You may remember the recent minor misunderstanding, which involved Putin’s army going into Crimea to look for phantom fascists but then accidentally holding a sham referendum and annexing the peninsula?
Well, I happened to come across a very telling piece of Russian propaganda from that time. It’s from February 25, shortly before Russian army went into Crimea. The army was allegedly there to protect ethnic Russians from rampaging neo-Nazis. Also, the army was allegedly not there at all, according to Putin. It’s all so very complicated.
In any case, here’s a small new segment from Russian TV (with English subtitles), intended to paint the Kremlin-preferred picture of utter chaos and Maidan extremists running loose. Pay attention to the moving images that set the dark tone behind the news anchor. The channel makes a live call to a deputy of Crimean parliament, who is supposed to corroborate the “fascist danger” story. However, he didn’t seem to get the memo, so he tells the truth instead:
Notice how he gets cut off due to “technical difficulties”? Notice the anchor’s shaky voice as she tries to sound genuine when describing said “difficulties”? That’s the funny part.
The not-so-funny part? It didn’t matter that the pretext was utter bullshit. Putin still went into Crimea. He still annexed it, without incurring too many costs. And now? Now he’s executing this same exact scenario in Ukraine’s south-east regions.
What’s the message here? “Fuck Putin,” I guess? Yup, that’s it. Fuck him very much, from the bottom of my heart. I hope his cynical, disgusting actions in Ukraine spell the eventual end of his authoritarian rule in Russia. It really is about damn time.
It’s been over two weeks since Putin’s forces moved into Crimea in a noble attempt to protect it from fascists, leprechauns, and other mythical creatures. So carried away did Putin get with this protection that he accidentally over-protected himself into completely taking over all of Crimea. Oops, awkward!
Now Crimea stands to “vote” in an upcoming referendum on whether to join Russia or to only sort of maybe join Russia. I’ve already covered the situation in this post and this post. In this third chapter of what I hope is just a trilogy, I explore the many reasons this “referendum” is an absolute circus. Buckle up, folk, let’s go for a ride into surreal madness.
4. Crimea is essentially under total Russian military control
At this point, there should not be an iota of doubt that Russian military has de facto control of Crimea. We can choose to believe that they are simply a bunch of local “self-defense forces” who raided a “Toys R Us” store and armed themselves with water pistols and, inexplicably, Russian military equipment.
Or we can choose to live in the real world, where as many as 11,000 Russian troops have seized control of key military and government installations, set up guarded roadblocks, and continue to exert psychological pressure on Ukrainian soldiers to try and make them defect. Without even questioning the legality of these happenings, does it strike you as an environment conducive to a democratic referendum? If you said “yes,” then thanks for taking the time to visit my blog, Kim Jong-un, you can go back to oppressing your citizens now.
No truly democratic vote can take place under Martial law conditions, especially when these conditions are imposed by a foreign invader. To believe otherwise is to be Putin or to be a lunatic—so, yeah, to be Putin.
3. Crimea is under equally total political and media control
Let’s take a quick look at Sergei Aksyonov, the current “fairly” “elected” “prime minister” of Crimea. He is a known separatist, who dreamed of Crimea joining Russia for many years. That’s fair enough, but he has always been one of the few. His party gathered a whopping 4 percent of the votes in the last Crimean parliamentary election in 2010. He was a virtual nobody in Crimea’s political landscape.
So how in the gentle fuck of Zeus did this man suddenly become the leader of Crimea in late February?! I’m glad you ask, my hypothetical conversation partner. The answer is: shameless fraud. That linked article goes into detail, but here are just a few juicy bits:
1. The “election” took place behind closed doors, without journalists, and with armed soldiers guarding the entrance to the parliament building.
2. Parliamentary elections can only be valid if at least 51 representatives are present. Only 36 were present, according to independent research, but Aksyonov’s new government insists the number was 61.
3. A number of individuals who were definitely not present saw their names appear on a list of members who voted to elect Aksyonov and hold a referendum. Maybe they were sleep-voting? Eh, that could happen.
In short: If this man is a democratically elected leader of Crimea, then I’m the king of Australia. Somebody should tell Tony Abbot to pack up and cut out his “prime minister” bullshit.
