Tag Archives: Sputnik

Yup, they mad: Russian foreign language media can’t take the heat

RT has been feeling the heat as of late, from critics in the West to Russians fed up with seeing so much of their state’s wealth pissed away on propaganda aimed at foreigners. The response to these critics has come largely in the form of anonymous hit pieces on RT’s website, as well as from RT chief Margarita Simonyan herself on her Livejournal account.

I’ve read plenty of these responses and they’re typically filled with bizarre logic, unsubstantiated claims, and insinuations about the motives of their critics. Personally I’ve found RT’s reactions to be rather amusing because they present a paradox- RT is supposed to be so successful, yet it has to constantly run articles about how popular it is, while its staff, including senior people and even the network’s own chief apparently spend considerable time attacking critics.

Imagine, if you will, that this entire blog was about how much CNN sucks. I highly doubt anyone from CNN would post a special op-ed on their website attempting to refute my claims. I’m quite certain the head of the network wouldn’t bother. I’m damned sure they wouldn’t attempt to smear me as some kind of paid agent, perhaps working for MSNBC. Naturally this is quite laughable, because big successful networks, even those which suck like CNN, don’t feel the need to defend themselves against such criticism.

Now lately I’ve been thinking of making a rule, more accurately a hierarchy, which describes the quality of Russian foreign language media. It goes RT>Sputnik>Russia Insider. And now days, if RT does something stupid, Sputnik’s going to lower the bar considerably. And that’s exactly what they did in this article.

In case you hadn’t heard, or in case you just don’t use Twitter, there was a parody account based on Sputnik that became famous for being near-indistinguishable from the real thing. If you want to see how indistinguishable, try your hand at this quiz. Recently the parody account was shut down for violating certain regulations in Twitter’s Terms of Service agreement, but it was quickly resurrected under a different name.

So what did the real Sputnik do? Well Sputnik is just so successful and widespread that they just had to dedicate an entire article to the parody account, claiming that it is proof of Sputnik’s popularity. This was a real genius move, as it duly informed otherwise unaware readers that there was a parody account. That in turn begs the question as to why there is a parody account in the first place. But that parody account was shut down and the article mentions this, right? Yeah, and it also mentions that it was restored. Just look at this:

“In what could be testament to the growing popularity of this website, Sputnik nevertheless attracted not one, but several parody accounts.
Unfortunately for the people running it, the account violated Twitter’s impersonation guidelines and was deleted, although a new one soon popped up.”

Hmmm…Your serious news site has, according to you, several parody accounts, one of which was so similar it was taken down for “impersonation.” So yeah, that could be a testament to the growing popularity of your website. But it could also be that your content is so redonkulously batshit insane that numerous individuals derive great entertainment out of satirizing it. Again, it begs the question as to why this site has so many parody accounts and why are they often difficult to distinguish from the real thing?

It gets even better though. Sputnicians vow to get to the bottom of this:

“Out of genuine curiosity, we here at Sputnik decided to carry out one of those “open source investigations” employing “digital forensics” to find out, with varying degrees of certainty, who is behind the account.”

Yes, the super popular serious news site conducted an “open source investigation” into the people behind these parody accounts. In other words, they’re doing the same thing they claim is utter bullshit when Bellingcat does it. But then again, they’re not really using the methodology of Bellingcat, which becomes apparent when you see the results they came up with.

“The preliminary results turned out to be pretty uninteresting: an American expatriate in Kiev, who also has some sort of vendetta against Russia’s president; a Finnish systems administrator, who has too much free time at the community college where he is employed; a Russian blogger, who in the recent past was involved in the killing and dismemberment of cats.”

An American expat in Kyiv with a “vendetta against Russia’s president.” I don’t know who this could be, but leave it to Sputnik to call criticism of their glorious leader a “some sort of vendetta.”

Next there’s the systems administrator who “has too much free time on his hands.” First of all, he’s a systems administrator, so the fact that he has time to tweet stuff from work shouldn’t be too surprising. Also it’s a little rich accusing him of having too much free time when these people are claiming they did an actual investigation into the people behind a Twitter account. Maybe they ought to be sending out some people to run down the story behind that hand grenade attack (originally thought to be an IED) at a bus stop on Pokrovka last night.

Lastly I don’t know about the cat-killing Russian blogger, but since no names are given for anyone and only the slightest details appear, we can’t really trust that bizarre claim. If the guy actually killed and dismembered cats I’ll be the first to condemn him, but as it is this just isn’t convincing.

