OLYMPICS. A triumph, no question about it, with the added unexpected pleasure for Russia of topping the medal list. A Levada poll showed something less than enthusiasm at the start: 53% were glad Russia was hosting but 26% were not. Bet there’s more support now! Perhaps connected is a poll rating that puts Putin up to 68% approval. So, after all the toilets, fake pictures, (intentional fakes too), breathless warnings, subtropical, they were safe, everybody had a private toilet and food, the athletes seem to have enjoyed themselves. Will Western opinioneers and media outlets admit to getting it wrong? (“Sochi has been utter embarrassment for Vladimir Putin”). Silly question: “away from all the cameras, there are still many glaring questions”, “these games were anything but carefree”. I believe they went too far: in the event, millions and millions of viewers have seen the Western MSM’s coverage of Russia revealed to be largely lies and propaganda and the happy, modern ordinary Russians shown are a contrast to the grey, miserable, downtrodden Russians we’re told about. So, while they are indeed only sports, the Games’ success is another bucket of paint remover thrown at the Western portrait of Russia.

CORRUPTION. Investigations chew away: an investigation into fraud at the Defence Ministry re-opened upon new testimony. Perhaps connected is a report that the former minister seeks amnesty. Seven generals and admirals investigated last year for corruption. A senior official in Interior Ministry detained over claims of bribery and abuse of office. Another senior Interior Ministry official dismissed with no reason given.

BOLOTNAYA CASE. Jail sentences for seven (longest 4 years, shortest 2 ½ – less double time served I presume as is usual) and probation for one. An anti-Putin rally turned violent in 2012. My sources tell me the violence was organised to happen (one of the principal Putin opponents said she wouldn’t appear because she knew there would be violence) but the WMSM of course pretends that this is a terrible outrage.

MORE LIBERALS. Vladimir Ryzhkov has quit RPR-PARNAS. I have lost track of how many registered parties there are now – over a hundred I think – so I guess there will soon be one more. The Russian “liberals” are so ego-bound that none can bear to cooperate with another.

OMBUDSMAN. Putin nominated Ella Pamfilova as ombudsman. An interesting choice: she had been the head of the human rights council until she resigned quite loudly in 2010. The apparent reason being her conviction that no one was listening. Many of the other members subsequently quit.

THE WORLD IS CHANGING. Straws in the wind. China unloading some US bonds (by the way China has an interest in Ukrainian developments). Russia-Egypt arms deal. Big year for Russia-India arms sales and cooperation. India showing interest in the Customs Union. Thoughtful people should know of this editorial in the CPC People’s Daily on Ukraine: “The theories related to politics, economics and security during the Cold War period are still influencing many people on their concept of the world, and some Western people are still imbued with resentment towards Russia”. What would happen if China unloaded, say, 10% of its $1.27 trillion of USD bonds to underline its displeasure with “outdated thinking”?Perhaps the EU and USA aren’t the final word any more.

UKRAINE. Nuland has got her way for the moment and “Yats” is named Prime Minister, As far as I can see, what actually happened was that the protest leaders made their “suggestions” and Parliament rubber-stamped them. And now it’s time to talk money because Ukraine is bankrupt. At the moment the number mentioned is US$35 billion but it will probably be more – someone has to pay for the gas. But the EU and USA aren’t as rich as they once were: Kerry thinks a billion is possible and the EU doesn’t sound helpful and the IMF is only talking $15 billion. No wonder Hague thinks Russia should chip in. (Who’d have thought, 20 years ago, that Russia would be the one with the spare cash?) Meanwhile, who’s in charge? People like this former fighter in Chechnya? Secession or civil war coming? The next month or so will tell us. My argument that the Standard Western Media Narrative is propaganda and lies is here. My prediction is that Moscow will sit back and watch developments: the EU and USA have broken it, let them pay for it. Ukraine in its present condition is no prize and it could be a real nightmare in a few weeks. I hope I’m wrong.

SYRIA. A fourth batch of CW left Syria yesterday and a third on the 10th.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (

Propaganda and the Narrative

JRL/2014 /40/19

I assume that most of the people who read this blog agree that a great deal of what might be called the “Standard Western Media Narrative on Ukraine” could better be termed propaganda. That is to say that it is a constructed narrative designed to produce deep-rooted convictions. Or, more bluntly, constructed lies and selected truths designed to shape opinion.

