Crisis in Crimea, According to Kremlin TV: Tea, Sandwiches, and Selfies

RT, the website of the Kremlin-funded television station, is laced with propaganda.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
March 3, 2014, 9:51 a.m.

In the West, Rus­sia’s in­va­sion of Crimea is seen as a vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al norms and state sov­er­eignty. But over at RT.com, the web­site of the Krem­lin-fun­ded tele­vi­sion sta­tion, it’s all tea, sand­wiches, and mu­sic. At least that was a story lead­ing the home page this week­end.

An­oth­er story on the site formerly known as Rus­sia Today claimed Ukrain­i­an troops in Crimea had switched sides ac­cord­ing to a single “un­named source.”

As Rus­si­an troops seized con­trol of gov­ern­ment build­ings and com­mu­nic­a­tion hubs across the Crimean Pen­in­sula, pho­tos from RT‘s In­s­tagram ac­count fea­tured Sim­fero­pol res­id­ents hap­pily pos­ing with squad mem­bers for selfies.{{third­PartyEmbed type:in­s­tagram id:lCh2HG­M3GI}}

An­oth­er photo on RT‘s In­s­tagram ac­count showed a pro-Rus­si­an pro­test­er hoist­ing a sign that read: “In Rus­sia, we have broth­ers. In Europe, we’re slaves.” A photo on the web­site showed a Sim­fero­pol res­id­ent in short shorts and spike heels smil­ing be­side a sol­dier with a cap­tion that read, “The ques­tion of what’s more dan­ger­ous in close com­bat — high heels or a ma­chine gun — re­mains open.”

Still oth­ers showed sol­diers be­side smil­ing chil­dren and moth­ers with strollers.

Sim­fero­pol res­id­ents pose with solider. (Photo by An­drey Sten­in via RIA Nov­osti as seen on RT.com.)

Sim­fero­pol fath­er and son pose with sol­dier. (Photo by An­drey Sten­in via RIA Nov­osti as seen on RT.com.)

When RT first came to the U.S. in 2010, it had high hopes for provid­ing a more com­plete por­trait of Rus­sia. Former RT host Alyona Minkovski’s show landed her a job with The Huff­ing­ton Post, and Ju­li­an As­sange hos­ted an ex­clus­ive TV series on the site in 2012. Larry King’s RT show de­b­uted in June.

But now people on the in­side are con­cerned about how the net­work is go­ing to cov­er the news in Crimea and Ukraine, and about what the brass is go­ing to say, ac­cord­ing to a former RT em­ploy­ee. So far it’s un­clear.

“They are not by any means keen on the Wash­ing­ton con­sensus and the State De­part­ment’s view of the crisis,” said the source, “but they’re also ap­palled by the pos­sib­il­ity of toe­ing the Krem­lin’s line on this.”

Still there have per­haps been times when RT provided a use­ful coun­ter­point. Dur­ing the Geor­gia crisis in 2008, for in­stance, RT‘s in­sist­ence that Geor­gia had fired the first shot, ex­pect­ing NATO back up, was later sup­por­ted by an in­de­pend­ent in­vest­ig­a­tion.

More of­ten though, it’s simply toed the Krem­lin line. In­deed, it’s hard to be­lieve that any Rus­si­an state-fin­anced me­dia could be truly in­de­pend­ent of the Krem­lin.

In Syr­ia in 2012, for in­stance, as in­ter­na­tion­al out­cry and body counts in­creased, RT con­tin­ued to min­im­ize ci­vil­ian caus­al­it­ies and pro­mote the nar­rat­ive that for­eign in­ter­ven­tion would be dis­astrous. The cov­er­age was per­fectly in tune with the Krem­lin’s po­s­i­tion, help­ing to sup­ply a counter-nar­rat­ive to make the U.S. look out of line for lec­tur­ing Rus­sia on Syr­ia.

Re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Crimea and Ukraine put RT‘s prob­lem­at­ic cov­er­age back in the spot­light. The New Re­pub­lic‘s Ju­lia Ioffe ob­served Sunday that RT ran zero cov­er­age of the an­ti­war protests in Mo­scow and St. Peters­burg, even though ar­rest num­bers were in the hun­dreds and demon­stra­tions were bru­tally broken up by Rus­si­an po­lice. (Pho­tos of that are here.)

And plenty of oth­ers have ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the cov­er­age.

Someone, ap­par­ently mo­tiv­ated by RT‘s pro­pa­gand­ist­ic cov­er­age, de­cided to take mat­ters in­to his or her own hands.

Over the week­end, RT was re­portedly hacked, with at­tack­ers re­pla­cing the word “Rus­si­an” and “mil­it­ary” with “Nazi”’ in all head­lines re­lat­ing to the use of mil­it­ary force in Crimea and Ukraine. Some head­lines briefly read, “Rus­si­an sen­at­ors vote to use sta­bil­iz­ing Nazi forces on Ukrain­i­an ter­rit­ory,” ac­cord­ing to Soft­pe­dia‘s re­port.

On its Twit­ter feed Sat­urday, RT ac­know­ledged the prob­lem and has since re­solved the is­sue, though no group has yet come for­ward to claim re­spons­ib­il­ity.

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