And so those are the results of their big investigation. The article ends with the typical RT-style gloating and obliviousness to irony.

“It may seem like a worthwhile pursuit for three strangers, bored on the Internet, to entertain pundits, in essence becoming a second-rate version of them. Let’s hope that they learn the rules on trademarks and impersonation, or at least gain aspirations to go beyond small-time Internet fame.”

Once again, Sputnik is so successful, unlike these dorks with too much free time on their hands, that it must do an investigation, write and copy edit an article, all in order to not really expose three people who might be behind a Twitter parody account. Not website mind you, Twitter account.

This is all pretty funny because unlike RT, Sputnik doesn’t really have as much reason to panic and defend itself with bizarre polemics and hit pieces. RT has suffered budget cuts and scrutiny over its performance and expenditures. Sputnik on the other hand received an increase in funds. Sputnik is far cheaper than RT as well. Dumping RT entirely would save the Russian government massive amounts of money, and Sputnik would be more or less just as effective. RT’s responses to critics are stupid and often inaccurate, but it’s logical as to why they engage in these tactics. They are indeed exaggerating their popularity and they require a massive budget. What is more, RT’s responses aren’t aimed at parodies but rather serious pundits, analysts, and journalists. The information war narrative remains intact.

Parody is another matter however. The fact that Sputnik found this matter so important as to write an article about it, risking the inevitable discovery of its parody accounts, is because parody and satire are extremely effective. Before I explain why, let’s look at what isn’t effective.

Remember how we heard about the “weaponization of information” and how the EU countries needed countermeasures? There were numerous conferences, meetings, and lectures on this topic. The EU’s solution was to create a sort of “mythbusters” outlet that would debunk Russian propaganda sources. Now this thing actually exists, and here’s what it looks like. Wow.

I found some interesting resources in this and previous releases, but that’s me, a writer, long-term resident in Russia, in short, someone who deals with this kind of crap on a near-daily basis. If you’re a layperson or new to the game, it seems this wouldn’t be very informative. And if this is supposed to convince Russians living in Baltic countries as one of the stated goals was, forget about it. Comments like “No evidence for these allegations given” aren’t going to convince any of them.

The infuriating thing is that this project must cost money, and I shudder to think how much was spent on it. Compare these reports to Stopfake, which survives off grants and consists of about a dozen or so people. Which would you rather read? Which is going to give you more context and background? Stopfake shows what self-organizing people can do on their own initiative.

Just as Stopfake is more effective than dry, state produced reports and documents, parody is effective because it totally deflates the Russian propaganda machine, any propaganda machine really. Already some Russian foreign language media outlets have hurled themselves across the line into self-parody. Russia Insider, for example, did it with this gem about Putin’s Christ like qualities.  RT did it by publishing articles from that very same author, as well as whatever the hell this is supposed to be. Sputnik’s people must have been rightly scared at the idea that their brand was becoming indistinguishable from a parody account. What if someone more educated on Russian propaganda and the Kremlin’s political ideology were to create another parody? What if dozens of such people did?

RT, Sputnik, and the rest are very effective at attracting disaffected Westerners who don’t know much about Russia, its system, or its media. Russia’s propaganda machine paints itself as a voice of truth, a revolutionary voice against Western hegemony. Yet this image is as shallow as a teenager wearing a Che shirt and having no idea who he is. What is more, these people might have their convictions, but when they see that the Russian outlets are all followed by clusters of parody Twitter accounts or websites they’re going to start wondering how trustworthy these sources are. People don’t want to look stupid and thus they’ll be less inclined to associate with sources whose content is routinely mocked.

Panicky speeches about the “weaponization of information” and “information war” in conjunction with “hybrid warfare” only help people behind the Kremlin’s media. If they can show Western academics and leaders in hysterics over the information war, this not only confirms that the information war is a real, objective fact, and that the Russian efforts in information warfare are effective and thus worthy of their inflated budgets. On the other hand, if the Kremlin wants to see results and those results are laughter and mockery, the higher ups might be more than happy to pull the plug on an expensive budget item. Domestic propaganda in Russia is crucial, but foreign language propaganda is expendable.

So don’t panic. Point and laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Classic Bullshit

Ready to see a thorough examination of one of the Kremlin media’s favorite bullshit tactics, along with a perfect example of how the “anti-fascist” Russian media outlets promote xenophobia and racism? Look no further than this hilariously bad article on, you guessed it, Sputnik, entitled “Refugee Influx May Force European Exodus to Siberia.”

