This one's about a week old but still quite relevant, since Russia continues to push obvious lies about Ukraine. I hope to God that Obama, Cameron and Merkel are telling Putin on the phone, "Look, we know you're full of shit. Cut the crap."
Just to give you an idea of the cynicism of the liar we're dealing with in Russia's President Vladimir Putin:
[Russian propaganda minister Dmitry] Kiselov’s film of Ukrainians purportedly fleeing to Russia was actually of a normal day at a congested Polish border point. The pro-Russian protesters arrive in sleek buses as “protest tourists” with plenty of “walking around money” to pay bands, organize mobs, and harass reporters and international observers, who could documents any outrages against ethnic Russians. Crimean “self defense forces” are not armed and uniformed from the local five and dime, as Russian television claims, but are regular [Russian] troops. Russia’s media magicians claim with a straight face that footage of the brutal horror of Maidan is actually film of neo-Nazi-inspired demonstrations on the streets of Crimea. Wrong time and wrong place, but good television! Russian-television maps already show Crimea as part of Russia and circulate fake photographs of nonexistent Hitler posters in Kiev.
And on and on.... Educated and well-informed Ukrainians and certainly Westerners overestimated the capacity of ignorant and propaganda-laden Crimeans to distinguish truth from fiction. We can't repeat this mistake in Eastern Ukraine. We can't assume the Internet magically keeps people well-informed; in fact it can quite effectively can keep them misinformed. Meanwhile, most Ukrainians still get their news from the TV, which is increasingly Russian.
By Paul Roderick Gregory
March 10, 2014 | Forbes
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it…..For the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” Joseph Goebbels
Joke circulating in Russia: If you want to live in France – you go to France. If you want to live in UK, you go to England. If you want to live in Russia – Russia will come to you!
Ukrainian Facebook posting: “We have not killed one Russian (Rossiyan), we did not take their land or introduce troops on their territory, did not grab their resources. We simply became a free people for one week. Is this enough for Russia to declare war on us with a unanimous decision and the full approval of the Russian people! Why do they hate us? Because of freedom? Because of different thinking?
Russia’s Big Lies about Ukraine, while easily discredited, have been repeated with such frequency and with so little pushback that they, unfortunately, are coming to be perceived as true. The Western world finds it hard to believe that a head of state and his official media engage in persistent and blatant lying and distortion. “There must be something there,” we think. “If they are lying, where are the rebuttals?”
Putin takes propaganda seriously. We do not. That is a major mistake.
The first Big Lie is that Ukraine is such a cauldron of ethnic hatred and violence that Mother Russia was forced to intervene to rescue and protect Russian speakers from their extremist Ukrainian neighbors. False.
Ukrainians, be they first-language Russian or Ukrainian speakers (virtually all speak Russian), would shake their heads, just as would Bavarians when warned they are in danger of ethnic and racial violence at the hands of North Germans. On any stroll in Kiev or other cities, one hears more Russian than Ukrainian. Although the Russian media has likely scoured the record, there are no incidents of Ukrainian-on-Russian ethnic violence. There are no cases of Russian speakers in the east hiding in their cellars from the latest Ukrainian pogrom. Ukrainians do not feel hatred towards Russians. First-hand reports coming out of Ukraine say that Ukrainians, who had regarded Russians as friends and neighbors, for the first time regard them with a sense of loss as “others” (chuzhie).
Russia’s second Big Lie is that Ukraine’s East and South wish to join voluntarily their Russian brethren in a united Russia. False.
Putin cites his Levada Institute polls as proof of the admiration he enjoys among his people. He should therefore accept the results of a scientific poll of more than 2,000 Ukrainian citizens taken during the worst of the Maidan demonstrations, when separatist tendencies would have been inflamed, but before the Russian invasion ignited anti-Russian sentiment. The highly professionalpoll shows an overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens want Russia only as a friendly neighbor with open borders and no visas.Some 12.5 percent want Russia and Ukraine as one country, reaching a high of twenty percent in the East and 25 percent in the Crimean south. An unoccupied Ukraine would not voluntarily join the corrupt and dysfunctional Russia. The Maidan revolution offers a fresh start with a chance of becoming part of law-abiding and prosperous Europe.
The new prime minister of Crimea – installed by the Russian occupation to preside over Crimea’s annexation — is one Sergei “The Goblin” Aksyonov, a purported member of the Crimean underworld, whose pro-Russian party won a whopping four percent of the votes in the last regional elections. Now he purports to represent all Crimea as he barrels through the Crimea with his escort of AK-47-toting Russians (Excuse me, I meant to say Crimean self-defense troops).
The third Big Lie is that the Maidan demonstrators were not ordinary people venting against corruption and mismanagement, but vile, extreme nationalists, anti Semites, and Nazis paid and trained by Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Having driven out the legitimate president of Ukraine, extremists are poised to take the Ukrainian presidency and parliament. Two presidential candidate hail from the far right. Poor Russia had no choice but to intervene. False.
Yes, nationalists were among the bravest of the Maidan demonstrators, but they constituted a small minority. The grim list of the “Heavenly Hundred” victims shows a grand total of eight deaths from the two right-wing parties. The others were students, factory workers, and otherwise ordinary people, some from the East, demonstrating out of conscience. As to the upcoming presidential elections, the latest polls show ex-heavyweight boxing champion, Vitaly Klitshko, in the lead with the two right-wing candidates polling collectively less than five percent – scant evidence of an impending skin-head Nazi takeover.
