Bizarre video circulated by NATO invites ridicule. And laughter
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
There have been some very strange moments during the Ukrainian crisis. However one of the strangest came with the release of a video made by NATO and uploaded by NATO onto YouTube, that tries to disprove Russian claims of fascists in Ukraine.
The video takes us on a guided tour of the west Ukrainian town of Lviv (in the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism) where, unsurprisingly given the public stand taken by its makers, it claims to have found no fascists but lots of happy and tolerant people instead.
The video was made against a backdrop of western concern – extending apparently to the highest political levels - about Russia supposedly winning the information war. An article in the Financial Times, reproduced in full below, sets it all out.
The first point about all this is one I have made before. If the west finds itself at a disadvantage in the information war it is because for all the occasional factual errors, hyperbole and exaggerations, the Russian take on the Ukrainian crisis is true whilst the western one is false.
To repeat: the root cause of the crisis in Ukraine is an unconstitutional coup that violently overthrew the democratically elected government of Ukraine. Not surprisingly, given what a bitterly divided society Ukraine is, that has provoked a massive backlash, causing Crimea and the eastern regions of Ukraine to split away.
That is the Ukrainian story as the Russian media reports it. It is not what the western media is reporting (recently they have just stopped mentioning the February coup at all).
Since the western media take on the Ukrainian crisis is false, whilst the Russian media take is true, the western media - and western governments - for the first time find themselves on the defensive since in any situation where there is a conflict between truth and falsehood, it is the truth that always has the advantage.
When we learn from the FT article that the impact of the Russian media, to be precise of RT, has
“prompted a series of national security discussions at some of the highest levels in the British government….Yet policy makers are at a loss when it comes to deal with the threat they perceive, particularly when no laws have been broken”,
it becomes obvious that the problem the west is facing is not one of “Russian propaganda” but of the impact of the truth.
Perhaps this explains the totally bizarre response.
Last I heard NATO was supposed to be a military alliance. I didn’t know it was also a TV news station.
Not just a TV station, but also a very bad one - sending its intrepid reporters to Ukraine where they cannot see what even Ukrainians say is true, that there are many fascists there (the neo-fascist Svoboda appears to have just staged a coup in Poroshenko’s power base of Vynnitsa as I write this).
Seriously though, does anybody really believe a video made by NATO of all people is going to convince anybody? That where the massed legions of the western media in all their pomp have failed, a video by NATO will succeed?
Sorry guys, but if this is supposed to be a blow in the information war, then this piece of transparent propaganda is a total flop. “Our response to propaganda can’t be more propaganda”, the FT quotes NATO’s official spokesperson Oana Lungescu as saying. Actually, NATO’s response to what it calls propaganda is not just propaganda – it’s bad propaganda, of the sort that won’t fool anybody.
What however makes this really weird is why anybody in NATO thinks otherwise. Do they really think they are an organisation of such enormous credibility that a video they produce will be believed where the BBC say or German TV has failed?
If so then the folks in NATO have become totally delusional, which given they have supported claims of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which didn’t happen, made no fewer than 36 times, perhaps won't surprise many people.
More likely NATO has finally succumbed to Robert Michels’s so-called Iron Law of Oligarchy, where an elite takes charge and starts doing things ever more detached from an organisation’s stated purpose in order to perpetuate itself.
The following article origially appeared in the Financial Time
A casual consumer of Russian media might conclude the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, one of the strongholds of the country’s pro-EU uprising, has been overrun by violent fascists.
So a video recently uploaded to YouTube will prove disappointing. Called “Where are all the fascists in Lviv?”, it features a correspondent walking the city’s peaceful streets, interviewing slightly bemused — decidedly un-militant — shoppers.
The online video was produced and published by Nato. It is a modest new weapon the alliance is deploying as it seeks to fight back against a Kremlin information campaign that is posing a new worry for western policy makers alongside Russian bombs and espionage.
“Russia is weaponising information in this crisis,” says James Appathurai, the alliance’s deputy assistant secretary general for political affairs. “They are reaching deep into our own electorates to affect politics.”
National intelligence agencies in the alliance point to what they say is alarming anti-Nato and anti-European rhetoric in the Russian media. The Kremlin has been particularly masterful, they believe, at using a web of disinformation to generate doubt internationally over its huge military support for separatists in Ukraine.
The fear among Nato officials and western policy makers is that the Russian campaign could fatally fracture an already fragile European consensus to maintain tough economic sanctions against Moscow for its behaviour in Ukraine.
In Germany, for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel is contending with a sizeable faction sympathetic to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, whether for business or historical reasons. Other EU members also appear vulnerable to the Kremlin efforts to sow discord, particularly the impoverished former Soviet countries in southeast Europe.
“Information warfare is the spearhead of almost everything Russia is doing,” says Jonathan Eyal, international director at the Royal United Services Institute.
Nato planners accept that Mr Putin “is not mad”, says Mr Eyal, and therefore unlikely to rush headlong into an armed conflict by, for example, sending tanks into the Baltics. “We are talking about dealing with a long-term propaganda campaign instead.”
High-level delegations from across Europe have begun meeting at Nato’s headquarters in Brussels and in national capitals to discuss the challenge. The Lviv video — what Russian agitprop practitioners would call pokazukha, or a propagandistic publicity stunt — is one of the fruits of those meetings.
It has garnered 40,000 views so far. Most normal Nato video uploads manage fewer than 2,000. Nato insiders say more such material should be expected in the future.
There is even talk of reviving cold war ghosts, such as the UK Foreign Office’s Information Research Department, a secretive operation to feed news of Soviet misdeeds to sympathetic journalists. It was shut in 1977.
But even national governments once well-versed in Kremlinology are still somewhat bewildered by the threat.
The recent expansion into Britain of Moscow’s international news channel RT, or Russia Today, has prompted a series of national security discussions at some of the highest levels in the British government, say officials. Yet policy makers are at a loss when it comes of proposals to deal with the threat they perceive, particularly when no laws have been broken.
“Our response to propaganda can’t be more propaganda,” says Oana Lungescu, Nato’s official spokesperson.
In the meantime, the alliance is seeking to try to redress a Russian effort that Ms Lungescu says is intended “to confuse, divert and divide”.
The alliance has also put together a new “web portal” called “setting the record straight”. It is available in Russian, Ukrainian, English and French and fleshed out with dozens of documents, statements, videos and images. One section lists 25 “myths” about the alliance coupled with “factual” rebuttals.
Another “timeline” of events compiles links to every single Nato pronouncement, press conference, speech or official Q&A relating to Ukraine and Russia since February.
Perhaps most significantly, the alliance has begun to co-ordinate “messaging” among its members, a senior official said. Shared lines are now being sent out to strategic communications teams working in the foreign ministries of members for use. Shortly before the Nato summit in Wales this September, the alliance also opened a new “centre of excellence” for strategic communications in Riga, Latvia, which is intended to serve as a clearinghouse for anti-propaganda ideas and research.
While Nato has joined the information war, many in the alliance acknowledge its efforts are still in their infancy, particularly when set against a vast Russian campaign.
“[We have] come a long way in responding . . . but clearly it is not enough,” Mr Appathurai says.
“There are 20 or so people in Nato’s public diplomacy team who are at work trying to counter an organised, multi-faceted, well-funded Russian operation that is going on across the world.”
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