First let’s start with the title. “Refugee influx may force European exodus to Siberia” is like saying “An asteroid may hit the Earth.” Actually the probability of the latter is slightly higher. Lots of media outlets can be weasel-ish with modal verbs like may, but this is insane. As you will soon see, this is the equivalent of hearing a homeless guy at the bus stop tell you the Illuminati is beaming messages into his head, and then publishing a story with the headline “World may be controlled by Illuminati via Thought Manipulation.”

So what is Sputnik’s source on this shocking info? Well it turns out to be “the Polish media.” Well, okay, not all of the Polish media. In fact it turns out to be a “Polish news website” called Obserwator Polityczny (Political Observer). Looking at the website, it is a bit spartan, with very little in the way of contact info and it seems like all its articles are written by one author, who writes under the rather curious pseudonym “Krakauer.” Googling the name of the publication brings up numerous Russian site, many of them state run outlets.

As for the slant of the site, my Polish isn’t great but some articles had been translated into Russian (rather odd for a Polish news site), and there is the content cited by Sputnik, which is very telling. Essentially, the site appear to be right-wing, anti-EU and anti-immigrant. Poland has a reputation for right wing politics, but there’s something else about this site that makes it stick out like a sore thumb compared to traditional Polish right-wing politics. It’s not simply that it’s pro-Russian; there are at least some right-wing Poles which have taken the side of Russia in some matters, contrary to the typical tendency. But this is another matter entirely.

There are many Eastern European right-wingers who have genuinely Russophobic beliefs, but I’m guessing if you asked them why they side with Russia they’ll give you a sort of “good fences make good neighbors explanation,” i.e. “Our enemy is in Brussels, and if we can take advantage of Russia to aid us in that struggle, so much the better, so long as they don’t interfere in our affairs.” This is why so much of the European right, in spite of its rabid anti-Communism and anti-leftism, sided with the self-proclaimed “anti-fascist” Russia against Ukraine’s openly anti-Communist right wing parties like Svoboda and Praviy Sektor. The latter were associated with a movement that was painted by both sides as a pro-European Union coup or revolution. What is more, it was Ukrainian land at risk, not Hungarian, Greek, or Bulgarian. What you don’t generally hear any of these right-wingers clamoring for, however, is a straight up Russian invasion like in the Crimea. Seriously, let’s unpack this Hitlertastic article:

The huge influx of migrants into Europe might one day force the Europeans to flee their own land, seeking for shelter. The Polish media even suggests they could find refuge in Russia’s Siberia; many already see it as “durable and stable” and secretly wish the “polite people in green uniforms would one day ensure their stability”.

As I alluded to before, “The Polish media” doesn’t suggest shit. A shady website in Russian and Polish made this suggestion. This is also one of the most idiotic ideas ever, quite obviously revealing the Russian nationality of the author. Note the use of the word “stable” to describe Siberia and by extension Russia. “Stability” is a lynch pin of the Russian elite’s narrative. Don’t rock the boat! You’ll lose your stability and fall into chaos! The irony of course is that Russians don’t get stability. Virtually nothing is stable in Russia. Developed Western countries are far more stable in virtually every measurable way, to the point of being downright boring.

Another tell-tale vatnik sign is the fantasy that Europeans secretly wish that Russian “polite people,” i.e. soldiers like those who invaded the Crimea, would some in and bring them that precious “stability.” This “Polish” publication doesn’t give us any quotes, surveys, or examples to back this up. It flat out claims that Europeans “secretly” wish this without explaining how they divined such information.

Having found themselves in the middle of the migrant chaos, many Europeans may one day wish to simply run away from the problem, suggests the Polish news website Obserwator Polityczny.

Once again we see tell-tale signs of vatnost. First there’s the typical xenophobia of the Russian media about immigrants in Europe. More importantly, there’s that word “chaos.” Chaos is juxtaposed to Russian “stability.” In Russia’s domestic media, the world is portrayed as this horribly chaotic mess, while Russia has stability. Well, except for the rising prices, the falling ruble, the falling airplanes, the crumbling roads, banks getting their licenses yanked right and left, massive holes in the budget, foreign policy snap-decisions with terrible consequences, budget cuts, plant closures, riots, acts of terrorism, censorship, etc. And it’s worth pointing out that Russian media, including domestic media, doesn’t necessarily deny the existence of any of those things. Instead what they do is threaten the population with CHAOS! lest they think about actually doing something about those problems, or more specifically, lest they come to the conclusion that Putin’s peculiar system is responsible for their woes, as opposed to the West.

The horror show must go on:

“With the deepening collapse of the West, every year Russia will become the only durable and stable country in an unstable environment,” the website states.”

