Ukrainians Through the Eyes of Russian TV Personalities

January 30, 2014

Let’s start with the weather.

Recently an exotic-looking gentleman has become a permanent fixture on the “Russia‑24” public TV channel: a catchy checkered blazer, an acid-pink shirt, and a saucy scarf. His outfit, his nervous manners, and picaresque tone, recalls Bulgakov’s Korovyev, rather than a leading specialist of the “Phobos” weather center. Up until now Vadim Zavodchenkov has been commenting on the weather. Now he has made a huge leap in his career, making wind direction part of political climate. Back in December, the leading expert predicted that Maidan would face a sharp drop in temperature as well as a sharp increase in infections and viruses. The latter hever happened, judging by the number of people in the square, but Zavodchenkov wouldn’t give up. Now dominant subject of the forecaster is the toxic smoke from burning tires. He prophesies again, desperately waving his arms: car tires are classified as products of the fourth level of danger, fraught with an explosion of oncological diseases. Now Dmitry Kiselev himself guotes Zavodchenkov, but Maidan still hasn’t dispersed.

I do not know anything about tires, but I know something about TV opinion leaders. Their creativity, now focused exclusively on Ukraine, certainly qualifies as a product of the fourth level of danger. Starting this Monday the “Russia” channel has urgently adjusted its evening lineup: a daily time slot has been introduced, dedicated exclusively to the events on the “Ukrainian front”. Mamontov will be the pioner, then the banner will be picked up by Soloviev, followed by Kiselev. The “Holy trinity” guarantees viewers a permanent tantrum. Contemporary Russian History is packed with momentous events, but never before has the TV media responded to them so acutely.

The goal of the propaganda is always the same – to adapt the complex reality down to something as clear and simple as the ABCs. In order to do all this, the diversity of Maidan must be fit into a scheme, well familiar to Russian consumers. The Ukrainian apocalypse is the work of the West, that has been training the militants in special camps for a long time. All the participants in Maidan are nationalists and to some extent even terrorists. At the same time, they can be traced back in history. Remember the counterinsurgency death squads, Khatyn’, Ukrainian SS outfits in Galicia (the stories included)? These are their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The “Berkut” riot police are the noble king’s guards. They love people, they have no weapons, only batons, and can you really kill anyone with a baton?

The overall mythology is created by individual techniques. Each of the holy trinity has his own pet subject. Kiselev is disgusted with liberals and their contempt for the government and the people: they aim at the regime, but hit the whole country. Solovyev is singing an ode to the president: he was right to clean out Russian TV [the reorganization of the Russian media under Kremlin control – Ed.]. Otherwise, God forbid, all the channels would belong to oligarchs, just like in Ukraine. Now it’s beautiful. There is just one independent, but very small “Rain” [TV Rain, which may be shut down by regulators over an anti-patriotic poll about World War II – Ed.] . Mamontov habitually dives into the twilight depths of the underground. He is the one and only for whom the militants everywhere, be it in Lviv, or in Kiev, willingly open all the doors, then in perfect Russian and not wearing any masks reveal the secrets – all of them at once. At the same time he alludes to the possibility of blowing up the nuclear facilities and discovers a terrible new weapon against the riot police – Chinese fireworks. One can only wonder why Zavodchenkov keeps silent about this lethal contagion? Maybe he got too carried away by cyclones and anticyclones, and forgot about the political climate? It’s okay, his mentors will correct him, there is a busy week ahead.

Lies and half-truths (it is yet to be determined which is worse) have a certain smell and their own special aura. Its hard not to notice. Reports are woven mainly from renderings of events. Soundbites are few, interpretations abound, inconsistencies are even more numerous. Solovyov talks about two thousand fighters, and the next day Mamontov offers a different number – ten thousand. On talk shows guests from Kiev (always the same people – from Oleg Tsarev to Oleg Buzina) express exclusively an official point of view. And the gentle and trusting Kurguinjan who has again risen like Phoenix from ashes, is the only one who admires their courage: look, they were not afraid to speak on Russian TV. In the heat of this propaganda nobody forgets about PR. Dmitry Kaystro, the author of the Khatyn’ story, confidentially reports: the subject of Galician nationalist participating in the operations of the Third Reich has been previously banned – not to cast a shadow upon the friendship between the two peoples. Meanwhile the novel by Ales Adamovich, Chasteners, was published in 1980, so that he “cast that shadow” long before Mr. Kaystro did.

One question remains: who is the target audience of all this fiery journalism? You can’t break Maidan with it. Those who heed the TV triad will continue to do so. Those who perceive political demagoguery as monstrous vulgarity, turned away from the “box” long ago. Maybe Putin, who, according to the vibrant idea by Kiselev, “always generates meanings”? But even he, the main object and subject of TV, is probably already sick and tired of those meanings that his sovereign servants so regularly produce. Their toolkit is as stable as their guarantor himself. Then why change anything, if the system works perfectly. Look, even Igor Jurgens, a liberal even by liberal’s standards, who suddenly started to pop up on the screen, now believes only in Putin. Having spoken to Obama and Merkel he is certainly the one to help Ukraine emerge from the crisis. Nevertheless, the is still no answer to the “who” question.

But I have an answer to the question about the main method of this indefatigable propaganda. Long ago it was formulated by Pelevin, whose character would take the fruit of his imagination for current events. The special force of commentators given to us in our sensations via TV, believe in the conspiracy theory, just like Malakhov audience believes in casting spells and other types of black magic. Anatoly Wasserman, now referred to as a political consultant (why not just “a consultant with a hoof”, just like in Bulgakov?), authoritatively states that Ukrainian militants are trained based on the same methods as our “white ribboners”. Wasserman can only be outdone by Prokhanov. Theatrically asking, “Why Sevastopol, where the Russian fleet is still silent?”, he paints a terrible picture of the era, marked by the Sochi Olympics and the establishment of NATO bases near Kharkov.

And in the midst of this TV channel’s Bacchanalia of thoughts, words, and feelings proudly soars Mamontov. Closer to the finale (not his, but that of the show), he slipped into a contemplation mode and said: “I ​​want to say these simple clear words: Fascism will not pass.” Then he stopped, paused and added softly as if suffering: “Neither will the Nazis”. He said that and choked on his own boldness.