Let’s get the truths out of the way: Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych ran a corrupt and inefficient government. The condition of life for a great many Ukrainians is dreary, disappointing and declining. EU association had serious, perhaps majority, support in Ukraine at the time Yanukovych abandoned it. A lot, perhaps even a majority (but no one knows), supported, at least to some extent, the Maidan protesters and are glad to see the back of Yanukovych. Those could be agreed to, with some discussion about how big the support was and how bad Yanukovych was, by practically all people with any degree of informed knowledge. But those aren’t the things I am talking about.

The “Standard Western Media Narrative on Ukraine” (SWMN henceforth) goes quite a bit further than that. It would, I would say, consist of the following assertions

  1. Yanukovych was very much under the thumb of Putin (It’s very personalised: Russia is Moscow is Putin. But that’s another story.)
  2. A key Putin policy is to keep Ukraine and the other former USSR countries under his influence.
  3. Putin will not allow Ukraine or any of the former USSR countries to form an association with any other power.
  4. Using his influence, in furtherance of his aim to keep Ukraine under control, Putin forced Yanukovych to cancel the EU agreement.

Perhaps a little variation in the SWMN; maybe Putin bribed Yanukovych rather than ordering or threatening him. But these variances are unimportant and these four assertions are taken for granted in almost every Western report on recent events in Ukraine.

I say that these four are propaganda and I say they are because there are huge logic holes in them; therefore they cannot be true. They can only be believed if they are repeated so loudly, quickly and routinely that none of the audience gets a chance to think.

So let us think. We’re told Putin controls Yanukovych and won’t let Ukraine sign on with the EU. So why did Putin let him get so close to signing? Surely he would have stopped the whole process months ago when it was easy to do so. This is a huge logic hole. We’re told that Putin wants to keep all the former Soviet states under his control. But Georgia and Moldova signed association agreements with the EU. Are we supposed to believe that Putin had more power over big Ukraine than over little Georgia and Moldova? Another logic hole. Therefore, consideration of what actually happened – Yanukovych changing his mind at the last moment and Georgia and Moldova signing – detonates the four assertions: they cannot be true. QED

Now to a second question. Has any Western media outlet discussed, at any level of detail, what the terms of the agreement were? I have not seen anything; I’ve read opinions but I have seen nothing with any detail in the Western media. Not even the authors of the Wikipedia entry can find anything about what the agreement actually said. Why not? Isn’t that a relevant part of the story? Or might seeing the details raise questions about how beneficial the deal would have been for Ukraine? Better to keep the discussion at the level of EU agreement Good! Russia agreement Bad! That’s propaganda, not reporting. QED

Finally a third question. A decade ago there were protests in Kiev and elsewhere and people power triumphed. A decade ago the people demanded new elections, got them and West-friendly people were voted in. A decade ago democracy triumphed over corruption, Russian influence and so on and on. And here we are again (with a lot more violence and some creepy people we didn’t see much of then, but never mind). Have you seen any Western media outlet discuss this fact? Or speculate on what happened to the “Orange Revolution” and Yushchenko and how Ukraine got back to Yanukovych? Or even mention that this is a second appearance of the same theme? Or don’t you agree that everything is written up as if this was something absolutely unprecedented in modern Ukrainian history? Propaganda again: a constructed narrative designed to make the audience feel a certain way. If one were to think about “Orange Revolution” I and its failure, one would have a different opinion of “Orange Revolution” II; probably not a very optimistic or supportive one. So don’t remind anyone. QED

So, I submit that we have three powerful arguments that the SWMN is a construction that plays up some facts, ignores others and avoids certain questions. In short, something manufactured by interests that are not necessarily concerned with improving the miserable situation in Ukraine but are playing some geopolitical game. (And playing it rather ineptly: I very much doubt that the supporters of “88” are going to just go away quietly. And they don’t like the EU or NATO.)

Some more evidence of manufacture: given that the famous Nuland-Pyatt conversation was out there and could not be ignored by media outlets that pretend to objectivity, chase the squirrel: make the reporting about her opinion of the EU and not about the fact that two American diplomats have been caught arranging the chairs in the new Ukrainian government. (And, the way things are looking, I doubt either “Klitsch” or “Yats” will be in the chair when the music stops.) That’s propaganda – or information-management, if you prefer – too.