With all the problems of austerity and the economic crisis in the West, Western standards of living and economic indicators are far above those of Russia, and many of Russia’s economic woes aren’t tied to the sanctions either. And since we’re talking about the West, that includes countries like the United States. So how badly is the US crumbling? Oh…Right…Shit.

Again we have yet another very Russian meme. To be sure, this thing has been trumpeted by all sorts of people, including many uninformed Americans, but regardless of who’s saying it, the bottom line is this- Even if the West were collapsing, it’s doing far better than Russia, and there is nothing, literally nothing, to indicate that Russia is somehow going to rapidly reverse this situation. For comparison, let us look at the example of Soviet industrialization. The Russian empire collapsed, civil war and insurgency raged for years after the fact, and the territory was devastated by famine and disease. One might look at the Soviet success in industrialization while the rest of the capitalist world suffered from the Depression and claim that this is proof that Russia could surprise us today. Sorry but that’s bullshit. The USSR had something up its sleeve that made that possible, a foundation in their centralized planned economy plus revolutionary zeal. Modern day Russia has neither of these things. It has a tiny elite made up of thieving hypocrites who are scared shitless of being held accountable for the crimes against their own citizens.

Lastly on this point, I just need to remind the reader that the collapse of the West, particularly the United States, would be economically devastating for Russia. In any case, if there is some inevitable global crisis that drags the developed world to its death, Russia will most likely perish some time before that moment.

Also, do I even need to point out how there’s a reason all these refugees are flooding toward “crumbling” Europe as opposed to rising Russia and its BFF’s China and India? Weird how they flock to the decaying West and not the BRICS alternative, huh?

“Even today, many people from countries ruled by soft-gender politicians, which are unable to cope with the relatively trivial problem of illegal immigration, look to Russia with admiration and hope.”

“Soft-gender” politicians? Does that mean short politicians with bizarre complexes who stage photo sessions of themselves working out with a male friend and drinking tea with them afterwards? Also if illegal immigration is such a trivial problem, why is it going to lead to an apocalypse that threatens to drive Europeans en masse into Siberia? And who are these Europeans who look to Russia with admiration and hope? Where are the surveys? Quotes? This is even worse than Fox News’ infamous “some people say.”

I might also ask as to who believes Russia has solved the problem of illegal immigration. Illegal immigration in Russia is still a massive problem, exacerbated by corruption. The only thing that has led to a decrease in illegal immigration is the economic downturn, which has convinced some migrants to go elsewhere.

The website is sure that Russian politicians will “not leave their residents and hide under the desk, waiting until circumstances change so that they can go to the cameras again and lie”.

The “website” is sure of that? Than “the website” is a fucking moron. Russian politicians lie constantly. While they aren’t necessarily hiding under any desks, they are typically hiding in New York, London, the South of France, on yachts, in palaces, etc.

It also states that the Russian model of state organization has proved to be “more effective, more efficient and, basically, fully resistant to interference”.

Yeah, I know this is basically bullshit boilerplate, but I have to point out that not only is this laughably false, but the Russian government itself clearly doesn’t believe the last point. It spends tons of money and resources chasing the shadows of the next “Maidan” or “color revolution” within its borders. By contrast, the rapidly “collapsing” US doesn’t give a shit if you want to go on Youtube and talk about “prepping” for the day you have to fight the federal government, holding your tricked out AR-15 and wearing a military-quality tactical chest rig. Who’s more stable again?

The Russians, it elaborates, can sleep peacefully in their beds all the way from Kaliningrad (Russia’s westernmost city) to Magadan (Russia’s easternmost large city on the Pacific), because they are confident that “whoever comes to them with a sword, will perish by the sword”.

Again, more evidence that a Russian originally wrote this, or at least dictated it to some isolated Polish toady. First of all, people in stable nations don’t stay up at night worrying about military invasions. If any significant number of Russian citizens actually fear a Barbarossa-like invasion, it speaks volumes about their critical thinking skills. Or at least it would if we didn’t already know who is responsible for planting this meme- the Russian media.

While all those Russian people may be safe from the threat of invasion, seeing as how nobody plans to invade Russia, rest assured many are losing sleep thanks to layoffs, rising prices, and constantly being told that they’re going to suffer at the hands of a NATO invasion, civil war, terrorism, gays, etc. Meanwhile, how many Germans or French people are seriously questioning whether or not they might be conquered by a foreign invader?

And all the above, it adds, is despite the country having given refuge to millions of people who have fled the war-torn Donbass region into Russia and despite the anti-Russian sanctions.