“But Daniel, Aksyonov is just one man. He can’t exactly dictate to the people how they should vote,” you may say. And you’re right, perhaps he can’t outright force anyone. (Although judging by his own rise to power, that’s debatable.) However, he can do absolutely everything in his power to make sure that people receive maximum pressure and disinformation ahead of this planned referendum.
And he does. By now he has shut down Ukrainian TV channels in Crimea and replaced them with their Russian counterparts. He justified it by claiming he was protecting Crimean people from “escalation of violence, lies, and the flow of untrue information that has been flowing from the screens.” That statement instantly wins the prize for the most ironic string of words ever put together by a functioning human being. To discover just how incredibly, blatantly, inconceivably biased and state-controlled the Russian press is at the moment, one only need to read this article. It’s George Orwell’s 1984, just 30 years too late. And that’s doubleplusungood.
Or maybe you want to take a gander at one of the not-at-all-crazy, objective referendum posters currently on display in Crimea—illustrating the choices people can vote on? As you wish:
“Nazi swastika? No, that represents, uh, a peaceful four-legged spider? Yeah, that’s it!”
Therefore, I think I can be excused for calling the current atmosphere in Crimea a tiny bit not-at-all-goddamn-impartial and weeping-hell-how-is-this-even-happening-in-2014?!
But, hey, at least smart people can still filter out the propaganda and make up their own minds, right? Well…
2. Crimea’s voters have no real choice
Allow me to briefly discuss the referendum ballots and the choices given to voters. The ballots will ask:
1. Are you in favor of the reunification of Crimea with Russia as a part of the Russian Federation?
2. Are you in favor of restoring the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine?
If you look really carefully at these questions, you may notice a tiny, insignificant thing missing: the ability to vote for maintaining the status quo. Nobody has the choice to say “Actually I like the way things are in Crimea, let’s just keep doing that.” An option to abstain or “vote against all” is also suspiciously missing.
More than that, there isn’t even clarity about the exact meaning of the second choice. There is some discussion of what the “1992 Constitution” actually entails, but it all boils down to this summary by a Chatham House writer, Keir Giles:
“The restoration of this (1992) constitution would be a step towards notional independence under Russian control…Those citizens who were content with Crimea remaining part of Ukraine on the same basis as it has been for the last 20 years do not have a voice in this referendum. There is no third option available.”
I’m not saying that these choices are bullshit. I’m saying that these “choices” are shake-your-head-in-utter-disbelief level of bullshit.
1. There is zero transparency and neutrality
All of the above wouldn’t be nearly as bad if there was at least a shadow of transparency; if independent journalists and observers were able to monitor the vote and ensure due process.
The reality? OSCE observers have, on multiple occasions, tried to enter Crimea. Every time they were turned away by increasingly aggressive Russian troops. The last time, apparently, shots were fired to make the observers leave. I won’t be surprised if Putin soon appears on TV to tell us it was just a hilarious misunderstanding (“Because, you see, in Russia, firing guns at people is how we confess our love and invite them in for a cup of tea”).
To be sure, a while ago Russia did make a spectacle out of “inviting” OSCE observers into Crimea. The problem is that these words, so far, aren’t backed by action. If I invite you into my home and then repeatedly slam the door in your face as you try to enter, you’ll be forgiven for doubting my intentions.
As it stands today, independent journalists, observers, and any parties attempting to evaluate the true state of affairs in Crimea are prevented from doing so with any degree of reliability. Some are even allegedly abducted.
Taking into account the above reasons, to call the upcoming charade a “referendum” is the pinnacle of dishonesty. Anyone doing so with a straight face is either lying to himself or to the rest of us. I’m looking at you, Putin.
Here’s the sad bit: Barring some miracle or a next-to-impossible change of heart from Putin, this referendum will take place. The people of Crimea will “vote” to join Russia.
The big question is: What happens next? It’s a question I’m afraid to answer. It’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. But it’s a question that is already on many people’s minds, and will be on everyone’s mind come March 16. No matter what happens, my hope is that nobody sheds blood over these political maneuvers. Despite what Hollywood movies may tell us, real war isn’t all about entertaining kick-ass explosions and awesome giant robots.
