By Ivana Kaz
A Response: Propaganda and the Very Conventional Political War
A recent article entitled “Propaganda and Russia’s Unconventional Political War” showed what I feel to be a very one-sided take on the issue of war and new media. I’ve taken it upon myself to try to counter this and at the very least show that the West uses similar, if not the same, tactics.
It’s important to note that although it may seem like I lean anti-West or pro-Russia, that is only because of the format of this piece as a response. I in fact live somewhere in between the West and Russia, belonging to neither camp. I will neither defend Russia’s military action, nor treat the West as a superhero set to save the day.
One of the first things the article did is accuse Russia of “unconventional political warfare” using social media, with the distinct purpose of creating a “New Russia” through the union of ethnic Russians. This rings a familiar tone, as “Putin is trying to bring back the Soviet Union” is a very common anti-Russian sentiment.
The problem is that although there is plenty of speculation, there is little evidence of those intentions. Putin isn’t an idiot. He’s not going to start wars all around his borders and with the West just like that. However, with NATO slowly moving closer and closer to Russia despite the 1989 deal with Gorbachev (which is why he agreed to tearing down the Berlin Wall), Putin is very careful and sceptical of the West’s intentions.
I have no doubt that Russians use social media to unite, just as it was used in Egypt and Turkey or almost anywhere else in the world. But to assume that it is being directed by the Kremlin is quite ridiculous and a claim that shouldn’t be made so lightly. Somehow, adding “Russia” and “Putin” into a conspiracy theory immediately gives it legitimacy.
Not to mention the usage of the word “empire.” I mean, seriously? Could you try to make them sound just a little more totalitarian, I’m not panicking enough just yet. If anything it is the West that is trying to build an empire, as more and more countries become NATO members – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia in the past ten years. Not to mention the invitations to Ukraine and Georgia to join.
(As professor Floyd Rudmin recently observed for counterpunch.org: “Georgia is closer to India than it is to the North Atlantic.”)
Accusations that Russia’s society is being militarised and independent journalism is being restricted is also misleading. Russia is a very large country, and “militarised” is a very strong word. How exactly is society being “equipped for war” or “adopted for use by or in the military?” At least, that’s how The Free Dictionary defines that word. A statement that strong should come with some pretty irrefutable evidence. Not to mention Jim Maceda, the NBC news correspondent that traveled inside the Ukrainian-Russian border and found no evidence of troops/tanks. The military presence has been greatly exaggerated in western MSM.
Furthermore, keeping the public in the dark is an abhorrent, all too familiar tactic. If you’re going to accuse biased media in a time of crisis, by all means go ahead. I stand by you, sir, but please at least add a footnote of the West’s actions. Phone calls that prove western involvement in Kiev’s coup d’état, as well as the Yulia Tymoshenko call during which she directly calls for the nuking of eight million ethnic Russians were completely ignored. I believe that a presidential candidate calling for the annihilation of millions of people counts as cause to worry. These calls were given no air time because Liz Wahl is a “real American.” Can you honestly say you agree with this prioritisation of news?
The claims about “traitor” websites I can’t refute, because alas I can’t find them but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Again, though, I would’ve preferred some actual links or proof. More importantly, even if there is such a site it doesn’t have to be in any way connected to the Kremlin. How do you know it wasn’t set up by regular people? There are some pretty crazy ‘righties’ in every country.
The same goes for Alexander Dugin’s “menacing list” on Facebook (I have a hard time believing that if there even is such a thing as a list that is menacing, he would post it on his FB page) – a snapshot or something would’ve been nice. His entire page is in Russian and I understand none of it.
The same goes for the new “social media entrepreneurs” that are claimed to have emerged. If in fact these are real, where is the reason for connecting them to Putin? There might be anti-West sentiment within the country’s most extreme right-wing population, but you can’t actually blame Putin for this and call it his propaganda, or rather his “unconventional” weapon.
The next issue I take with the article is its take on the Topaz events. An anti-Maidan activist that is identified as a political prankster gets “beaten by ‘Right Sector’ thugs in a park”. Yet, because he showed up later in Eastern Ukraine the beating somehow loses legitimacy. What are we supposed to take away from that? He’s still alive and therefore it was all a set-up? Or maybe it’s the activism itself. First he was anti-Maidan now he’s organising for the ‘separatists’. Do you know those two causes don’t actually clash?
Now, I will not get into a political theory debate here as that would require an entire new article – but as easy as it is to brush it off as an exaggeration, there is actual cause to call the new government fascist. Millions of Russians and Ukrainians are saying so, especially about a government that came into power the way they did rather than through elections.
As the article continues to make the point about what he called the “inauthentic citizen-news experience,” there are mentions of “fake crowds” that gather outside government buildings. Again, I really wish there could be some proof regarding the “fakeness” of these crowds – whatever that means.
Under the assumption that the things mentioned in the article are true, it is well researched. However, there are too many assumptions. The West-Russia tensions are growing (again) and the last thing anybody needs (least of all Ukraine and the common people) is to add to the “good guys us” vs. “bad guys them” mentality.