Russia’s propaganda and empty justifications for aggression in the Ukraine; the urgent need for the West to broadcast accurate news into eastern Ukraine

See Nik Afanasjew, “RUSSISCHE PROPAGANDA: Senden, um zu siegen; Im Krieg der Worte ist die Ukraine zum Schlachtfeld geworden; Die russische Propaganda ist Putins schärfste Waffe und Dmitri Kisseljow sein General,  Die Zeit, 28. April 2014  (17:46 Uhr)

Russia’s bald lies and cynicism in seeking to justify its aggression against the Ukraine seem to know no limits. It is difficult to understand how Foreign Mininster Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin can advance their empty justications with straight faces, and even feigned anger.

To grasp the wholly fallacious nature of their case, and their propaganda, we need to step back a little from the latest ferocious arguments over disputed facts, in which they engage in the classic strategem of defending their utterly false propaganda narrative from being deflated in any aspect by the truth.

Their key objective here is to shift the attention of the broad public, which has a short memory and does not think and feel in rational, analytical fashion, to endless and unrelenting arguments over specific details and facts, while diverting its attention from the essential facts of the larger situation.

The bad faith of the Russian justifications for their aggression can be quickly grasped by posing a series of hypothetical questions:

Would Russia view subversion by “little green men” from the West or Arab countries in the Gulf, stirring up unrest in a republic in the Caucusus, seizing buildings, and calling for a referendum on independence from Russia as legitimate, as it does similar activities in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine?

In such a situation would Russia agree that attempts to retake control of public administration buildings, by force if necessary, would be wholly illegitimate and provide troops massed on the border with a neighboring country a justification for invading the Russian republic involved?

Russia should be careful here, if they recall the events in Chechnya, and the potential for foreign subversion in restive republics within the Russian Federation.

Would Russia permit the seizure and annexation of any of its territory by China or Japan?

Would Russia and Putin accept in Russia itself the kinds of demands for regional autonomy they support in the eastern Ukraine?

Just a moment’s thought about these questions shows how empty and cynical Russia’s arguments are.

But, we must always bear in mind, Russia’s propaganda arguments are not aimed at intellectuals and pundits in the West. Rather, they are aimed at the broad public, and have a specific propaganda purpose which is an integral part of the Russian strategy of aggression.

Their goal is to create mass emotions which support the actions and goals of Russian subversion, both in eastern Ukraine (as in the Crimea earlier) and in Russia as a whole.

The entire propaganda bubble depends on denying access to any alternative narratives or versions of the facts which otherwise might be available through public dissemination, whether by television, radio, the press, or social media.

To counter Russia’s propaganda supporting the “Big Lie” that Russian-speakers are under threat in the Ukraine, the West must counter Russia’s attempt to establish an “electronic curtain” around the population of the eastern Ukraine to shield them from hearing objective news reporting and the truth. That is why it is important for the Russians to seize television towers, and replace Ukrainian TV channels with Russian channels which endlessly repeat the lies of the Russian propaganda machine. That is why they have taken control of Russia’s leading social media site in recent days.

What the West Must Do to Counter Russian Propaganda

Russia shut down the Voice of America transmissions on local frequencies in Moscow just weeks before the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

This fact alone demonstrates how critically important it is to get objective, factual news reporting to be heard (and where possible seen) by the broad public in eastern Ukraine, and in Moscow.

The U.S. has the capabilities, and should use them, to get the truth into the ears of the populations of the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Every available short- and middle-wave transmitter of Radio Free Europe (RFE), the Voice of America (VOA), and other Western state broadcasters such as Radio France International (RFI), Deutsche Welle (DW), and Radio Netherlands, should be aimed at the eastern Ukraine with round-the-clock coverage of events. Let them continue to broadcast objective news programs as well as commentary according to their own judgments. But get their signals into the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

The U.S. military has airborne broadcast capabilities, which should be used.

The bubble of Russian propaganda is what gives life support to the Russian sabateurs and special operations forces operating in the eastern Ukraine.

That bubble must be burst, within days, by establishment and operation of such enhanced broadcasts to the eastern Ukraine and to Russia itself.   All bureaucratic obstacles must be overcome on an emergency basis.  Western countries can quickly supply short-waive receivers to hear their broadcasts if middle-wave broadcasts are jammed.

The West can also help the Ukrainan government in maintaing access to the Internet in eastern Ukraine, by providing mobile cell phone platforms and internet signals, including in particular wireless wide-area networks (WWAN’s). The technology exists. Google should be brought in (quietly) to help, if necessary. Wireless wide-area network modems can be made readily available throughout the region in great numbers.

A multi-pronged attack, given the highest priority and urgency, should be able to pierce through Russia’s electronic curtain in the eastern Ukraine in fairly short order. The effect will be to let some of the air, if not a great deal of it, out of Putin’s tires.

The people in the eastern Ukraine undoubtedly have a great desire to find out the truth about events in their region, and on the diplomatic front as well.

Western countries can also assist the Ukraine in producing newspapers in Russian and Ukrainian for widespread dissemination throughout the region, making up in part for the closure and supression of local newspapers in various localities. The newspapers might usefully reproduce key articles from leading newspapers in the West and throughout the World, which would give them added credibility.

The one weapon the West has and which Russia doe not have, is the truth.

For Putin’s subversion in the eastern Ukraine to succeed, that truth must be suppressed and replaced by the blatant lies and disortions of Russian propaganda.

The West should spare no effort in piercing Russia’s electronic curtain, and taking that truth to the people of the eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Congress should immediately approve whatever emergency funds are required to produce the actions outlined above within a matter of days, not weeks.

The need for such action is extraordinarily urgent.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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