The media war

1 09 2022

WNYC’s On the Media stands out among media-analysis podcasts. Its latest program, “Russia’s War,” focuses entirely on Russia and the war in Ukraine, and it is excellent.

All three segments — on the crackdown on Russian independent media, “info ops” (information warfare), and one person’s (journalist Anastasiia Carrier’s) experience unlearning Kremlin narratives — are well worth listening to. The latter sounds a lot like the kinds of things people go through when they leave “cults” (religious or political), so there are even lessons here for how to deal with family members you may have lost to QAnon, MAGAworld, and their cousins in other countries.

The full 52-minute podcast can be heard here.

Meanwhile, they have just added an additional 15-minute segment on Ukrainian media called “Big Tech vs. Ukraine’s Local Media,” which examines how Facebook/Meta and Google/Alphabet (including YouTube) have, contrary to popular belief, been supporting Russian state media at the expense of independent Ukrainian media.

(You can support independent Ukrainian media by following, and donating to, Kyiv Independent, Ukrainska Pravda, and Hromadske, among other sources.)





Denazification, or “the solution to the Ukrainian question”

4 04 2022

The turns of phrase one finds in the echo chambers of the internet can be puzzling to newcomers. (Think of walking into a QAnon forum and hearing about the Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic, pedophilic babykillers of the U.S. Democratic Party.) That a state government might come to create its own alternate reality should, therefore, be not as shocking.

In the case of the current Russian invasion, the term “denazification” has played a puzzling role that some, like Timothy Snyder and Jason Stanley, have tried to demystify. But Russian neo-imperialist (and former Yanukovych advisor) Tymofei Sergeitsev, in his new RIA Novosti piece “Что Россия должна сделать с Украиной” (“What Russia Should Do to Ukraine”), has just provided a pretty clear demonstration that it is really just a Russian code word for “de-Ukrainization” — in other words, for what may simply be called genocide. The Ukraine Crisis Media Center has helpfully translated the piece here.

Sergei Sumlenny’s Twitter thread from a couple of days ago suggests that mass executions, of the kind found these last few days in places like Bucha and Trostyanets, seem to have been part of Russia’s “solution to the Ukrainian question” all along. (Russian responses to these revelations have of course involved further mystification.)

Adding together the mass production of “unreality” by Russian state media with Putin’s now explicit targeting of “the West” as its enemy means that war — informational, and therefore hybrid war, that is, the kind of war that is native to the twenty-first century — is already upon not only Ukraine, but all of us.





Edenborg: Homophobia as geopolitics

15 03 2022

Another piece of Putin’s claimed justification for his invasion of Ukraine, at least in terms of his main support base both within Russia and outside of it, is that of the threat posed by “the West” to Russia’s “traditional values.” Writing in the Boston Review, Stockholm University professor Emil Edenborg examines this in detail in “Putin’s Anti-Gay War on Ukraine.”

When Putin entered office for a third presidential term in 2012, in the wake of massive protests and declining popularity, his government wholeheartedly embraced the notion of “traditional values” as official ideology guiding both domestic and foreign policy. While a usefully vague and often undefined concept, “traditional values” are seen as encompassing patriotism, spirituality, rootedness in history, respect for authority, and adherence to heteronormative and patriarchal ideals of family and gender. In the rhetoric of the Kremlin and state-loyal media, LGBT rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and atheism are identified not only as foreign to Russia’s values, but as existential threats to the nation.

This plays into the idea that Putin is “purifying” Ukraine by “denazifying” it, but it only does that if one accepts the hybrid discursive construct that Dugin has proposed of the “liberal-Nazi West,” a place that imperialistically imposes its own “decadent” cultural morés onto the world.

Describing the Kremlin’s position as a form of “homophobia as geopolitics,” Edenborg examines gender stereotypes, state cultural policies, myths of “national rejuvenation and the recovery of collective greatness,” and the complex politics of superiority, inferiority, and resentment:

On the one hand, Russia has pursued an imperial, “civilizing” mission against peoples seen as culturally and racially inferior, for example in the Caucasus and Central Asia. On the other hand, Russia is perceived as historically suffering under Western cultural, economic, military, and epistemological hegemony. 

He concludes:

These are not harmless skirmishes in the “culture wars” of late-stage capitalism: they are grave matters of life and death. Gender norms—tropes of masculine protection, women-and-children in need of saving, and sexual and gender deviance as a threat to the body politic—fuel and perpetuate authoritarianism, militarism, and, as Russia’s war on Ukraine now makes all too plain, state aggression. Without addressing the former, there is little hope of changing the latter.