I would really appreciate if those who have learned something from this post share it with others. Information is the best weapon we have in the war against oppression.
The response has been overwhelming. None of my posts have ever gone this viral on social media, or gotten read by so many people from all over the world. I’m happy my words have an impact.
Some of the people left comments, too. Kind, compassionate comments. I’m thankful for all of them. But yesterday a troll (Meki) galloped across the comment section, leaving outbursts of misguided words and hate in his wake. Some of his comments were deleted for personally insulting my other readers and their words. Most of his comments were left intact and can still be seen below the original post.
I want to focus on one of these comments, which mimicked my “open letter” format. My responses below aren’t meant to give legitimacy to this type of trolling. I realize that, in all likelihood, Meki has moved on to troll other forums. He (she?) is not interested in hearing my opinions. Responses here are for those who are curious about my take on the sad happenings in Ukraine. Let’s treat it as a sort of Q&A session (because “Daniel argues with a troll session” isn’t nearly as glamorous). Sadly, I’ve heard Meki’s words come from some people I’ve spoken to over the past few days. Here are my answers to them:
Dear Beloved Daniel,
By the way, what do you think about Afghanistan invaded by americans, Pakistan doomed by americans, Palestine is being haunted by nazi israilians with the support of americans, Iraq always had anonymous biological guns which will spray the chemical on americans just like they did on Vietnamese, all Vietnamese are terrorists because they do not honor americana, syria is some kind of bastard which doesn’t allow their people to breath since 1000s of years and people are dying there at the rate of 49/minute; Wow! Saudi Arabia is a great Muslim country who sells a lot of oil to americans so they can ship guns to mexico.
Despite the fact that most of the above is rambling gibberish and an ugly mix of truths, half-truths, and straight up nonsense, I think I hear what you’re saying.
The US government has made a lot of recognized foreign policy blunders, repercussions of which are still being felt. I don’t think you’ll find many informed people arguing with this notion. I have just read an interesting article discussing some of the underlying reasons for the current tension between the East and West over Ukraine. What I think about these matters is entirely irrelevant, since I’m neither a political expert nor someone with any proximity to the decision-making that takes place in country governments. I’m going to go ahead and assume that neither are you. Let’s leave it at that and move on.
I would like to make it clear that as you “take care” of many countries then Comrade Putin has also right to take care of couple of countries.
This is profoundly, categorically wrong.
First off, let’s even go as far as to assume that America is the unilateral aggressor that you want to present it as. That does not, by any stretch of logic, give anyone else the right to act in a similar fashion. If anything, people who truly are against the “evil invader” approach should be unequivocally against other countries doing the same.
Secondly, I am emphatically against anybody “taking care” of my country, when “taking care” means the use of military force. I’d be speaking out in the same way if US or European troops were in Ukraine trying to dictate future developments. Today, however, Russia is the only country seizing total control of Crimea under the guise of protecting Ukraine from a phantom threat. More on that later.
Ukraine is in dire need of economic, political, and social reforms that slowly start moving it toward a stable and corruption-free country. It has years, if not decades, to go. All I want, all most Ukrainians want, is to build this future by ourselves, without external military interference. I trust that, given the chance, Ukraine would be wise enough to cooperate with all outside partners, including Russia, US, EU, and others. The country simply can’t do without them. But this must be a matter for diplomats and politicians, not soldiers.
I’m not a Comrade Putin lover; but I must clear you that the person whom you are saying “dead” in above picture is not dead but lying down. Soldiers are firing in the air and he is doing what a good citizen should do.
Congratulations, you have managed to miss the point entirely. The person in the picture was presented as “dead” by the propaganda machine, and the pictures prove the falsehood of this claim. Also, notice that the “dead body” is wearing military uniform. If this wasn’t a staged event (which it was), the job of a soldier wouldn’t entail “lying down” as a “good citizen,” but fighting the alleged aggressors.
