Although Vladimir Putin's Russia has been relentlessly demonized by Western media for years, the maliciousness and absurdity of the news coverage in recent days prompt us to ask what has changed that calls for such attacks. Russia celebrates a presidential election on the 18th of March, so this could be meant to discredit Putin's imminent reelection in the eyes of the West. We may also be witnessing a direct response to Putin's address to the Russian Federation Assembly of the 1st of March, in which he revealed new advanced weapons systems that render US anti-ballistic missile systems useless, thus reestablishing the nuclear balance of power by negating the possibility of a nuclear strike without an equal response.
If the US/NATO can no longer presume to make war on Russia with relative impunity, ramping up the information war may be their second best option.
What follows is a short list of some of the most colorful and nonsensical anti-Russia articles produced by Western media within the last couple of weeks. Except for the first one, all the others were published after Putin's speech:
Newsweek ran the following headline: "Russian Stadiums to Allow Cocaine, Cannabis and Heroin at 2018 FIFA World Cup". On reading the article, we discover that the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia is a member, "allows for certain banned narcotic and psychotropic drugs to be brought into the country with supporting medical documentation." Furthermore, FIFA rules also allow spectators to carry drugs as long as they have a prescription written in either English or Russian. Far from the irresponsible debauchery suggested by the headline, this is a non-issue regarding medical prescriptions that any civilized country recognizes.
The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse speculated whether or not Putin, or the "Kremlin factions" behind him, had something to do with the death of Putin's mentor, close friend and mayor of St Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak, in 2000. Why? Because Sobchak's wife, Lyudmila Narusova, suspected murder even though she does not know if that was the case. In fact, she dismissed the idea that Putin was involved if there had been any foul play. But here's the rub; Putin cried during the funeral! That's right, the BBC finds it highly suspicious that a human being would grieve for a friend: "Putin really is distraught. His eyes are red, he seems to struggle to swallow as he embraces Lyudmila Narusova. Putin is not an actor. Nor is he prone to public displays of emotion. So it's reasonable to assume that he is struggling with some genuine grief. Or is it something else. Guilt?" At least Gatehouse recognized this was "only a suspicion" and therefore it had nothing to do with actual fact-checking journalism. In several countries, people could be prosecuted for claims such as these which amount to defamation. In the case of Putin however, it's fair game.
Business Insider and The Washington Post tried to make the most of Michael Isikoff's and David Corn's new book Russian Roulette: Inside Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. The book claims that in 2013 Donald Trump sent a letter to President Putin inviting him to the Miss Universe pageant that Trump was bringing to Moscow. It is not known if the letter was ever sent or if Putin ever responded. As the pageant was underway, Trump became increasingly anxious over whether Putin would attend or not. Eventually, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov is said to have called to apologize because Putin would be meeting the Netherland's royal family instead. What Business Insider and The Washington Post appear to imply is that this is proof that Trump sought contacts with Putin, which would somehow reinforce the idea that they 'colluded' in order to subvert the election. In reality, publishing this trivial anecdote in support of the 'Russiagate' narrative only confirms that there is no real evidencesupporting that sordid spectacle.
Another recent memorable Newsweek headline reads: "Putin Says That Jews 'With Russian Citizenship' May be Behind U.S. Election Meddling", which CNN echoed: "Putin: Maybe Jews or minorities behind US election interference". This is taken grossly out of context in order to make an anti-semite out of Putin – about the only accusation that had not been used against him already. The quote being referenced is taken from the recent Megyn Kelly interview with Putin. Kelly repeatedly insisted on Robert Mueller's indictment of the 13 Russian 'trolls' that allegedly interfered in the US presidential election by posting and advertising on social media. To this, Putin replied that these people were not connected to the Russian government and did not represent the Russian state, and since the US had not sent any official requests, documentation or evidence, they were not being looked into. It was in this context that the following exchange took place:
Megyn Kelly: If the 13 Russian nationals plus three Russian companies did in fact interfere in our elections, is that okay with you?
