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Published: Sunday, 2/20/2005

Russians get another channel of propaganda

Imagine a national TV channel that runs nothing but the Russian answer to "the Army of One" commercials, Soviet Cold War-time movies, and Red Army pep talk shows - and you'll get the idea of what Russia's soon-to-be-launched Defense Ministry television network is all about.

Officially announced as a tool to fight draft dodging and otherwise boost morale of the young, the so-called Zvesda (Russian for "Star") channel is the last move in a largely successful Kremlin campaign to substitute news coverage with pseudo-patriotic propaganda. The effort is designed to redirect the wrath of an impoverished populace from the Kremlin's kleptomania to a trusted "foe" - the West, namely the United States.

There is one good thing about it - the move is a sign of the Kremlin's desperation.

Haunted by failures in Chechnya, spreading terrorism, mass protests against disastrous social policies, and businessmen's discontent over Kremlin extortion and takeovers directed at the country's most successful corporations, the Kremlin could think of nothing better than adding another propaganda channel to the country's already exclusively government-controlled mesh of TV networks.

The channel is supposed to be commercial. But judging by public opinion polls, most young people in Russia could not care less about the Soviet propaganda leftovers; so the effort is doomed unless it lasts long enough to affect those who are toddlers. In any case, it will drain a defense budget already overburdened by the "peace process" in Chechnya, which costs Russia billions of dollars a year in lost lives, plundered supplies and ammunition, and destroyed infrastructure.

The war in Chechnya is a steady income source for the puppet Chechen regime, which receives millions of dollars in subsidies and reportedly steals most of it. That's not to mention the kickbacks to the brass and federal bureaucrats from stolen army equipment and supplies.

The fact that the Kremlin is investing in another propaganda tool instead of fighting corruption in the army and in its own ranks speaks of one and one thing only - its interest in keeping the status quo. As long as the war is on, Kremlin bureaucrats hope to use "international terrorism" as a scapegoat while continuing to steal from Russia's businessmen and common people.

The irony is that the Kremlin increasingly believes its own propaganda and paints its effort to rule the country with the help of corrupt ex-KGB security forces as the most effective way to instill discipline and order.

There are reports by independent Russian media and some Kremlin insiders that members of the Putin entourage are actually blaming the growing public discontent with the Putin regime on "international terrorism" and the "double-standards" (read "support") by the West (read "the United States") of terrorism in Russia.

By contrast, Russian and foreign businessmen correctly see that the root cause of all Russian problems is corruption at the highest echelons of power. It increases political risk enough to prohibit investment. As a result, even Russian tycoons prefer to invest abroad.

So it wouldn't be a big stretch to say that the Putin regime may be as fragile as the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. One push - and it may crumble.

This push may come as an increased economic isolation of Russia. Should Washington decide to stick by its word and busy itself with a fight for democracy in the world, it may want to think about it.

The alternative may be a generation of Russians raised on Cold War movies in a country that boasts of close ties with Iran and North Korea and is stuffed with weapons of mass destruction.



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