Sorry but Russia has not given refuge to “millions” of people. The highest estimate is somewhere around 800,000 people. Other estimates say that about 1.5 million people were displaced, with roughly half going to Ukrainian government controlled territory and the other half going to Russia. In any case, rather than taking refuge in Siberia, they have been deliberately resettled in those areas, and as you might expect from a country that treats its own citizens like shit, being a Ukrainian refugee in Russia is no picnic. See when vatniks want to justify arming a rebellion and invading, it’s for the sake of poor, persecuted Russian-speakers, residents of the Russkiy Mir. But when they show up asking for help, they’re suddenly Ukrainians again, and the Russian attitude to them is about as hospitable as it is towards Arab refugees.

Now are you ready to get a heaping helping of Russian anti-fascism?

The migrants who keep coming in from the Middle East and Africa, the website says, are not respecting their laws and customs and even at night behave in a way which most people perceive as a threat.

Xenophobic much? Now you can claim that maybe this was indeed written by a right wing Pole, but why then does Sputnik not call out this racism and xenophobia? After all, isn’t Russia gravely concerned about the rise of Nazism in Europe? Oh wait, that’s right, fascism is fine so long as the fascists don’t call themselves Nazis and openly praise Hitler. That and they support Russian foreign policy goals.

Once again we have a funny contradiction though. In Russia, this should fit under the definition of “extremism,” specifically inciting hatred against other religions or ethnic groups. But when the message is useful for Russian propaganda purposes, it’s just fine.

One interesting thing about this is the selectivity of Russian censorship. For example, if a genuine Russian racist complains online about the “flood” of Tajik, Uzbek, and other Central Asian immigrants, legal or otherwise, they will generally be untouched so long as they don’t also engage in anti-regime politics. He could even spread antisemitism too, for example, by making allegations that Ukraine’s leadership have secret Jewish heritage. Of course this can’t be accompanied by swastikas and praise of Hitler, but it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about Ukraine being run by gay, liberal, Jewish Nazis.
In Hungary, for example, a peaceful night’s rest has become a long-forgotten memory. Residents have taken control of their neighborhoods, patrolling villages and small towns, because the Hungarian government is apparently afraid to intervene, for fear of the derision of the European press and accusations of fascism.

Hmmm… A Polish website says that about Hungary? What’s their source? What residents? The only source I found on this subject was this article on the Hungarian far right, specifically the Jobbik party and some more radical groups. It’s worth noting that the Jobbik party and Viktor Orban are both friendly to the Kremlin and its ideological think tanks and organizations, this in spite of the rabidly anti-Communist ideology which clashes against Russia’s recent monopolization of WWII’s victory over fascism. Hungarian far-right nationalists have also formed a unit in the “armed forces of Novorossiya” in the Donbas.

Lastly, make a separate note that the government, in spite of being considered quite illiberal, is supposedly afraid to “intervene” because of accusations of fascism. This is a common right wing meme- the idea that the evil leftist establishment will use the fascist label to cow any dissent. If ever there was a justified accusation of fascism, it would be that leveled against far-right nationalist militias forming gangs and using violence against people based on their ethnicity.

Again, the Sputnik authors do nothing to criticize this. After all, Russia’s government and media, including Sputnik, seem quite happy to lob accusations of fascism at everyone under the sun, including people who were historically persecuted by fascists. Is the Russian media not disturbed at this xenophobia and racism, in a former Axis country that participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union, no less?

“There are fewer countries in the world where you can lie down to sleep in peace, without fear that a stranger will come to your home at night and cause you harm.”

Take a look at Russian crime statistics some time, not that they’re particularly reliable.

A year ago, the newswire says, ordinary Europeans couldn’t have been foreseen that today they might appreciate being in Crimea’s shoes, and readily greet the appearance of “polite people in green uniforms ensuring stability, peace and security.”

Aaaaand…Where’s the evidence that they appreciate this now? Where’s the clamor to be invaded by Russian soldiers, who incidentally, don’t ensure peace or that precious stability that makes Russians’ mouths water?
The above comes in reference to the term “polite people”, which was used to describe the Russian troops who anonymously maintained order during the unification of the Crimea peninsula with Russia in 2014.

I’m only including this line because of the part about “anonymously maintained order.” They say that because as we all remember, cowardly little Putin initially denied his troops were in the Crimea at all, then later admitted it. Now it’s called “anonymously maintaining order.” In reality, they created disorder in the first place.

