The anti-U.S. hysteria in Russia is so rampant in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s military annexation of Crimea that some journalists-turned-propagandists can’t stop using Kremlin-coined cliches once they come home after a busy shift of mudslinging.
And it’s hitting too close to home for comfort.
“Stop the hysterics” and “if we have to, we will live on food ration cards as we once did in the past” were the phrases texted to yours truly last week by an old acquaintance, who is a fellow alumnus of the elite Moscow State University's department of journalism. Russians lived on food ration cards under Joseph Stalin during World War II and during the few years that followed, well before yours truly and this woman were born.
She works for one of Mr. Putin’s lead television channels that “covers” the news in Russia and the United States for audiences around the world. As such, the cliches popped up as a knee-jerk reaction to voiced concerns that Mr. Putin’s aggression in Crimea may lead to wider armed conflict in Europe and that the ensuing U.S. and European sanctions would cripple Russia’s stagnating economy hinging on oil and natural gas exports.
To see if Mr. Putin’s propaganda was indeed as catchy as the woman’s reaction indicates and also to test independent polls that put his approval rating in Russia at over 80 percent, this columnist engaged some Facebook friends living in Russia in a discussion about the annexation of Crimea.
Their reaction was — in one word — scary. Not only was it similar to that of the woman, it was delivered in the same terms.
So the Kremlin propaganda really works — in full accordance with the “big lie” theory and practiced by the late Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister who taught that people will believe a lie if it’s big enough, if you repeat it many times, and as long as the state protects them from feeling the negative consequences of that lie.
The Kremlin-issued lie in this case is four-fold.
First, the Kremlin-controlled media — which includes all television channels and nearly all print and Web-based media in Russia — maintain that the Ukrainian revolution earlier this year was nothing but a revolt by "anti-Russian fascist extremists" sponsored by the West and primarily by the United States.
Second, they distribute maps that show the vast majority of the Ukraine territory including Crimea — and save for the capital city of Kiev and the vicinity — as territories “gifted” to Ukraine by Russian rulers since the mid-17th century.
Third, they allege that the so-called green men who seized Crimea — who despite lack of insignia were not even hiding their affiliation with the Russian military and who sported the latest Russian military equipment that included armored vehicles with Russian license plates — were local self-defense units.
Finally, they insinuate that the United States has been sponsoring a similar revolution in Russia and that “the sanctions” were in the works and were coming regardless of what happened in Crimea.
To anyone in the United States who is not a conspiracy theorist, such allegations are nonsense.
One would assume that those lies would appear as such to the alumnus, who graduated from her alma mater after the downfall of the Soviet Union and was spared the Soviet ideological indoctrination.
In fact, those lies are more in tune to what was taught at that university in Soviet times by semiretired Soviet army colonels who ran the university’s required military “special propaganda” training courses for would-be officers in reserve to be commissioned in case of a conflict involving NATO forces and to help “demoralize” the armies and civilians of the West. But even back in the early-to-mid-1980s — even before Mikhail Gorbachev brought about a friendlier stance toward the West — most university students could distinguish between the reality and the required course that was a leftover from the more stringent Cold War times.
In order to make sure his “big lie” works, Mr. Putin has eliminated all the remaining major independent media in Russia. Moreover, he did away with some official news outlets that he considered too objective in their coverage. Those working for the state agency that was formed to replace them — Russiya Segodnya (Russia Today) — were told to focus not as much on news coverage but “on values creation” — read “on propaganda” —- for the Russian people, in other words on repeating “the big lie” over and over again.
The fact that Russia is back to rallying behind its anti-Western leader, united as it hasn’t been since the times of Joseph Stalin, is alarming.
President Obama told reporters in The Hague, Netherlands, last month that Russia’s actions “are a problem” but “don’t pose the No. 1 national security threat to the United States,” adding that he continues to be “much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
But given the Kremlin’s propaganda, one may want to give a serious thought to the prospect of Mr. Putin bringing about the scenario most dreaded by our President by simply withholding vital anti-terrorist intelligence from the United States. Giving U.S.-Russian relations the No. 1 priority is therefore in order.
So as to fulfill the remaining provision of the “big lie” success and shield the Russians from its consequences, the Putin regime has so far staved off a fully-blown inflation by selling off dollar reserves to support the ruble.
Those reserves, however, aren’t expected to last longer than a couple of months. The Kremlin clearly realizes that, which adds urgency to the matter.
Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade.