The Kremlin’s Narrative

Ian Bateson examines how through “speeches and state-controlled media Putin is able to create another world where the figures and places feel familiar, but the events and motivations are drastically different”:

When protestors on Kiev’s Maidan began organizing into so-called self-defense forces after attacks on demonstrators, Moscow was quick to call them Western-trained and funded militias. With the groups’ mismatched uniforms, bits of pipe, and occasional spaghetti strainer helmet Russia’s claims gained little currency abroad.

When men armed with automatic weapons wearing Russian military uniforms devoid of military insignia and accompanied by military vehicles bearing Russian license plates began appearing on Crimea’s streets, however, it was Russia’s turn. If Kiev could have self-defense forces than Crimea could too. And so Moscow declared them Crimean self-defense forces.

In this world Russia was not invading Ukraine, but reprising its role as the great vanquisher of Nazism, heroically halting the eastern advances of suitably amorphous Ukrainian fascism.

Oleg Kashin sees these distortions backfiring on Moscow:

Through its clumsiness, Russia has given the Ukrainians a winning image: that of a small defenseless country which has become the victim of aggression by a cruel, strong neighbor, as Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were in 1940. The Ukrainians, who have thus far been unable to boast of a rich national mythology, are writing their new heroic myth in real-time, about which films will be made and songs composed. This is often more important than any weapon.

Putin’s lie could be attributed to the particularities of international diplomacy, but in a situation where the entire world has already seen the Russian soldiers blockading Ukrainian bases on the Crimean peninsula, it’s hard to believe that the lie has any diplomatic subtext. Really, it’s just habit. A culture of propaganda has formed over the last fifteen years in Putin’s Russia, and even in the most critical moment, telling the citizens the truth would, for Putin, be a violation of some kind of personally sacred taboo.

David Remnick covers Putin’s press crackdown:

The latest step came on Wednesday, with the announcement that Galina Timchenko, the longtime and much admired editor of the news site Lenta.ru, has been fired and replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, the former editor of Vzglyad.ru, a site that is far more sympathetic to the Kremlin.

The announcement came shortly after an agency called the Federal Mass Media Inspection Service (oh, Orwell!) warned that Lenta.ru was venturing into “extremism.” Lenta.ru had published an interview with Andriy Tarasenko, a leader of a far-right ultra-nationalist group, Right Sector. Part of the Kremlin’s pretext for the invasion of Ukraine has been to “protect” Russians from “fascists.” Tarasenko is an unlovely figure, but Lenta.ru was hardly endorsing him; the editors were guilty of nothing more than committing journalism. And now they are paying for it.

Richard Maass offers a poli-sci explanation for why Washington and Moscow have such radically divergent views of what is happening in Ukraine:

U.S. leaders have ‘renormalized’ their reference point after the Maidan revolution, accepting the West-leaning interim Ukrainian government as a legitimate foundation for any resolution to the crisis. In contrast, the reference point of Russian leaders continues to be the pre-Maidan status quo, as they seek to recover their lost influence in Ukraine or achieve compensating territorial gains. As a result, the United States is focusing on rolling back Russian “aggression” in Crimea, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov objects to U.S. proposals because they take “the situation created by the coup as a starting point.” If U.S. and Russian leaders are bringing contradictory perspectives to their attempts at negotiation, as prospect theory predicts, it is difficult to envision a diplomatic resolution to the crisis that will satisfy both sides.