By Portraying Russian Radicals in Ukraine as Heroes, Moscow Creates Threat to Russia, Says Inozemtsev

May 3, 2014
Russian-backed gunmen guard the regional television station in Donetsk, on April 27, 2014. | ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Staunton, May 2 – Moscow is threatening its own country even more than it is threatening Ukraine by presenting those now in revolt against Kyiv as heroes, a portrayal that could lead to an upswing in extremist views and actions in the Russian Federation itself, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.

In an article in Vedomosti just before the May Day holiday, the director of the Moscow Institute for Research on Post-Industrial Society, says that the Russian media have been portraying as heroes those in Ukraine who are acting in ways that the Russian authorities would not tolerate at home.

That is not simply a manifestation of “double standards,” the Moscow commentator says, it is a dangerous step that opens the way to “extremely unwelcome parallels and dangerous conclusions” by Russians themselves that could come back to haunt and then threaten the authors of this approach.

Inozemtsev then compares Moscow’s treatment of Russian radicals in Ukraine with its treatment of those it has identified as Russian radicals inside Russia. In the former case, the Russian authorities are praising “direct calls to the use of force,” the violation of law, and even the violence; in the latter, they have sent people to prison for similar or even lesser actions.

“In other words,” Inozemtsev continues, “by supporting those in revolt in the east of Ukraine, the Kremlin today has de facto disavowed its own course for establishing ‘order,’ which it had followed for the entire 15 years of Putin’s rule.”

And the Kremlin needs to remember, he says, that “in Russia there live many Russian speakers who long ago were deprived by the Russian authorities of the very same rights for which people in Donetsk and Kharkiv are struggling: the right to honest and direct elections of the heads of their regions and the holding of referenda and the legal opportunity to demand greater autonomy.”

“An obvious question arises,” he says: “Is not Russia threatening the Ukraine as much as it is threatening itself by repeating on all television channels heroic images of those in revolt?” And that is especially the case because the people Moscow is celebrating in Ukraine are Russian speakers just like the Russians in the Russian Federation?

And there is another related problem with Russian coverage of Ukrainian events, the Moscow analyst suggests. The Russian government has taken to lecturing and instructing Ukraine on “the principles of democracy and the observation of human rights, “attempting to do what the West usually does regarding Russia.”

That would all be very well, Inozemtsev suggests, were it not for the Kremlin’s insistence that “no one is to be permitted to interfere in the affairs of ‘a sovereign democracy.’” But that is exactly what the Russian authorities are doing all too obviously – and they are thus sending a message to others, like China or Germany, that they might do the same thing in the Russian Far East or Kaliningrad.

And there is a third aspect to Moscow’s media campaign that may come back to haunt Russia: it is denouncing Kyiv for what Moscow has done. “It is not Ukraine but Russia” which has seized the territory of a neighboring country and destabilized the situation in a region of the latter. It is not Ukrainian nationalists but Russian ones who are the aggressors. And it is Moscow not Kyiv that is receiving the support of Europe’s far right.

With such a propagandistic effort, “Russia today is not only torpedoing the existing world order, it is disavowing a large part of the principles and propositions which underlay its own internal order as established during Putin’s rule.”

That disjunction between how Russia is ruled and how it treats others suggests that some in Moscow are incapable of imagining how others, including their own citizens, are going to interpret what they are told – and even more how they might act on the basis of such conclusions.

Thus, Moscow’s media campaign, Inozemtsev says, could “boomerang” on its authors in ways that they and perhaps others do not expect and certainly do not want.