No room for war lies: Even in Putin’s propaganda war, one must side with the victims

In complete violation of international law and modern ethical norms, Russia’s autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, has waged an unprovoked war of aggression on Ukraine for… Read More »

No room for war lies: Even in Putin’s propaganda war, one must side with the victims

In complete violation of international law and modern ethical norms, Russia’s autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, has waged an unprovoked war of aggression on Ukraine for more than two weeks. It seems that he and his military staff were surprised by the courageous resistance of the Ukrainian military and the country’s civilian population. In frustration, Putin has now decided to resort to the same murderous tactics that he employed in Chechnya, Syria and Georgia – the unrelenting and indiscriminate bombardment of cities, in which residential areas, and the civilians who live there, are regarded as legitimate targets.

As we have previously seen in places like Grozny, Aleppo and Gori, Putin’s bloody tactics will result in thousands of civilian deaths.

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Court has issued a clear warning to the Russian Federation that its army must immediately stop attacking areas populated by non-combatants. Following that lead, the director of the International Criminal Court in The Hague has announced that it will investigate allegations of war crimes committed by the Russian military in its invasion of Ukraine.

It is already clear to any sane individual that Putin is a war criminal, His ruthless and completely senseless invasion of a sovereign European state has shocked the world. The new sanctions levied by the free, democratic world are more than justified.

Putin’s only real response, thus far, has been to try and fight back with a ham-handed disinformation campaign that is mostly aimed at disseminating lies and disinformation to his domestic audience and to the conspiracy theorists in the West, many of whom have a soft spot for the long-time denizen of the Kremlin.

The truth is always the first casualty of war. In Russia, two of the last independent media outlets that were still reporting objectively on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have now been taken down. The radio station, Ekho Moskvy, which is one of Russia’s oldest, has always been openly critical of Putin. Along with its TV counterpart, Dozhd, both were shut down by Putin’s cronies for “deliberately spreading false information”. 

The Russian authorities had previously ordered that all media outlets in the country could not use terms such as “war”, “invasion” or “attack” under any circumstances. The penalty for violating the new restrictions includes a 15-year prison term.

As a result, outright propaganda now passes for news in Putin’s Russia. The missile attack on the TV station tower in Kyiv – and the city’s Holocaust memorial – during the first week of the war was aimed at spreading uncensored news to Ukrainians.

The European Union has since banned the Kremlin’s English-language mouthpiece, RT (formerly Russia Today), and Sputnik to stop their toxic and harmful disinformation campaigns, a move that has been echoed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 

The Association of European Journalists has also campaigned for a ban, although we otherwise support the preservation of media freedom. That said, should a channel like RT, as an instrument of Putin’s war propaganda, continue to be broadcast freely in Europe while critical and independent media outlets in Russia are silenced and their journalists imprisoned, beaten and even killed? 

Putin has brought all of the Russian media under his thumb and has severely curtailed the activities of Western news agencies that had previously operated relatively freely in Russia.  

Should we accept this? No.

In the last two years, RT has given a platform to fringe conspiracy mongers that range from anti-vaccinationists, nationalists and anti-democratic populists. There can be no neutrality in a media war. More than 200 Russian academics have shown great courage by speaking out against Putin’s invasion in an open letter addressed to the latter. 

Pro-Kremlin Russian artists like soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev already decided which side they are on. Gergiev, nicknamed Putin’s most-beloved conductor, was fired from several orchestras and operas in Italy and Germany. Netrebko, who refused to take sides, although she took part in charity events with the leaders of the separatist regions Donetsk and Lugansk, opted decided to take time off from the stage.

The extent to which Russian media manipulate their own population can be regularly seen on the country’s state-run TV. Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine began, and coinciding with the crippling sanctions that the civilized world has slapped on Russia, a pro-Putin television presenter openly threatened to use nuclear weapons against the West, saying that a world in which there was no place for Russia was no longer worth living in.

Not exactly the same message as given by the great American journalist, Edward R. Murrow. Good night and good luck.