How do I know that this scenario is absolute, utter horseshit? Because to this day—since the tragic events of late February, in which almost 100 people died in Kiev in the clashes between rioters and police in the revolt that eventually brought about Yanukovich’s downfall—nobody in Ukraine has been killed by the alleged “fascist” forces. The article I linked to dives deeper into the propaganda-versus-reality picture.
I know Russia attacked on Afghanistan but they didn’t kill people, they didn’t create a Guantanamo, they didn’t took educated women in the name of God, so-called democracy and terrorism, they didn’t strengthen their economy via selling guns, they didn’t support locals to produce cocaine, they didn’t give name “terrorist, taliban” to enemy fighters. They didn’t train their soldiers that we are in the war with all muslim states around the world.
I’ve addressed most of this in my first answer, but I’d like to linger a bit on the “didn’t train their soldiers [to believe] that we are [at war]” part. This is precisely what Putin’s propaganda machine is doing. They have created a scary, powerful, and threatening enemy in the Right Sector movement. They are systematically training people to see the Right Sector as a real, substantial threat, from which Ukraine’s citizens need to be protected by the Russian army.
I won’t claim to fully understand the Right Sector’s motivations and ideology. I’m not naive enough to believe that they’re all peace-loving revolutionaries (is that maybe an oxymoron?). I have seen videos of some of their members acting decidedly uncivilized, bullying policemen, and getting into near-fist-fights with public officers. What I have also seen in many of those videos, is peaceful Ukrainians interfering and not letting things escalate.
What I find much more potent and relevant to focus on is the recent poll showing that just over 2 percent of the population would consider voting for Dmitro Yarosh (leader of the Right Sector) if he ran for president. Or this article, in which a rival politician and rights campaigner says this about the Right Sector: “But I don’t see much room for their radicalism now in democratic politics. Ukrainians are tolerant. Right Sector will have some small support if it develops as a political party, maybe five to seven percent of the vote. I don’t see a big political future for them.”
They’re a radical, marginal group, and are seen as such by most tolerant and objective people of Ukraine. To claim that the Right Sector is a real threat to Ukraine and its politics is akin to claiming the same about the KKK in the US. And even that is a poor comparison, since the Right Sector claims to not be racially biased. The last article I’ve linked to (here it is again) does a decent job of presenting a good picture of the group and its political future (or lack thereof).
And yet, despite all of this, the propaganda machine is succeeding to a large extent. Their systematic repetition of the “fascist threat” rhetoric is turning people against each other. It evokes fear and anger in people I personally know: people whom I know to otherwise be compassionate and kind and objective. People who are deliberately trained to see an imagined enemy as a threat, instead of channeling their passions and emotions toward building a stable and peaceful country.
And it breaks my heart.
And I hope and pray that these negative emotions won’t triumph over objectivity and peacefulness. It would be devastatingly sad for me to see this happen to the country where I grew up.
Okay, the women who are crying. They are crying because their relatives are in Russia and Ukraine both. They do not want any war; that’s why they have tears.
Wrong. I have had the chance to actually watch the interview. The woman is allegedly a resident of Odessa who wants Putin to come and rescue her from the fascists. In another video the (very possibly) same woman is agitating people to create a pro-Russian crowd against the fascists in Kharkov (where I grew up). Since I’ve published my last post there were further alleged sightings of this woman in other cities of Ukraine. Granted, I cannot personally confirm many of these claims. There’s a degree of subjectivity and bias on both sides. However, what I know about the situation, combined with what I have written above about the true threat of the Right Sector, juxtaposed against the woman’s decidedly exaggerated wording about the state of affairs, does indeed make me suspect her of being an agent provocateur. Even if I am wrong about this specific woman, I have already seen enough other blatant propaganda to form my opinion and feelings about it—that feeling is endless disgust, if you’re wondering.
You did touch upon a very important thing though. People do indeed have relatives and friends in both countries. Regular Ukrainians and Russians have been very friendly to each other over the years. Most of them can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to become enemies if things escalate.
That’s why kind, unifying, touching videos are being made, where Ukrainian people speak directly to their Russian brothers. Videos that don’t focus on the “us against them” rhetoric, but speak out for peace and against war.
And it makes me believe that, in the midst of all this surreal insanity, these people and these messages are the ones that speak the loudest. The alternative, to me, is inconceivable.
