Running Circles: “Russia” as the Magic Word of Western Mainstream Media
It seems that these days Russia has transcended the very notion of a country. Today Russia is a whole cultural phenomenon in the West, the ultimate scarecrow that needs no introduction, the negative effects of and its actions require no proof or explanation. The Western media proceed from understanding that whatever Russia is doing “can’t be good”, it “has to be” something nefarious. It’s convenient for the Western mainstream media because “Russia” has become a magic word that can explain everything or almost everything. Let’s have a look at some of the recent events on the international agenda. Energy crisis in Europe? It’s Russia (“Russia profits from Europe’s gas crisis as it pumps fuel to continent at record high price” Express; “The U.S. was right — Europe has become a ‘hostage’ to Russia over energy, analysts warn”, CNBC). Hackers are attacking? It’s Russia (“Scope of Russian Hacking Becomes Clear: Multiple U.S. Agencies Were Hit”, The New York Times; “Russian Hackers Continue With Attacks Despite Biden Warning”, Bloomberg). US troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan? Look at Russia! (“Russia has been engaging with the Taliban for years. The U.S. withdrawal might give it an opportunity to expand its role”, CBS News).
Take a moment and try to recall at least one global topic of recent days without those media bringing Russia in one negative way or another. While reading, watching or listening to Western media outlets, one could easily get an idea that the Russian Federation is some sort of evil compelling force that taints everything imaginable. Instead, let us look at the facts and light our way with logic. Since we have already mentioned the topics of energy crisis in Europe and situation in Afghanistan, we’ll focus on them while exploring the media phenomenon of “Russia as the ultimate explanation to all Western grievances”.
As for the European energy crisis, we took note of the article “Putin, Orban strive to make most of Europe’s energy crisis” published in Bloomberg (it can also be found in local Business Day). Unfortunately, the article hardly presents anything new in terms of its key messages - It’s “evil Russia doing evil” at its finest. Europe is engulfed in the energy crisis and, according to Bloomberg, Russia and Hungary would “love to seize this opportunity of chaos and anxiety to foist their own designs on the EU on the sly”. How? When it comes to Russia, the answer is simple – Nord Stream 2. “It’s a pipeline backed by Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly, Gazprom”, Bloomberg reminds us, and Russia dares to continue promoting its project. Basically, Russia is just trying to supply more natural gas to the overheated European market (prices have recently raised to the jaw-dropping, eyes-popping level), yet somehow Bloomberg sees it as “cynical games” and warns the EU against making “a disastrous mistake” by letting Russia keep playing them. What is so cynical about satisfying the demand and containing the prices is beyond our comprehension, yet that is the message and this message only makes sense if you are looking at it from the standpoint of one of the “sacred rules” of Western mainstream media we’d already mentioned – “whatever Russia is doing – it can’t be good”.
Let’s get back to the article “The U.S. was right — Europe has become a ‘hostage’ to Russia over energy, analysts warn” and have a look at its key points. “Russia rode to Europe’s rescue and offered to increase gas supplies to the region amid soaring prices”. Okay. Looks promising. And then the next two key points state the following: “Experts said the move showed Europe is now largely at Russia’s mercy when it comes to energy”, “the U.S. has been warning for years that Europe is vulnerable to Russia being able to switch gas supplies on or off”. So, if we get it right, Russia came to rescue Europe but it only showed how vulnerable and dependable Europe was because of Russia’s ability to switch supplies on and off. Wait a second. The root cause of the current energy crisis is not that “something was switched on or off”. The demand for gas in Europe and other regions of the world, especially in Asia, is rising as economic activity recovers from the pandemic. A considerable volume of US liquefied gas that has been previously destined for European market is now diverted to Asian markets and elsewhere. Europe’s own gas production is currently in decline. On top of that, the Europeans lately preferred buying gas on the spot market over long-term contracts with Gazprom. So, who is to blame? What Russia has to do with all this? Nothing. Then what the US was “right” about as the title of the article in question says? As Russian President Putin said in one of his interventions: “Many countries in the region have given up their coal-burning and nuclear power plants in favour of wind power generation that is heavily dependent on weather conditions. And, finally, fourth, the practices of our European partners [are to blame]. These practices have reaffirmed that, properly speaking, they have made mistakes. We were talking with the former European Commission; all of its activities were aimed at curtailing the so-called long-term contracts and at transitioning to gas exchange trading. It turned out – and today this is absolutely obvious – that this policy is erroneous, erroneous for the reason that it fails to take into account the gas market specifics dependent on a large number of uncertainty factors”. Now the US media are trying to convince the European elites and common Europeans that instead of accepting those mistakes and correcting them, they should put all the blame on Russia. Russia that strictly follows its contractual obligations! What they implying is that to become “less dependable on Russia’s mercy” Europe has to become more dependable on US’ mercy. Is there any other option? We believe it is no secret to anyone that Washington has been promoting its liquefied gas to European market for quite some time. Strange, but nobody calls it “cynical games”.
