Safety of Journalists > AFP news > Russian TV on 'Soviet style' Ukraine offensive

Russian TV on 'Soviet style' Ukraine offensive

© 2014 AFP

Anna MALPAS

06 March 2014

Russia's state-controlled media has gone into propaganda overdrive to justify action in Crimea and raise fears over Ukraine's new leaders, in an offensive ridiculed by observers as a throwback to Soviet-era indoctrination.

The aggressive style of Russia's federal channels and the state English language satellite channel RT have seen them make huge play of any information casting Ukraine's new leaders in a bad light, such as a leaked phone call between EU leaders suggesting they may have ordered snipers to shoot civilians in Kiev.

But the offensive has also sparked controversy, with an American anchor for the Moscow-funded RT resigning live on air on Wednesday in protest at its coverage of the deployment of Russia-backed forces in Ukraine.

Television, still under the almost exclusive control of the state, is the main source of news for Russians, while most political debate is confined to the Internet.

"The truth is on our side," news anchor Dmitry Kiselyov, seen as the propaganda supremo for the Kremlin, said on state-owned Rossiya 1 television.

Television news is giving positive coverage to the breakaway movement in Crimea and stressing its grass-roots support, while depicting the new authorities in Kiev as ultra-nationalists and even neo-Nazis.

It is unclear on what basis some of the Russian media assertions lie such as reports of widespread casualties among Russian citizens in Crimea.

State-controlled Channel One reported that the Right Sector radical group was sticking leaflets on the doors of ethnic Russians in western Ukraine, backed with a photograph from Twitter.

"In just the same way, German Nazis marked the doors of Jews with Stars of David in the 1940s during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine," the news reader said.

- 'Cold War Soviet propaganda' -

Television reports slam discrimination against Russian speakers -- although a move to lower the status of the Russian language has not been approved by the acting president.

"They have humiliated us, called our language goodness knows what, cancelled everything," one protester in Donetsk, Tatyana Oblap, told Channel One television.

The campaign rolled out after state polling agency, VTsIOM, found early last month that 73 percent of Russians thought Moscow should not intervene in Ukraine.

"The main task of official media and state propaganda during a period of flare-up of relations with other countries is to convince its own citizens and the world of the legality of using force," wrote Vedomosti business daily.

Commentators compared the style of reports to Soviet propaganda.

"After Russian intervention in Crimea, the amount of anti-Ukrainian propaganda grew many times and surpassed Soviet propaganda from the Cold War era," Natalya Ligacheva, a Ukrainian media expert, told AFP.

"They start agitating to you morning to night on Soviet radio and Soviet television channels... It gets scary. I see there's no way to escape," radio host Ksenia Larina said on Echo Moskvy radio station.

To counter the claims the US state department has even released a list of Russia's "10 false claims about Ukraine".

Vedomosti drew a parallel with a false report of the shooting of Red Army soldiers that was used by the Soviet Union to justify war against Finland in 1939.

A much-repeated claim is that foreign "mercenaries" have been recruited to back the new authorities.

'Resisting Western media'

Conversely, television has downplayed the Russian forces in Crimea who President Vladimir Putin says are homegrown defence brigades, denying Western assertions they are members of the Russian security forces.

By way of illustration Rossiya-24 interviewed a squeaky-voiced young man on foot, politely asking to check lorries.

That contrasts with images of professional-looking troops and army hardware observed by AFP and other Western and Ukrainian media.

"Today they are trying to deny Russian citizens the right to objective information.. Instead of discussion they are offered the lowest kind of propaganda," journalist Maria Eismont wrote in Vedomosti.

Russian state television has seized on all evidence against Ukrainian authorities, with Channel One's news leading on the telephone call between EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, mysteriously leaked on Wednesday, saying Ukraine's pro-Western leaders could have ordered snipers to shoot civilians in Kiev.

Meanwhile, RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan responded angrily on her blog to the controversy surrounding her channel, saying that it "alone is resisting thousands, tens of thousands of Western media."