Vladimir Putin: I do not care. I do not care at all because they do not represent the government.
Megyn Kelly: You do not care?
Vladimir Putin: Not at all. They do not represent state interests. If you are worried about anything, state it officially, send us documents proving it and explain what exactly those people are accused of. We will see if they have violated Russian laws…
Megyn Kelly: I did that.
Vladimir Putin: No, this is not true. If they violated Russian law, we will prosecute them. If they did not, there is nothing to prosecute them for in Russia. But after all, you must understand that people in Russia do not live under US law but under Russian law. This is how it is. If you want to reach an agreement with us, let us negotiate, choose the subject, make an agreement and sign it. But you refuse to do this. I am telling you for the third time: we have proposed working together on cyberspace issues. But the US refuses to work like this and instead throws 13 Russians to the media. Maybe they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked: maybe they have dual citizenship or a Green Card; maybe, the US paid them for this. How can you know that? I do not know either.
Clearly, Putin was desperately trying to make Kelly understand that the 'trolls' were working either on their own private initiative or for third party interests – not for the Russian government. It was to illustrate the point that he mentioned Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews and even Americans. Most likely, he chose these groups of people because they are examples of Russian citizens who view themselves as effectively non-Russian – not because he was singling out "minorities" or Jews. Some Jews around the world are just as loyal to the state of Israel as to their own countries of origin (in some cases even more), and there is no anti-semitism in recognizing this fact. Some are quite open about it. Israel itself claims to be 'the Jewish state' and encourages Jews to immigrate there.
With the 'poisoned Russian spy' scandal currently gripping the UK, Mark Rice-Oxley, writing for the The Guardian, joined the chorus of voices demanding retribution – again with no evidence whatsoever of any Russian involvement. From the first paragraph of his op ed, we read: "Russia appears lost, a global menace, a moral vacuum, a far greater threat than it ever was during the cold war". In the two paragraphs that follow he manages to blame Russia for murder, money-laundering, 'hacking' the US election, 'buying' its way into the FIFA World Cup, invading Georgia and Ukraine, bombing children in Syria, cheating in the Olympics and starting a nuclear arms race. Without exception, these are lies or misrepresentations, which the Off Guardian brilliantly dissected. Rice-Oxley continues: "Why is Russian power like this: cynical, destructive, zero-sum, determined to bring everything down to a base level where everyone thinks the worst of each other and behaves accordingly?" and offers a way to deal with this global menace:
Britain needs to do something about the dodgy Russian billions swilling through its financial system. Make it really hard for Kremlin-connected money to buy football clubs or businesses or establish dodgy limited partnerships; stop oligarchs from raising capital on the London stock exchange. Don't bother with sanctions. Just say: "No thanks, we don't want your business."
The second is public opinion. The imminent presidential election is a foregone conclusion, but the mood in Russia can turn suddenly, as we saw in 1991, 1993 and 2011-2012. […]
Maybe it's time to try some new digital hearts-and-minds operation. In the internet age, Russians have already shown how public opinion can be manipulated. Perhaps our own secret digital marvels can embark on the kind of information counter-offensive to win over the many millions of Russians who share our values. Perhaps they already are.
Putting pressure on Russia via the oligarchs and manipulating Russian public opinion sounds like Rice-Oxley is advocating regime change via a color revolution. Talk about interfering in foreign democratic processes!
The increase in the demonization of Russia may be preparing the Western public for a more open confrontation. A direct military clash remains unlikely – even more so now that Russia has announced what it is capable of doing – but making war via proxies in Syria or Ukraine, or directly against Russia via the 'cheap option' of a color revolution in the future are still possibilities. Efforts to this end are certainly under way, although, fortunately, they will unlikely to bear fruit any time soon with Putin's popularity standing at between 67-70% for the upcoming election.