If Putin is intent on saving Europe from right-wing extremism, he is advised to invade Greece (Golden Dawn), France (National Front), Netherlands (Wilder’s Freedom Party), or Hungary (Jobbik) – all of which have double the popular support of Ukraine’s far right. Maybe such invasions would actually wake up the somnambulant Europeans.
[Right on! Bullseye! All these hand-wringing liberals forget that far-right nationalist parties exist all over Europe and yet somehow the EU does not degrade into vile Fascism. In fact, it's quite possible that, in the big scheme of things, small far-right and far-left parties provide a necessary political dynamism that leads to compromise and wiser policy choices. - J]
Western diplomats are busy harrumphing that Russia’s invasion of the Crimea violates international treaties to which Russia was a signatory, and that sovereign Ukrainian territory cannot be annexed, especially not by a referendum supervised by foreign forces and without legitimate observers. Putin’s diplomats respond with razzle-dazzle and obfuscate with claims of “self-defense forces,” “humanitarian intervention,” and the threat of Neo-Nazism. In a rare departure from diplomatic language, a State Departmenttalking-points memo labels the “illegal actions in Ukraine” as “startling Russian fiction (not seen) since Dostoyevsky wrote, “The formula ‘two times two equals five’ is not without its attractions.”
But the West is of no use in countering Putin’s Big Lies delivered as desinformatsia to the Russian people and to the ethnic Russians of Ukraine by the Russian mass media. Only informal Russian and Ukrainian social media can fight back. With belief that the Cold War is “over” everywhere but in Russia, the United States lacks voices like Radio Liberty and Voice of America to beam some truth into troubled Eastern and Southern Ukrainian territory. Putin’s forces have blocked Ukrainian television in occupied Crimea and increasingly-occupied Eastern Ukraine. The only media presence is Putin and his Big Lie.
Propagation of the Big Lie requires – not taciturn diplomats – but imaginative media masters, unconstrained by reality and truth telling. Putin has promoted former news anchor, Dmitry Kiselov, to head his Ukraine disinformation campaign. Known for his rants against Europe and Ukraine, Kiselov has promised to “apply the correct political technology,” then “bring it to the point of overheating” and bring to bear “the magnifying glass of TV and the Internet.” (Snyder, Fascism, Russia and Ukraine).
Anne Applebaum (Russia’s information warriors are on the march – we must respond) has reported on Kiselov’s frenetic media campaign:
“Russian television news has reported, among other things, that 675,000 Ukrainian refugees have flooded over the Russian border; that extremists and neo-Nazi militants have illegally taken over the Ukrainian government in Kiev; and that Crimean “self-defense forces” or “pro-Russian forces” have spontaneously gathered in front of the Crimean parliament in order to defend it from those same Nazis. Each of these statements is a lie.”
Kiselov’s film of Ukrainians purportedly fleeing to Russia was actually of a normal day at a congested Polish border point. The pro-Russian protesters arrive in sleek buses as “protest tourists” with plenty of “walking around money” to pay bands, organize mobs, and harass reporters and international observers, who could documents any outrages against ethnic Russians. Crimean “self defense forces” are not armed and uniformed from the local five and dime, as Russian television claims, but are regular troops. Russia’s media magicians claim with a straight face that footage of the brutal horror of Maidan is actually film of neo-Nazi-inspired demonstrations on the streets of Crimea. Wrong time and wrong place, but good television! Russian-television maps already show Crimea as part of Russia and circulate fake photographs of nonexistent Hitler posters in Kiev.
Russian television’s Big Lie bombardment of Russian and Ukrainian has left its mark. A Ukrainian businessman from Dnepropetrovsk stuck in Singapore with nothing but Russian television to watch claimed that, had he not known better, he would have wanted to join the Russian side. A coal miner’s wife in Donetsk reacted to the Big Lie saying that the choice is either “join Russia or war,” and she does not want war. A young Russian historian dumbfounded me by asking whether I knew that neo-Nazis now control Ukraine.
Both the Ukraine and West urgently need to up their propaganda game. Our diplomats must focus, not on violated treaties, but on demolishing the Big Lie. They should not shy away from calling a lie a lie a lie, to steal a line from Gertrude Stein. Ukraine must find ways and means to deprive Russia of its current information monopoly over its southern and eastern regions and the Russian people.
Ukraine must use all the social media at its disposal to counter Putin’s massive media apparatus. Ukraine versus Russia may seem like a hopeless David and Goliath, but the truth is a powerful ally. No lie from Putin can go unanswered. A good offense is better than a good defense.
Ukraine can gain the advantage if and when Putin’s Big Lie machine goes too far. Planting false claims and even doctored or falsified film and photos can backfire. The fact that Putin’s machine lies without hesitation suggests a cockiness and overconfidence.
Philosopher Lao-Tsi said more than two thousand years ago that we do not notice a good government, we hate a bad government, but the worst government is one over which we laugh.
The most potent weapon against Putin’s Big Lies is laughter and satire. Apparently, the thin-skinned Putin is now the butt of jokes on night time talk shows and Saturday Night Live skits.
Let me end with an anecdote that may have a much deeper meaning for the outcome of crisis. On the way to lunch, a colleague told me that the nine-year-old daughter of a Russian couple was teased at her school today for being Russian. If this young girl was subject to public humiliation for being Russian, imagine how Russian tourists, businessmen, and students will be received in the West as a consequence of Mr. Putin’s adventurism. The Russian people have suffered the loss of empire, bankruptcy, and economic collapse. They want to hold their heads high, and they have looked to strong-man Putin to give them this.