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

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

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

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.

{{third­PartyEmbed type:twit­ter id:440481187681689600}}

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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