But then another question pops up: where will Europe get these peacekeepers from?

Sure, that question just pops up, if you’re a drooling moron. Europe doesn’t need peacekeepers, in the same way the Crimea didn’t need peacekeepers after 22 February 2014. If America had pulled something like this in say, Galicia, Kremlin media would be shitting bricks of rage.

Get ready for some real hilarity now:
In Poland, the website says, most professional soldiers are only on duty until 3:00 p.m. Then, it explains, they put on their civilian clothes and go home, like ordinary workers.

What’s the point of this, you ask? Read on…

It is no different anywhere else in in Europe. Western countries have their armies, which already do not have tanks, because they are too expensive, and during training they have to save on ammunition.

Are you getting this? This is clearly Russian vatnik fap material. LOOK AT OUR TANKS! OUR POWERFUL ARMY! Note that they don’t mention which Western countries don’t have tanks due their expense. If anything Western countries, including major powers like the US and basketcases like Greece, have too many tanks. Modern war planners are deliberately phasing out tanks because they simply aren’t effective anymore. US military brass have actually asked Congress to stop buying tanks, as they have far more than they can even possibly use or store.

As for ammunition during training- I know from talking with actual Russian army veterans that people who aren’t infantry or combat arms fire about five rounds from a Kalashnikov. By contrast, your average American army recruit will fire several thousand rounds in the three weeks of Basic Rifle Marksmanship in basic training, regardless of their MOS.  They are then required to re-qualify with their duty weapon every six months. Marine rifle marksmanship is even more thorough.

What the authors missed was the fact that like the US, many Western countries have professional armies. That means people volunteer willingly. This is contrasted with the Russian army, which is still largely conscript based and filled with young men who serve only one year. In that time they still face all kinds of abuse and corruption and make something around 2000 rubles a month.

And this might be a cheap shot, but there were some other guys who reviled professional armies as “mercenaries,” writing in their political program: “We demand abolition of the mercenary troops and formation of a national army.” They called themselves “National Socialists.”

Finally we go out on this note:

“The Russians have television, and have Internet access to see what’s going on in Europe”, it states.

They have Russian television, which tells them Europe is full of Arab terrorists (who are actually agents of the CIA) and gay rapists, all of which is just fine because it serves the regime’s narrative. As for internet access, far fewer people have it in Russia than in Western countries. Hmmm…How odd for a country that’s supposedly so much better off than the West.  And of course, the state is constantly working to censor and block the internet more and more, as it is a threat to the elite and Putin himself.

So there you have it, an obscure, suspiciously Russian-sounding site becomes “the Polish media” according to Sputnik, it makes bizarre claims without any evidence, to the point of pontificating about what Europeans “secretly” desire (if we go by Russian TV, the answer would be “more dick”).

This is a classic tactic for Russian propaganda. Cite some random blog or bare-bones news portal and call it “the Western media” or “Western sources.” One common tactic is to cite Global Research in this manner, when those doing the writing know fully well that this conspiracy site is run by 100% pro-Kremlin people. It’s basically a variation on the tactic whereby random bloggers or Youtube users are given titles like “political analyst” by RT.

The other takeaway from this lesson in bullshit is the hypocrisy of the Kremlin’s propaganda. They’re happy to scream: “WHAT ABOUT IRAQ, LIBYA, AFGHANISTAN, SYRIA?!” And yet at the same time, they spread xenophobic propaganda about how immigrants, some from those very same countries, are going to destroy Europe. On that note, the article is obvious race baiting, and as there is no criticism or acknowledgement of this fact, we must conclude that the tone is approving. I’m putting that out there for anyone who considers themselves and anti-racist or progressive leftist, yet still takes Russian media seriously. Remember, this isn’t a private corporation like Fox News. This is state run. What does it say about this crusader for “anti-fascism” when they regurgitate and in some cases, produce right wing, even fascist propaganda?*

Overall, the problem with Sputnik is that it’s a sign that as Russia decided to wage information war in 2013, the quality of its propaganda has gone down considerably, as its foreign language propaganda begins to resemble its domestic propaganda. This is one reason why their information war has, in the course of roughly two years, been nothing but a spectacular failure. Had they cared about truth and quality, they could have built a reputable foreign language media machine that really would become an alternative to the “Western media,” which does indeed have its biases. But in the rigid, top-down system of the Kremlin, objectivity, standards, and self-criticism are seen as disloyalty or defeatism. Thus quality takes a back seat to the message, and the message is diluted by the idiotic strategy of confusion.