Pomerantsev: beyond crying foul

21 02 2022

There are some deeply insightful nuggets in this interview with Peter Pomerantsev, who is among the best analysts of contemporary information warfare. Pomerantsev describes twenty-first century conflict as radically different from the form the U.S. and western countries are used to. Conflict now is multifaceted, mixing informational with political and economic strategies to create a murky terrain where the lines between war and peace are blurred.

“The Russian and the Chinese governments,” he says, “do it all the time. They’re doing army stuff, they’re doing their troll farms, they’re doing their TV channels, and they’re thinking about different audiences. So already,” with western governments calling him out for his planned invasion, “Putin is pivoting: ‘The West have cried foul. They said it’s war. We never said it was war.’”

“Putin likes to be in the murk. He likes to be in this ambiguous space where you can’t really tell what’s going on. And that makes it very hard for NATO and allies to get their act together.” That they are succeeding more than Putin might have predicted is a good thing, but insufficient. They may hope for an “off ramp” for Putin, but “It’s not about an off ramp. It’s an Escher staircase. It’s going to go round and round and escalating and de-escalating and on and on and on and on.”

Perhaps most importantly, Pomerantsev raises the real questions we ought to be answering collectively: “what is public diplomacy for the 21st century? What is our long term dialogue that we’re trying to have with the Russian people about Russia’s role in the world? What is our communication to specific audiences in Ukraine to explain what we’re doing? All that needs to be happening. It really means having a kind of communication statecraft policy and institutional capacity for the 21st century.”

Read “Ukraine, Russia, and the 21st Century Permanent Information War.





“These people are sick…”

15 11 2017

The border war in eastern Ukraine is, it turns out, also about art. Or so this video (below) suggests.

It was made in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, after its military occupation by the separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” a few years ago. The first interviewee is Leonid Baranov, head of a special committee that lodged itself on the premises of Donetsk’s Izolyatsia Art Center after its takeover by pro-Russian separatist fighters. The building housing the non-profit art center had previously been an insulating materials factory.

Baranov decries the art of the center and vigorously defends the DPR’s occupation of it: Read the rest of this entry »





Russian “infowar” & the U. S. elections

13 12 2016

As the story of the Russian state’s influence on the recent U.S. elections continues to unfold, here are some web sites that document various dimensions of it, and of Russian media strategies more generally. These are mostly critical analyses, which may carry their own biases. Those seeking defenses of Russian state media, or critiques of U. S. media, of the CIA, and so on, should look elsewhere, as that’s not what this page is about. This list will grow, so check back periodically if you’d like to stay up to date.

Read the rest of this entry »





Rise of the global alt-right

16 11 2016

With Donald Trump in power, this web site just might get a new lease on life — reincarnated as a place for examining the rise of what has been called the “global alt-right,” with its network of connections between Putinists (like Alexander Dugin, Konstantin Rykov, and Igor Panarin), Trumpists (like Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Alex Jones, among others), and those filling a similar niche around the world.

The Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, of course, go well beyond such hazy connections as these. Ukrainian fears of these connections are legion. As Natalia Humeniuk puts it,

Read the rest of this entry »





Smith: “Truths & counter-truths”

28 07 2014

In “Truths and Counter-Truths: The Front of Information and Misinformation,” Fourth International (Trotskyist) activist Murray Smith provides a detailed analysis of the Ukraine-Russia conflict from a left-wing perspective.

Smith is a Scottish socialist who has been active in leftist politics in various European countries since the 1960s. Since 2009 he has lived in Luxemburg, where is a leader of the party “The Left” (déi Lénk), its leadership representative in the Party of the European Left, and associated with the European United Left-Nordic Green Left.

The article is thoroughly referenced and includes a very good summary of the Russian misinformation campaign. I highly recommend it. It can be read here.





More media war techniques

5 06 2014

While this web site is in Russian, the videos and images don’t require much translation. It’s a catalogue of examples of Russian state media “recycling” of images from other times and places — dead bodies, mutilated children, bombings, downed UN planes, et al. — in order to discredit Ukraine’s (former) opposition or its (current) interim government.

The sources include Syria’s current civil war (several images), Belgrade in the 1990s, Mexico’s drug war, the African Congo (that UN plane), and even a fire from Quebec’s Lac Megantic train derailment. All are presented as if these depict victims of “Kiev’s fascist junta” or on-the-ground images from eastern Ukraine.

See here for the article.

Then there is the army of internet trolls. Media studies dissertations can be written about this stuff.

 

 





Where next in Russia’s propaganda offensive?

29 05 2014

In the Moscow Times article “Russia’s Propaganda War Will Backfire,” Mark Lawrence Schrad, author of Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy and the Secret History of the Russian State, argues that the Putin regime’s media offensive against the Maidan revolution and the interim Ukrainian government will backfire on Russian-Ukrainian relations for years to come.

Read the rest of this entry »








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