Bogeyman Russia – how honestly are we being informed?

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

For some time now and with increasing vehemence – by now almost daily – the reader, listener or viewer of Western or NATO-oriented media products – also in Switzerland – has been presented with an image of Russia that massively attacks the entire domestic and foreign policy of the country and only portrays it in a negative light. And when the headline of an interview with the US-American historian Anne Applebaum, published by t-online on 10 March 2021, reads: “Historian in interview: ‘Germans have no idea how dangerous Putin is’”, then this illustrates – surely unintentionally – the truth about this whole media propaganda: it was, is and remains untrustworthy. But it is very much the background music to a policy aiming at demarcation and confrontation rather than understanding and cooperation.

What does freedom of press mean?

“Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films” are valuable assets and basic rights. “There shall be no censorship”, states the same article of the German Basic Law. The wording of all Western constitutions is similar. The historical, political and ethical context of such formulations is less frequently spoken of – even less so the duties and responsibilities associated with such rights.
  An example illustrating this: On 8 March, a major Swiss daily newspaper published a detailed article about the head of the Russia department of the internet platform Bellingcat. The title of the article is a quote from this person: “We are war reporters in a hybrid conflict”. And the subtitle adds ominously: “The director of the Bellingcat research group has exposed the Kremlin – even in Vienna he does not feel safe”. The article pays great tribute to the work of this director, and his assessments of Russia – see box – are adopted unquestioningly. The reader learns very little about Bellingcat itself, only that it is supposed to be an “investigative platform”.
  Another information about Bellingcat can be found in the German Nachdenkseiten. On 2 March 2021 – i. e. before the 8 March article in the Swiss daily – under the headline “When Western quality journalism, propaganda and info war against Russia go hand in hand”  it read: A media network that – at least until 2018, which is the year of the leaked information available – had set itself the goal of “regime change” in Russia. It included “the companies Zinc Network, Institute for Statecraft, Aktis Strategy, DFR Lab, the Media Diversity Institute, Toro Risk Solutions and Ecorys. They are all companies that specialise in waging the information war against Russia and are run or funded by former high-ranking employees of the British services, the military and NATO. - or, as in the case of the ‘research network’ Bellingcat [!], are financed by them.”
  What is Joe Citizen to make of this?1 At the very least, one wonders why there was no mention of it in the major Swiss daily newspaper. And one also wonders: does this non-mention really match to what the mothers and fathers of press freedom had in mind?

“Audiatur et altera pars” …

Another foundation of good media work and probably also of freedom of press is the sentence: “audiatur et altera pars” – listen to the other side. This is particularly important for media with many readers, listeners or viewers, especially when the “other side” is hardly heard in the published opinion of a country. In order to form an opinion, the citizen must be able to study as many points of view as possible and not – as is widely the case – to be fobbed off with a few fragments of the “other side”. Regarding Russia, it is noticeable that the official representatives of the country no longer have their say in our media. Is that because they do not take a stand? No, there are numerous statements on Russian websites – but who takes the trouble to look there?

… because for a war most people pay a terribly high price

One such official Russian website is that of the Russian embassies in every country, including Switzerland. Only a few days ago, it came to the author of these lines to look there as well. And what he found was numerous corrections to Swiss media products, which, however, were not to be read in these media themselves. Corrected were articles from the Tages-Anzeiger, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Weltwoche, Finanz und Wirtschaft. It is likely that the Russian embassy does not have the resources to comment daily on everything negative that can be read, heard or seen about Russia. Nevertheless, in the spirit of “audiatur et altera pars”, we recommend that you look at the website of the Embassy of Russia in Bern. The internet address for the press releases is:
  The author of these lines hopes that this will help questioning a little more the claims in the “bogeyman Russia” and thus also the war preparations in our countries which are getting more and more obvious. Preparations for war, which – as always in history – are justified with an enemy stereotype, but actually touch on very tangible interests – as always in history about maintaining or gaining power. Most people have nothing to gain from this. They would also have to pay a terribly high price for the next war.  •

1 Unfortunately, the author did not succeed in getting a clear picture of what Bellingcat really is. Entering the term in Google, for example, first results in nothing but positive portrayals – Bellingcat itself and Wikipedia are at the top, followed by numerous Western-oriented media – and, only after a longer search, a few critical voices. The German Wikipedia page, for example, does not mention the criticism of Bellingcat at all. But there you can find the following interesting passage: “In December 2020, the former CIA deputy director of operations for Europe and Eurasia, Marc Polymeropoulos, praised Bellingcat’s work in an article in Foreign Policy: ‘I don’t want to be too dramatic, but we love that, instead of trying to get things clarified or worrying about classification issues, you can just refer to their work.’” Somewhat more detailed than the German-language Wikipedia is the English-language entry. Here one learns, for example, that Bellingcat is also funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Foundation, among others.