*Here is a rather excellent article I read recently on the topic of contradictions in Kremlin propaganda and soft power.

UPDATE: Russian journalist Alexei Kovalev has investigated the Polish site in question and it is openly connected to the Russkiy Mir foundation, e.g. a Russian government think tank. The site’s traffic appears to come virtually exclusively from Russian media sources. Sorry but the link is only in Russian.

RT wasn’t enough!

Apparently Russia has just unveiled its latest pipeline of bullshit to the English-speaking world, known as Sputnik. I am still terribly confused as to why the government has so significantly increased its budget for foreign propaganda. Domestic propaganda at least makes sense, but the foreign service is basically money down the toilet. One by one, each major Russian news organization, from RT to Voice of Russia has basically abandoned any pretense of journalism. RT defends itself by claiming that it presents an “alternative viewpoint,” but in reality they don’t so much present an alternative but instead apply a shotgun approach. A myriad of disjointed and incoherent claims are launched at the audience, and the final conclusion is always that we can’t really know anything.

Miriam Elder at Buzzfeed covered the launch of the new service, which was presented by the always credibly Dmitriy Kiselyev. Kiselyev summoned all of his mental capacity so as to momentarily stop thinking about dicks just long enough to get through his presentation, in which The Moscow Times quotes him as saying,

“We are against the aggressive propaganda that everybody is fed with and that imposes a unipolar model of the world,…”  “We will say what others are silent about. The world is tired of one country thinking of itself as exceptional.”

If you’re new to this topic let me decode Kiselyev’s jargon for you. The Kremlin and Russian intelligentsia is full of these “geopolitical experts.” Geopolitical experts in Russia are very much akin to what you would get if you could somehow mix the game Risk with Dungeons & Dragons. In other words, they like to stare at maps, invent strategies, and this all takes place in a fantasy world. When they refer to the term unipolar, they are talking about a commonly known idea, namely that after the Cold War the US emerged as the only superpower, i.e. pole.  That view by itself isn’t terribly controversial, but in the 21st century it’s certainly debatable. More importantly, Kiselyev is referring to media here, not military or economic power. In that sense, the world has been multipolar for quite some time.  Qatar is a tiny country, yet Al Jazeera in the early 2000’s presented what many considered to be a powerful alternative to the American media. Even the BBC presents a radically different viewpoint from American domestic media, at least.

Of course none of that matters because Qatar and the United Kingdom are not Russia, and this is where the geopolitical fantasy comes in. In the minds of these deeply paranoid people, only Russia can be the other pole in a multipolar world. Sure, they talk about various geopolitical alliances and what-not, but they expect Russia to lead just like the Soviet Union.  This sadly betrays how little they understood the nation many of them actually grew up in, but that’s a topic for another time. The point is, one could make a strong argument that we do actually live in a multipolar world today, or we are at least close to living in one. However, Russia is not that other pole, and in its present state it doesn’t stand a chance of achieving that status. The other superpower in the world today is China, and Russia is already on its way to being its neo-colony.

Getting back to the topic of media and Kiselyev’s quote, he merely demonstrates the paranoia and delusional attitude of the people who occupy Russia’s circle of power. They know there is an information war against them. They ignore the vast diversity of foreign media outlets. They justify spreading the most ridiculous lies and conspiracy theories by assuming that Western media outlets do the same thing.  To be fair, major Western media outlets do vastly distort many stories, especially narratives during wars and low-intensity conflicts.  The reasons for this, however, differ greatly from what pro-Kremlin Russians think. There is this idea that the US government hands CNN its orders and the latter goes out and reports it as truth. In reality, when this happens there are several processes at work, none of them involving journalists being ordered to report something in a particular way.  Luckily, the West has massive grassroots movement of media watchdogs and alternative publications which keep an eye on the corporate-owned media’s behavior. In Russia the most ridiculous stories are reported with impunity.

I myself remember that the Western coverage of Euromaidan was, as usually, quite slanted and superficial. However, I can also remember articles questioning the wisdom of pinning all Ukraine’s hopes on the EU, as well as pieces which raised eyebrows about some of the factions involved in the movement. Oftentimes these articles ran in the same publications which also produced pro-Maidan stories. By contrast, when have we ever seen RT present any alternative views on Ukraine? In fact, the UK regulator Ofcom all but asked that very question when it warned RT of possible future sanctions due to its slanted coverage.  The only strong statements against Russia’s actions in the Crimea and Ukraine came from certain journalists resigning, or in the case of Abby Martin, making a public statement that was seen as something of a scandal. Had RT truly been a balanced network, Martin’s dissenting opinion would not have been so memorable or controversial.

