profit off of this Russian propaganda bandwagon.
Next I found this article by one of the site’s co-founders, Mauro, who is apparently an “International Relations, Political Science & Tech/gadget guy.” In it, the author compares America to…*drumroll* the Roman Empire! Congratulations- this is one of the laziest attempts at a political analogy the world has produced, and I’m already wondering how much Mauro spent on a degree in International Relations and Political Science to produce something that a bookish high school senior could have written. The problem with Roman collapse analogies is that they often peddled by people who don’t properly understand why the Roman Empire collapsed (HINT: It’s really complicated), who then go on to creatively interpret modern American history until the United States is suddenly threatened by the same one factor that just happened to be Rome’s downfall.
Look, I’m not trying to be a dick to these two guys, but looking at their bios I don’t see any evidence that either of them have any special insight into Russia, nor do they seem to speak the language. The lack of historical knowledge (American, Russian, Saudi, Cold War, etc.) is incredibly conspicuous. None of this makes them bad people, but it certainly disqualifies them from being taken seriously in regards to Russia and it especially disqualifies them from taking on Russian propaganda. The truth is that Putin’s fanboys just love amateurish efforts like this, and they’ll pick this low-hanging fruit clean and then claim that it’s representative of “Western journalism” about Russia.
There is an unspoken rule among some people that discourages policing people “on our side,” with “our side” being the “anti-Kremlin” one. I’m sorry but I don’t play that game and I never will. For me the struggle against the Kremlin regime is a struggle against reactionary fascism, a struggle for the independence of Ukraine and for the future of the peoples of Russia. It is also a struggle against what I see as a by-product of a global capitalist mode of production which consistently ignores human rights in favor of private profit, and which cannot but do otherwise. So-called “counter-propaganda” which is poorly produced or which advances bad politics is not helpful in this struggle; on the contrary it is often more harmful than anything the Kremlin’s propaganda masters could cook up.
But hey what do I know? I’m sure these fine lads are just days away from getting a massive grant from the State Department or cushy jobs with some major think tank. On both sides, the system loves team players.