So, Dear Readers, I’m not really trying to persuade any of you; what I hope you will do is try these arguments out on your neighbours and see if they have any effect at weakening the deep narrative planted in their heads by endless repetition. And, please, report back either way.

We spend our time talking to each other: preaching to the converted. That may be amusing and keep us from watching daytime TV but it doesn’t move anything forward. We have to come up with something that makes our neighbours, daily subjected to propaganda (here’s an egregious example), stop and think a bit. Why? Because calling Putin/Russia the Enemy could have very painful consequences for a lot of people. Quite apart from the moral repugnancy of cheering on what may turn out to be really terrible times for Ukrainians who, are after all, people who’ve never done any of us any harm.

Lies of Olympic Proportions

JRL/2014 /22/17

There has been an unceasing campaign to denigrate the construction in the Sochi-Adler area. Incompetence, corruption, double toilets and so on and on. In all of this, few people have been shown what has been built for the total cost of 55 billion or so US Dollars. We have a preview; but first a discussion of cost.

Most Western sources claim that the real cost of the Sochi Olympics is the 55 billion and Putin is assumed to be lying when he says the cost is 6 billion or so. Now that Navalniy has his report out that claims to measure the alleged corruption, the Western media is full of wide-eyed quotations from it. But Western discussions, and Navalniy (not, I suspect, by coincidence) ignore the other stated purpose of the construction which is to create a full-scale sports and holiday complex in Russia’s Riviera. The aim being to attract Russian tourists away from foreign holidays and provide some development and employment opportunities in the chronically depressed North Caucasus.

So what is the real cost of the Olympics? 1) All of the 55 billion or 2) just the proportion that would not have been spent if the Olympics weren’t coming or 3) something in-between? The first question to be answered is how much of the total is definitely Olympics-only spending. Here Navalniy actually agrees with Putin: from his report “Olympstroy spent $6.3 bn to construct 11 sport venues”; that is the number Putin gives.

The disagreement is over what column to put the other expenditures in. Navalniy insists they all be charged to the Olympics, Putin that they be charged to resort complex construction and necessary infrastructure improvement. That’s what the disagreement actually amounts to, not that anyone in the Western media will tell you: Putin says some is Olympics, most is infrastructure, Navalniy says all is Olympics. But they agree on the total that has been spent. Putin wants to play the Olympics costs down, Navalniy wants to play them up; so each picks his favourite split. Each is being disingenuous.

Certainly an immense amount of money has been spent on sports facilities, visitor amusements, transportation facilities, hotels, restaurants and the rest. So, Dear Reader, you decide the split. How do you judge the most expensive single project (the 5-6 billion road-rail connection to the ski resort, replacing the Soviet-era link)? Would it have been built anyway to connect the town of Adler (where, as we have interminably been told, it doesn’t snow much) to the ski resort area where it does? Or do you judge that it was only built because of the Olympics? Or should only some of the cost be assigned to the Olympics and how would you assign it? How about the airport at Adler? The port development at Sochi? The isolation hospital in Lazerevskiy district? The Adler power station? The shopping mall? Putin says none, Navalniy says all but they don’t disagree that 50-plus billion was spent overall. And, when you make your decision, what makes you think the next person would agree? The only correct answer is that, when the Olympics are gone, there will still be a vast complex of modern facilities in a place and situation that ought to be pretty attractive to tourists.

The truth is that a large high quality resort complex has been constructed, together with a great deal of infrastructure created or improved; some of this was built only because the Olympics were coming. So what is the cost of the Olympics? I don’t know either. 6 billion seems too narrow a definition but 55 billion is far too high. Can we pick a number out of the sky and say 7 or 8? Certainly a ludicrous amount of money to shell out for a few weeks of sports; probably an argument for having a permanent facility but, given that there wasn’t much there in the beginning except Nature, not absurdly high as these things are priced.

These panoramic photos show what has been done. And don’t forget, Dear Reader, Navalniy and others would like us to believe that a third of the money was stolen: look at all this stuff and decide whether that sounds right.

Russian language only, but you’ll get the idea.

PS the toilet story isn’t true.