Before moving on I’d like to tackle one more harebrained idea from the previous Kiselyev quote. He says the world is tried of one country presenting itself as exceptional. This of course, is a reference to American exceptionalism. Russians like Kiselyev just can’t stop obsessing over this concept. For the rest of the world, it’s not such a salient issue; most countries, especially industrialized countries, see themselves as unique and exceptional.  The Russian government apparently sees Russia as being highly exceptional, clearly believing that Russia is somehow not subject to basic laws of economics. Yes, of course there is this idea of American exceptionalism, but the truth is that there are millions of Americans who either don’t know what this term actually means, or they just never think about it because they realize it’s bullshit.  Many people in the rest of the world are equally ignorant of the actual concept of American exceptionalism, or if they do know about it they simply do not care.  It’s only people like Kiselyev who obsess over what Americans supposedly think.

Interpreter magazine quotes Kiselyev on the topic of how Russia should be presented in the new, reorganized media empire.

“[I]f we are to speak about traditional politics, then of course we would like it to be associated with love for Russia,” he told employees. “That does not mean that we cannot talk about problems. One hundred percent. I have not said that, and I am emphasizing this. But a hostile attitude…can be left to private media, if someone is prepared for everything.”

This is the typical patriotic doublespeak one comes to expect here. First of all, I cannot imagine such a statement about love or the USA emerging from the mouth of any American news editor. Sure, there’s Fox News, but it’s common knowledge that many people in the US do not consider Fox to be an actual news organization.  True, the US media has become increasingly lazy and dependent on official sources for information in the past decade or so, but if we asked ourselves what events in journalism are held up as ideals, they are almost all serious scandals that embarrassed the US government. There’s Katrina, there was Watergate, there were the Pentagon Papers. In other words, whenever you hear American journalists or journalism professors lamenting the state of the American press today, the ideal with which they compare this present state is a media which supposedly served as a check on political power, something adversarial to politicians. Whether that was actually true is beside the point. The point is that it was an ideal, and Kiselyev’s ideal is different.

The second part of the quote shows how tricky these Kremlin hacks can be on the topic of negative news. Oh sure, report problems! Report all the problems you want. Just don’t have a hostile attitude. Now to be fair, many Russian news outlets do report negative news. What they don’t do is tie that in with anything systemic. They do often remain curiously silent on some issues, however.  The key thing to take away from this, however, is contained in the term “hostile attitude.” This is just another equivalent of “Russophobia,” “propaganda,” “information warfare,” etc. These are debate-killing terms which are designed to justify censorship and limit free speech.  I know from personal experience that discussing anything negative in Russia can lead to accusations of Russophobia or propaganda. Are you appalled by the conditions in Russian orphanages? Don’t expect your concern for Russian children to be appreciated. You’re obviously anti-Russian! Do you really think there is no child abuse in the West? Here’s a story about a child who got molested by a gym teacher! See? It’s a problem everywhere! It’s all the same and there’s no need to address problems like systemic child abuse and neglect!

Elder’s article shows an example of Sputnik’s content, specifically a story about how Miami is supposedly considering secession from Florida. I only highlight that part of the story because once again, we see how the people behind Sputnik fail due to the fact that they live in a fantasy land. As much as folks like Kiselyev and Dugin obsess over America, they have almost no knowledge of the country or its culture. Dugin supposedly doesn’t even speak English. Their sources from America are bitter, alienated people who prefer the privileged lifestyle they have here. To them, separatist movements in America seem really significant because they want them to be. For nearly 25 years they’ve fervently hoped that the US would somehow collapse just like the Soviet Union. It matters not to them how or why the USSR truly collapsed, nor does it matter how to truly rebuild Russia and see to it that her citizens live in dignity. All that matters is that the US is destroyed. All that matters is what Americans allegedly think, and that they one day suffer.

The circle jerk mentality in the pro-government intelligentsia is why they make these bombastic statements which tend to leave many Westerners confused and awestruck. All these buzzwords and concepts have meaning to them, but often it’s lost on their audience as Holly Baxter’s article for Vice demonstrated. That’s why I wrote this article about Sputnik and Kiselyev’s statements- Russia’s “journalists” and intellectuals have a tendency to be like some weird uncle who shows up at family functions and starts ranting about Bohemian Grove, the rapture, and the need to stock up on gold and silver. You normal people without the prerequisite experience in Russia are like a significant other, coming to meet the family for the first time. I’m just trying to give you a heads up about my one crazy uncle.