It’s just a “panic attack” – Russian media blames the US for the escalation of the Ukraine crisis


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(THE TALK) While Western news outlets warn of a “countdown to war,” Kremlin-controlled Russian television has a different view, accusing the US of “hysteria” when it insists President Vladimir Putin is about to enter the to invade Ukraine.

The only attack the West has to worry about is its own “panic attack,” proclaimed a banner on Channel One’s evening news program “Vremia” on January 24, 2021. “Even Ukrainians cannot believe how far the US has gone,” said rival news program Vesti on station Russia-1, referring to the evacuation of US embassy staff from Kyiv.

As a historian of Russia interested in propaganda and media strategy, I was in Moscow both when NATO bombed Russian ally Yugoslavia in 1999 and again when Russia sent troops to Crimea in 2014, ostensibly to protect Russian citizens who were facing political unrest in Ukraine were threatened. Both times, many people across Russia agreed with the government’s claims that the US triggered the conflict through behind-the-scenes interference. Both events evoked waves of patriotic fervor and numerous headlines promising a Russian fight against Western interference.

Now that Russian troops have massed on the Ukrainian border, the government’s tone is softer, but arguably more insidious. Weeks of chauvinistic talk shows, on which guests proclaimed the need for Russia to flex its muscles in front of the world around the 30th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s dissolution on December 26, 1991, have given way to relative calm.

According to Russian broadcasters, the only country that wants to fight is the US – and America’s real fight is an internal one.

The US in Decline

Arguably the most famous anthem of the dying Soviet Union was the 1990 song “Train On Fire” by dissident rock band Akvarium, in which a Soviet colonel calls his troops home and says that after many years of war, it turns out, “we only have fought against ourselves.” Today, the Kremlin-controlled media is sending a similar message to the United States.

Lengthy stories daily focus on America’s internal divisions – they show inflation, rising crime, organized shoplifting, COVID-related vaccine protests, culture wars over transgender rights and explosive outbursts from the US President. Joe Biden, Russian reporters claim, is building a false sense of the Moscow threat to divert attention from domestic issues.

In one instance, a correspondent backed up this claim by showing US citizens a blank map of European countries on the streets of Washington, recording their confusion when asked to identify the location of Ukraine.

In contrast, these reports present Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, as calm, rational, and effective. Some are playing up the alleged superiority of Sputnik’s COVID vaccine over Pfizer’s or the orderly withdrawal of so-called Russian “peacekeepers” from Kazakhstan. These soldiers were deployed to quell civil protests, but news anchors in Russia have hailed their actions, benevolently comparing their alleged “success” to the “failed mission” and chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Ukraine is used

Both Russian government officials and Russian journalists acknowledge that there have been troop surges near the Russian-Ukrainian border. But they accuse the West of overheated rhetoric and at times of “inhumane lies and blatant provocation”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the troop surge as part of “military exercises” no different from those the US routinely conducts in Eastern European countries – only more legitimate as they are conducted within Russia’s own borders. He ridiculed Washington for caring about internal Russian maneuvers while telling Russia that US troop action in Europe “is none of their business”.

In the daily news program “Vesti” on January 24, the situation in Ukraine did not even lead the program. A weather story with photos of record snowfalls in another region of Russia bordering the Black Sea. Tensions with NATO allies was the evening’s fifth story.

A recurring theme in any coverage of Ukraine is the weakness of the country and especially its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. On January 23, Channel One’s evening news showed old footage of Zelenskyy from his days as a practicing comedian in a skit in which he and several other men pretended to play the piano with their own genitals.

The next night, criticism of Zelenskyi was more direct, mentioning a “catastrophic drop” in his popularity rating. “Experts have long said that Zelenskyy does not exist as an independent leader, that the Anglo-Saxons are using him for their own ends,” reads one script. “Zelenskyy is tired” ran the cover story on, a news outlet aimed at Russians in Ukraine.

The West is trying to “seduce” Zelenskyy into provoking a military confrontation, a Vremia journalist said on January 24. He was “torn between his desire to save his quotas with a small victorious war and his fear of losing the same war.”

does anyone buy

The state-controlled media isn’t the only voice Russians are listening to, however.

Russian newspaper articles, talk show announcers and Twitter comments express a wider range of feelings. In a lengthy interview titled Talks Mean Nothing, published in the respected weekly Literaturnaia gazeta, military analyst Konstantin Sivkov speculated on the creation of a 100-megaton warhead capable of destroying Yellowstone Park meeting. A prominent pro-Russian Ukrainian pianist recently retweeted an article by a self-proclaimed independent journalist headlined “Documents reveal US biological experiments on allied soldiers in Ukraine and Georgia.”

Many Russians seem to shrug their shoulders at such stories, although even critics of Putin acknowledge that many also share the president’s condemnation of NATO expansion in the post-Soviet years. Independent media outlets like Meduza have condemned “Kremlin brinksmanship” for fueling the confrontation.

Then the question arises, do most Russians really believe their native propaganda?

It’s hard to say, especially in the face of an ongoing crackdown to silence independent voices and organizations. Journalists have fled, opposition figures have been arrested and human rights organizations have been shut down. What is then most difficult to assess is the sentiment of a possible “silent majority” – citizens disillusioned with politics and feeling surrounded by larger forces beyond their control.

Another question is, do they care? Similar to other countries around the world, many news consumers in Russia are more concerned about domestic political struggles.

A Russian friend who had just returned from six weeks in St. Petersburg said that nobody she knew advocated a war with Ukraine, but that the issue was not even on most people’s radar.

“Citizens are much more concerned about the ruble exchange rate and the economic situation,” she said. “Also, they are much more concerned about police-policed ​​COVID vaccinations and other domestic issues. People are fed up with these endless political TV shows about Ukraine; They are absolutely indifferent to international affairs, and this causes great problems for Putin,” who, she claims, “does not want to deal at all with the situation in the country.”

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