So, being dependent on USA’s mercy is alright, we got the message. But is it, really? The US has withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan recently. It looked more like a disorganized, hasty escape, but let’s call it a “withdrawal” – it’s not the point. The point is that even while covering this topic the Western media still found a way to attach Russia to it. Here is their “sacred rule” number two: when you can’t implicate Russia, go for Soviet Union. When situation in Afghanistan was the hottest theme in global media we saw time and again the comparisons between the USSR’s withdrawal and that of US. The message was simple – Washington failed, yes, but so did Moscow in the late 1980s. The devil, as we know, is always in details.
Most of those analytical materials conveniently missed out one important piece of the puzzle. When Soviet Union entered Afghanistan to support the Afghani government in its struggle against mujahedeen, the US supported the latter. Washington called it Operation Cyclone. It was CIA’s programme to arm and finance the Afghan mujahideen prior to (mind you!) and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Mujahideen also received support from the British MI6. The militant groups with jihadist ties were handsomely supported by the West which treated the situation in Afghanistan in 1979-1989 as a proxy war against the USSR and made no secret of it.
Now let’s have a quick look at what Russia did when the West moved its own troops to Afghanistan. Just a couple of headlines that speak volumes: “Russia to allow Nato Afghan transit”, (Al Jazeera), “Russia Opens Afghan Transit Route For NATO's Germany”, (Eurasianet). Feel the difference. One can only imagine how much shorter and bloodier the US intervention would’ve been, if Russia mirrored what US and UK had done in the 1980s. For instance, if Russia supplied Taliban with the most sophisticated portable air-defence systems, like the US delivered “Stingers” to mujahideen? The most curious part is that even against this context, the Western media tried to put the blame on Moscow for Washington’s setbacks in Afghanistan. Remember those speculations about “Russia paying bounty to Taliban for killing US military”? That’s exactly what we mean.
Remaining true to themselves, the Western media tried to pull Russia in the discourse of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Yes, as time went by, those attempts died out but only because they, apparently, didn’t make enough impression on the audience. The magic word “Russia” didn’t help because sometimes the magic goes down to a mere card trick which is easy to see through if you know what to look at.
We believe, that this tendency of explaining everything with “evil Russia” might deprive the collective West of the ability to analyze and make correct decisions. In fact, the thinking imposed by the media has, to a certain degree, already been adopted by its elites. Partly because it is very convenient, as commonly known, to blame others for one’s own setbacks. But, perhaps, the most sought-after effect of using “Russia” as a sort of all-explaining image is caused on the audience of the Western media. Constant blaming Russia for everything weans an ordinary reader from asking questions and demanding explanations. Just believe that Russia is “evil by default”, it is “to blame for everything” and whatever it does is “bad”. Don’t ask why, don’t ask how, don’t ask what for, don’t even bother. Just believe in it. Because once you start asking questions, the “magic” will disappear and you’ll see that you are not actually going along the straight logical line towards the ultimate answer – you are running circles.