Okay You say there are gays and their love is as ultimate as your mama/papa’s. We should respect them because you believe that they will be able to birth cute Daniels in coming years, right? I wish your papa could be a gay so you can see from sky and ask why you are not getting into life.
You don’t know how sentences work, do you? You can’t just throw a bunch of words into a hat, pull them out at random, and assemble them into a word-soup, hoping that others may understand you. Your message appears to be “GAYS BAD. OTHER THINGS. HAHAHA.”
That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. I disagree with you completely, but I won’t be changing your mind. I am a firm believer in equal rights for everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, and opinions on lemon-flavored cookies. I want Ukraine to be a country that embraces this type of tolerance. And I’m far from alone. Unfortunately, Russia has a long way to go to (at least politically) acknowledge the rights of many such groups. This is one of the reasons I am against Russia’s attempt to heavy-handedly influence developments in Ukraine.
And so nicely, you called them pro-russian actors just like you and your supporters are made of milk and honey. No discussion, on such illogical statements. You fat black Buffalo; you’re totally black yourself. How you dare to ask cow, “move away from my way you black tail cow”.
Uuuuuuhm, milk and honey. Delicious!
Please (all migrated) americans do not mess with the world, Let us live in peace. Every year we’ll be giving you a thanks giving. I wish your last sentence may come true so we can get rid of you.
For the record (not that it really matters), I’m a Ukrainian living in Denmark. You would have known that if you have bothered to read my post properly, instead of smashing your fingers on the keyboard to write angry words.
But, once again, you manage to say something useful. Namely, the “let us live in peace” part. That’s what I want: for Russia’s politicians to learn to let go and give Ukraine space to live in peace. To let Ukrainians try and settle any possible internal disputes, and together start building a better future.
These may be romantic, even naive, hopes.
But I so want to believe we are capable of making the right choices. I so want to believe that the Ukrainian people at large are tolerant, kind, and reasonable. I so want to believe that, despite our corruption- and turmoil-filled past, we are smart enough to learn from history and start making the right decisions and, slowly, very slowly, turning our country around.
My only mission in all of this is to root for a peaceful resolution to this complex, polarizing, and sad standoff. You said it, Meki—let us live in peace!
I leave you all with a little parody skit mocking Russian propaganda, made by a bunch of Ukrainians who haven’t lost their sense of humour in all of this. It even has English subtitles. It makes me immensely happy to see these types of videos being made. A country that hasn’t lost its sense of humour during such sad times is a country I’m proud to have been born in. It’s a country that I trust can pull through this horrible mess with optimism and grace. For without humour, things would look all too depressing indeed:
First of all, let me assure you that I—like most Ukrainians—fully support your current activities in my country.
All of us want to see Ukraine once again become a part of a strong and mighty Soviet Union. We desperately need Russia to rescue us from all those gays, progressive political ideas, and people who insist on openly speaking their minds under the pretext of this “free speech” nonsense. You have demonstrated an uncanny ability to effectively deal with all three, so your leadership is required here.
The media insist that Viktor Yanukovych was ousted for being too corrupt and dictatorial, but you and I both know the truth: He was simply not corrupt and dictatorial enough. No, we want you, Mr. Putin!
Having said that, I am deeply concerned about the efficacy of your current propaganda efforts and political maneuvering. If Russia is to finally annex Ukraine, you need to do much better than that. Please allow me to humbly point out some weaknesses in your overall strategy, so that you may address them.
I am no fool. I acknowledge the need for a full-blown disinformation campaign aimed at Russian citizens, in order to gain their support. What else are you going to do—tell them the truth?! Ha, imagine? I admire how you have cleverly chosen to paint Ukraine as a country where Russian-speaking citizens are persecuted and marginalized. Where militant nationalists and fascists are shooting and killing ethnic Russians left and right. This is a wise and necessary strategy. As a son of a Russian mother and a Jewish father (and a proud speaker of Russian) I can only support you spreading such lie…ahem…stories, if only to take those “pure Ukrainians” down a peg.