US-Russia relations at an impasse

km. Almost word-for-word, many Western media reported on 17 March 2021 that a US intelligence report accused Russia of trying to influence the outcome of the 2020 US election campaign with a disinformation campaign in favour of Donald Trump. This had most likely been done with the explicit permission of President Putin. The report had already been presented to Joe Biden at the end of last year – before he took office.
  Now a revised version, which is not subject to secrecy, has been made available to the public by the Director of US National Intelligence Avril Haines. The intelligence agencies had concluded that “Russian actors” had spread “disinformation” about Joe Biden during the 2020 election campaign and afterwards and had tried to undermine the legitimacy of the American electoral process with “false narratives”. Russia had tried to influence the outcome of the election with consistent messages in favour of Donald Trump. The Russian side had tried to “push influence narratives” to the American public. The American intelligence services had “high confidence” in this assessment.
  Joe Biden has now responded publicly to the report for the first time. The Russian president, Biden said, will “pay a prize” [sic] for trying to undermine his 2020 presidential candidacy (in order) to help Donald Trump win. Biden said this in an interview with US broadcaster ABC. Asked what the consequences would be, he said: “You will see shortly”. Biden had also been asked in the interview whether he thought Putin “is a killer”. Joe Biden replied: “Uh-huh. I do”.
  Various representatives of the Russian government have rejected the intelligence report as inaccurate. Neither in 2016 nor in 2020 did Russia try to influence the US elections. Once again, nothing concrete is named. Biden’s remarks about Russia’s president were insulting to the whole of Russia. One suspects that all this only serves to initiate a new round of sanctions against Russia. The US government again adopted sanctions on 17 March and announced further ones.
  On the same day, the Russian government called its ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, back to Moscow for consultations. Together with Antonov, relations between the two countries were to be discussed, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow announced in the evening of the day. The talks are about how to correct the relations, which are at an “impasse”. “We are interested in preventing an irreversible deterioration”, they said.
  The Russian president himself also commented (see box below). He spoke of the possibility that the US President’s statement was a projection and recalled the numerous crimes of US policy in history and the present.

Here’s how Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted to US President Joe Biden’s comments

“With regard to my US colleague’s remark, we have, indeed, as he said, met in person. What would I tell him? I would say “stay healthy.” I wish him good health. I am saying this without irony or tongue in cheek. This is my first point.
  Secondly, taking a broader approach to this matter, I would like to say that difficult, dramatic, and bloody events abound in the history of every nation and every state. But when we evaluate other people, or even other states and nations, we are always facing a mirror, we always see ourselves in the reflection, because we project our inner selves onto the other person.
  You know, I remember when we were children and played in the yard, we had arguments occasionally and we used to say: whatever you call me is what you are called yourself. This is no coincidence or just a kids’ saying or joke. It has a very deep psychological undercurrent. We always see ourselves in another person and think that he or she is just like us, and evaluate the other person’s actions based on our own outlook on life.
  With regard to the US establishment, the ruling class – not the American people who are mostly honest, decent and sincere people who want to live in peace and friendship with us, something we are aware of and appreciate, and we will rely on them in the future – their mindset was formed in rather challenging circumstances which we are all aware of. After all, the colonisation of the American continent by the Europeans went hand-in-hand with the extermination of the local people, the genocide, as they say today, outright genocide of the Indian tribes followed by a very tough, long and difficult period of slavery, a very cruel period. All of that has been part of life in America throughout the history of the United States to this day. Otherwise, where would the Black Lives Matter movement come from? To this day, African Americans face injustice and oppression.
  The ruling class of the United States tends to address domestic and foreign policy issues based on these assumptions. After all, the United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons, mind you, against a non-nuclear state – Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WW II. There was absolutely no military need for the bombing. It was nothing but the extermination of civilians. I am bringing this up, because I know that the United States and its leaders are determined to maintain certain relations with us, but on matters that are of interest to the United States and on its terms. Even though they believe we are just like them, we are different. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to uphold our interests. We will work with the United States, but in the areas that we are interested in and on terms that we believe are beneficial to us. They will have to reckon with it despite their attempts to stop our development, despite the sanctions and insults. They will have to reckon with this.
  We, with our national interests in mind, will promote our relations with all countries, including the United States.”


A little later, the Russian president added:
  “We should continue our relationships. And what’s more, you know, I was just thinking about it. Last time the phone call was initiated by President Biden. I want to invite President Biden to continue our discussion, but on condition that we do it actually life, online. But with no delays, directly in an open, direct discussion. I think that this would be interesting for the Russian people, for the US people and for many other countries as well. I mean that we as the largest nuclear powers, have a special responsibility for strategic security on the planet.
  We can discuss bilateral ties, the fight against the pandemic, the settlement of regional conflicts, and issues pertaining to regional stability there are many of them, I will not list them here. And also about other problems that humanity is facing today [...].
  But let me repeat: on condition that it will be a direct, fair conversation, and live.”

Source: Translated by Current Concerns from the German of 18 March 2021

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