Evgeniy’s plea for balance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict has produced, in my mind, an interesting dialogue on propaganda – both of the Western and of the Russian variety.
Let me come out and say with some conviction that I am not a supporter of the Putin regime. Nor do I believe much of the analysis that comes out of the Russian press. (This is because the vast majority of the Russian press is controlled by the state, and not because it is Russian or because it generally espouses pro-Russian sympathies.)
Evgeniy, for example, cites reports from the Russian press claiming that half a million people have fled Ukraine for Russia since the beginning of the year (when the demonstrations started). If half a million people fled from one place to another in a month, from anywhere in the world it would be headline news, but for some reason only Russian citizens have heard of this exodus? I don’t buy it.
Now, this number may be a misunderstanding based on a bad translation. In fact, I think this may be the case. My translation of Evgeniy’s comment states that the Russian press reports that “since the beginning of the year (January 2014) in Russia has resettled about 500,000 refugees from Ukraine.” Emphasis mine. Has this resettlement been ongoing since the end of the Cold War? However, judging by Evgeniy’s comment, it looks as if resettlement has only begun in January of this year, so if this is indeed the claim that the Russian press is making then it is obviously false.
Terry’s excerpted quote from the Daily Beast fares no better in the facts department, though, despite the Daily Beast being a private organization. The op-ed is an attempt to debunk “Putin’s Crimea Propaganda Machine” as if Putin has the power to control everything the Russian press publishes. State control of the media, especially in a country as large and diverse as Russia, does not mean that the bureaucratic process magically disappears. Bureaucracies and especially regulators are actors in their own right, and as such are beholden to certain constraints and processes that come with the way these institutions are organized.
So in the spirit of open inquiry and debate, there are a couple of facts I’ve gathered that I think are important to note.
- The President of Ukraine was ousted in a coup. He was elected by a very slim margin and accusations (from both sides) of voter fraud were rampant.
- The opposition that recently installed a new President therefore gave democracy the finger. This is not in itself a bad thing, but many Western observers tend to side with the pro-West faction as if it was democratic. It is not.
- The exiled President signed an agreement with the opposition last month guaranteeing early elections and more power to the legislature at the expense of the executive branch. This is as peaceful and as democratic as it gets, and the opposition gave, as I said, the finger to this agreement.
- The opposition has fascists in its cabinet. It has also installed Ukrainian Jews to high-ranking positions. The Muslim Tartars in Crimea stand to lose the most during Russia’s occupation.
- Ukrainians are sick of their government – right or left, pro or anti -and this has yet to be addressed by anyone other than Dr Foldvary as far as I can tell.
- No shots have been fired. Moscow has reiterated that it is in Crimea to protect its naval base and Russian citizens. I have a feeling that Russian troops will be back in Russia within the year. Crimea will get to keep its autonomous status within Ukraine, and Kiev will be forced to think twice before it attempts to impose its will on Crimea arbitrarily. This is a good thing, as it limits the size and scope of government.
- So far most, if not all, information about military activities have been coming from governments, not from the free press. This can only lead to more misunderstanding and more suspicion.
- War is the health of the state. In times like these, journalists should be criticizing their own governments rather than the governments of others. In the West, where the press remains relatively free, there is more criticism of government policies concerning foreign affairs than there is in Russia.
At the end of the day, I have to agree with Evgeniy’s plea for toleration and prudence: “Please do not judge this conflict only from one side.”