November 15th 2009
Russia Today, the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda machine has surpassed itself with its reporting of the 10th Anniversary of the 1999 Moscow bombings – the apparent terrorist outrage that set the scene for the second Chechen war and the rise to power of Prime Minister (as he then was) Vladimir Putin.
RT’s disinformation strategy principally consists of juxtaposing two apparently separate stories which run one after the other; the first reporting on 9/11 conspiracy theorists in the US (and a recent demonstration of several thousand people in in New York, asking the Federal Government to “tell us the whole truth” about 9/11). The second, a story that it has been 10 years since the 1999 Moscow bombings and that, curiously, there are some strange people (relatives of the victims) who are suggesting that these were not the work of Chechen terrorists at all, but the FSB.
What are these two supposedly unconnected (but yet clearly strongly interrelated) pieces trying to imply? In my opinion, two things.
Firstly superficially, something along the lines of; “people who suggest the FSB were behind the 1999 bombings are just a bunch of conspiracy theorist crazies like those guys in New York.”
Secondly, there is a far more significant, darker and deeper implied narrative for domestic intellectual and internal regime consumption which is beginning to emerge and runs like this; ”Sure, we blew up a lot of people in order to ensure Putin attained power, but the US did the same on September 11th in order to wage war on Iraq, for the oil. That’s just the way of the world”.
This is a quite brilliant (and extraordinarily dangerous) piece of disinformation: If you are one sort of person (not particularly well informed, or just overly trusting in authority) you will choose the first interpretation (both events were the work of Islamic terrorists, any other explanation is for conspiracy theorists and assorted oddballs, the FSB would never kill innocent Russian civilians in their own homes, it’s unthinkable).
On the other hand, if you are another, more “sophisticated” and far more cynical person (for example an intellectual or someone in the nomenklatura), you go for the second interpretation (“both events were the work of the security services of the two respective states, any other explanation is Russian/US state propaganda, both countries are just as bad as each other, Russian democracy is a grotesque facade, but so is American democracy; just look!”)
In either case it plants an idea in the mind of its audience which pushes it away from the truth (that September 11th was the work of Al Qaida, while the Moscow bombings were the work of the FSB) and towards a crude anti-Americanism, as part of a wider narrative of xenophobia. (Americans are either gullible conspiracy theorists, or their government is happy to kill 3000 of their own citizens in order to achieve domestic control and control of foreign energy sources in the Middle East – therefore usefully additionally implying that energy-rich Russia might be next).
This is a work of sophisticated, yet highly dangerous and inflammatory propaganda aimed at replacing slowly emergent truth with obscurantist conspiracy theory, both in Russia and abroad; a high-grade poison to be used in one of the most important battles of information warfare the Kremlin has undertaken since the fall of the USSR: At a time when economic problems make the Kremlin especially nervous, an existential information war must to be fought to protect one of the “founding myths” of the current regime (Vladimir Putin as the crude, but strong man who was needed to protect Russia from enemies both foreign and domestic, and who therefore wiped the terrorists out, even in the “outhouse,” thereby laying the basis for “stability” (i.e. an authoritarianism that now verges on dictatorship) and “economic prosperity” (high oil prices masking rampant corruption) since 2000.This prosperity is now once again under attack, doubtless due to the machinations of those treacherous foreigners, led by the US (and perhaps it may now be implied (given the recent subtle but nonetheless noticeable increase in anti-Semitism in Russian public life) behind them, the Jews).
The audience must be convinced that the bombings were either not the work of the regime, or (far worse) that it in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter, because while the Russian government may be murderous and corrupt, it is implied that this is true of all governments, and therefore the sensible thing for the Russian citizen to do is to keep his or her mouth shut, and wait for the good times to roll around again, under the Kremlin’s nasty-but-immovable leadership.
This new propaganda offensive gives considerable insight into the mindset of the ruling regime, as well as a number of important indications as to the direction it will take over the next few years (far more so than Medvedev’s recent vague talk of “reform”): In a situation where state-power is completely unconstrained, there is a willingness not just to kill at home and abroad in order to establish and retain power, but also to crush internal opposition, and now indeed truth generally to the extent of replacing any kind of open, rational debate with outrageous mythologizing, conspiracy theory and xenophobia, and behind this the promotion of a strong and all-pervading paranoia.
It would appear that the Putin regime, which could already be characterized as having a distinctly fascist tinge, is capable of going to ever further extremes to maintain power, to tell ever greater lies, to whip the population into ever greater paroxysms of fear. Such a narrative has its own logic and conclusions.