MOSCOW - After the 2014-2015 events in Ukraine – a government coup in Kiev, Crimea’s return to Russia’s fold by the will of an overwhelming majority of its population and the revolt of Ukraine’s eastern regions – Donetsk and Lugansk – against the authorities in Kiev the West – in the first place, the United States and to a somewhat smaller extent the European Union embarked on a crusade against Russia, thus giving analysts enough reasons to say a rerun of the Cold War, or a new type hybrid war was on between Russia and the West.
It all began with economic sanctions by the West, to which Russia responded with counter-sanctions. Now it is clear that Russia has survived the blow. This year the economy showed slow but sure growth. Some domestic producers even cheered up as many of their competitors left the market.
Washington and the European Union (under US pressures) prolong and expand the sanctions over and over again because Crimea, they argue, is getting increasingly integrated with Russia and Moscow does nothing to help mend relations between Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics. But the effects of ever stronger pressures have fallen short of their architects’ expectations.
No rifts have developed between the Russian elite and President Vladimir Putin, contrary to what the anti-Russian strategists had hoped to see. Businesses in some EU countries (Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Hungary and others) and many politicians in some of them, including such senior figures as Czech President Milos Zeman, have been ever more insistent in their demands for the cancellation of sanctions that cause direct harm to their economies.
Alas, the all-out crackdown on Moscow is continuing in different directions. Conspiracy theory enthusiasts have begun to look for traces of Moscow’s hand at work everywhere. At the initiative of the US Democratic Party, whose candidate lost the 2016 presidential election, allegations of Russia’s intervention in the race became the current political season’s key feature.
The loser candidate – Hillary Clinton – was the first to point an accusing finger at what she claimed was the Kremlin’s meddling. If she is to be believed, Russian secret services hacked into the e-mails of the Democratic Party’s top brass, scrutinized thousands of messages, picked out discrediting evidence and uploaded the stuff to the world web. In this way the Democrats, with support from US secret services, reduced to nothing Donald Trump’s initial intention to better relations with Moscow, spoiled during under Barack Obama’s rule.
The Russian leadership emphatically dismissed the charges and demanded at least some proof be presented. To no avail. One year after the presidential election in the United States the issue of Russia’s alleged interference, at first a purely internal US affair, was blown to Euro-Atlantic dimensions. A dozen other countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Spain and even Malta, charged Moscow with attempts to influence their domestic politics in various ways, including the use of cutting-edge information technologies. Now that the “Russian conspiracy theory” has begun to be felt in US and EU policies in practice, a new systemic crisis has emerged on the horizon of Russia-West relations.
Moscow was even accused of triggering the Catalan independence referendum. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the charges as “hysteria.”
“Moral panic is a phenomenon well-known in sociology and media communication studies,” says one of Russia’s leading political analysts Fyodor Lukyanov. “Moral panic’s key feature is disproportionate reaction to something perceived as a threat. The term describes a situation in which trivial events, quite often unrelated with each other, begin to be regarded as something very dreadful. Stakeholder groups and mass media are the moral panic’s main source. The current fuss in the West over alleged Russian meddling possesses the traits of precisely this phenomenon.”
“From now on anything goes,” says Lukyanov. “Anything that matches the mainstream version of events. If repeated often enough and in an alarmist enough tone a theorem (a yet-to-be proven charge) turns into an axiom. All doubts begin to be interpreted not in the defendant’s favor, but the other way round – as extra proof of guilt.”
Russian athletes are another victim of the hybrid warfare. A massive campaign against Russian sports has been simmering, with varying intensity, since last year. Its ultimate aim is to make everybody think that doping abuse by athletes is a deliberate and government-sponsored policy, and not just attempts by unscrupulous individuals to outperform rivals by illegal means (regrettably, such incidents occur in all countries, although on a different scale).
The International Olympic Committee on November 24 in fact rewrote Russia’s sports history to have annulled its highest achievement. The Denis Oswald-led panel of inquiry probing into the Russian “doping conspiracy” stripped bobsledder Alexander Zubkov of two gold medals won at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In combination with the losses sustained earlier the Russian team has retained ten golds of the 13 won in Sochi. It’s one medal less than Norway has. Formally, the Norwegians should now be regarded as the 2014 Olympics’ winners.
All in all, the Oswald commission has found ten athletes guilty of breaking anti-doping rules. Such calculations should be regarded as unofficial for the time being, though. The athletes whose awards have been taken away have declared their readiness to appeal the Oswald commission’s verdict in the Court of Arbitration for Sports. But, as experience shows, the CAS seldom overturns decisions made by the IOC’s disciplinary bodies and international federations. Now a decision is to be made if Russia will go to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The IOC Executive Board is to pronounce its verdict on December 5. Although IOC President Thomas Bach says that those who “may try to build pressure” on the IOC “will be wrong”, the general background on the eve of this event most important for Russia looks extremely unfavorable. Russian legislators have learned that the United States’ next target will be the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The US plans to put pressures on Russia through European sports functionaries for mounting an “attack” on the FIFA Cup finals, too.
Another hybrid war battle is raging on the media front. The US Department of Justice has demanded that Russia’s television broadcaster Russia Today America should have itself registered as a foreign agent. Otherwise, the authorities warned, the broadcaster’s bank accounts might be frozen and the outlet’s chiefs subject to arrest. Furthermore, the US Congress has canceled the RT’s accreditation.
The OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir has acknowledged that “such legislation will have a negative impact on media freedom.” This campaign of victimization has been on for nearly a year now - from the very moment the US intelligence community in its January report on what it claimed was Russia’s intervention in the US election described the RT as “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.” No proof was provided, of course. But the trigger was pulled.
First, the RT came under fire from the US media. Next, the broadcaster’s journalists and guest speakers and interviewees began to be persecuted. But the RT’s popularity kept growing on successful advertising and the US audience’s interest in hearing alternative viewpoints.
A total war on the channel followed. In October, Twitter off-boarded all advertising from all accounts owned by the RT, although the offer of this service to the broadcaster was Twitter’s own initiative. The money paid was withheld. In the meantime, the US Congress passed legislation to expand the powers of the Department of Justice in the struggle against what the authorities might regard as propaganda. The Western media aggression against Russia and China “will do no good,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a working visit to Beijing.
“In our discussions with Chinese counterparts we stated the similarity of the information aggression Russia and China are exposed to: in particular, partial news coverage and head-on propaganda against our countries, strange-looking and biased stance taken by Western journalists, who see only the bad things and no good things,” Zakharova said.
* Elena Vanyna is Independent Media’s stringer based in Moscow, and she also writes for ITAR-Tass
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