I am, however, disappointed at the insufficient budget you have allocated for these propaganda measures. Some embarrassing footage of clearly staged events is beginning to surface. Like these ladies, who were participating in a pro-Russian rally as “concerned locals” in my home city of Kharkov, on March 1:
Here are the same two ladies, now “concerned locals” of Odessa, two days later:
Or this “dead victim” of a “fascist attack” in Crimea suddenly coming back to life to adjust his position for maximum comfort:
Even zombies get tired every now and then.
A number of sites have begun to crop up, exposing these and other…inconsistencies. One of these sites is www.stopfake.org. People behind it claim to be journalists. They seem to mistakenly assume that journalism involves disseminating facts, while you, Mr. Putin, know better than anyone that true journalism is about creating a dependable and efficient channel for government propaganda. Why are you hesitating to shut down their site? Or why don’t you at least help create a counter-site, something like http://www.support-necessary-disinformation-in-pursuit-of-greater-good.ru?
Frankly—if I may—this is laughable. Surely Russia can afford more and better actors to pose as pro-Russian supporters. Hell, if you bought me a summer house in Sochi, I’d consider signing up. I’m sure I could play a much more convincing dead body; I’ve taken drama classes before.
More disturbingly, however, an increasing number of people have begun to speak up against what’s happening. Worst of all, they do so while calmly appealing to rational thinking and calling for unity among all people of Ukraine, regardless of ethnicity . The nerve of them!
Take this monster—who happens to be the mayor of Lviv—spreading his vile, poisonous message of peace among all Ukrainians and a stable, truly democratic and tolerant country. Look at how well-spoken and well-reasoned he is. It sickens me!
Or how about this man, Dr. Komarovsky, a pediatrician based in Ukraine, yet popular among Russian parents? Look at him, urging everyone to exercise common sense and search for unbiased sources of information instead of consuming your beautiful, well-crafted propaganda!
Mr. Putin, comrade, I understand that your reach within Ukraine is somewhat limited, and that’s why you are yet unable to stop these people from speaking so freely. But how do you excuse similar dissenting voices coming from within Russia itself? Comedians, celebrities, and others are speaking out against your actions, calling for the people of our two historically friendly countries to stay united against war and propaganda?! What about countless posts on social media, debunking your claims and speaking out against your polices? How are you letting this madness happen?
Listen, I realize that things were different in the old days. Propaganda is much easier to spread when there’s a single TV channel that is fully controlled by the government. The Internet is making your job very difficult, I admit. But there are ways. Other countries have been able to prevent their citizens from accessing Internet sites, at will. Why can’t you? It’s almost as if you’re not very committed to this course of action.
Finally, on the subject of Russian troops moving into Crimea. Why aren’t they wearing identifying insignia, designating them as such? It would make the process so much smoother.
Surely if Russian troops openly crossed into Ukraine they’d be welcomed as heroes and liberators! It’s not like moving your army into a neighbouring country is against international laws, or something. Why not just have the Russian army raise the Russian flag and march victoriously into Ukraine, letting our citizens—tired of fascists and ultra-nationalists—march with Russia to rebuild the USSR of old?!
Instead you are sending mixed signals and creating all sorts of confusion. What if somebody mistakes the noble Russian troops for some sort of foreign insurgents, illegally invading Ukraine? That could lead to all sorts of hilarious misunderstandings, no?
Comrade Putin, I have every confidence that you will heed my above concerns. Crack down on the voices of reason. Put out more effective propaganda (after all, you put out what you Putin—ha, ha, I kid). Make your stance clear, and let Ukraine rally behind you as the true leader of a glorious and undefeated Soviet Union.
On a more selfish note, I hope that—once Ukraine is absorbed into your empire—you will spare a moment to do me a personal favor.
You see, I currently reside in the country of Denmark. There are thousands of us ethnic Russians and Russian speakers here in the country. Every single day we are forced to speak Danish (or at least English) to the rest of the people. More than that, the Danish government stubbornly refuses to recognize Russian as one of the official languages, thereby continuing to marginalize and oppress us.
Please, comrade Putin, if you have any troops to spare, make them invade Denmark and protect your Russian people. We need you now more than ever!
Long live the Red Army. Glory to the Soviet Union.