Patrick Armstrong is a former political counselor at Canadian Embassy in Moscow
I assume that most of the people who read this blog agree that a great deal of what might be called the "Standard Western Media Narrative on Ukraine” could better be termed propaganda. That is to say that it is a constructed narrative designed to produce deep-rooted convictions. Or, more bluntly, constructed lies and selected truths designed to shape opinion.
Let’s get the truths out of the way: Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych ran a corrupt and inefficient government. The condition of life for a great many Ukrainians is dreary, disappointing and declining. EU association had serious, perhaps majority, support in Ukraine at the time Yanukovych abandoned it. A lot, perhaps even a majority (but no one knows), supported, at least to some extent, the Maidan protesters and are glad to see the back of Yanukovych. Those could be agreed to, with some discussion about how big the support was and how bad Yanukovych was, by practically all people with any degree of informed knowledge. But those aren’t the things I am talking about.
The "Standard Western Media Narrative on Ukraine” (SWMN henceforth) goes quite a bit further than that. It would, I would say, consist of the following assertions
- Yanukovych was very much under the thumb of Putin (It’s very personalised: Russia is Moscow is Putin. But that’s another story.)
- A key Putin policy is to keep Ukraine and the other former USSR countries under his influence.
- Putin will not allow Ukraine or any of the former USSR countries to form an association with any other power.
- Using his influence, in furtherance of his aim to keep Ukraine under control, Putin forced Yanukovych to cancel the EU agreement.
Perhaps a little variation in the SWMN; maybe Putin bribed Yanukovych rather than ordering or threatening him. But these variances are unimportant and these four assertions are taken for granted in almost every Western report on recent events in Ukraine.
I say that these four are propaganda and I say they are because there are huge logic holes in them; therefore they cannot be true. They can only be believed if they are repeated so loudly, quickly and routinely that none of the audience gets a chance to think.
So let us think. We’re told Putin controls Yanukovych and won’t let Ukraine sign on with the EU. So why did Putin let him get so close to signing? Surely he would have stopped the whole process months ago when it was easy to do so. This is a huge logic hole. We’re told that Putin wants to keep all the former Soviet states under his control. But Georgia and Moldova signed association agreements with the EU. Are we supposed to believe that Putin had more power over big Ukraine than over little Georgia and Moldova? Another logic hole. Therefore, consideration of what actually happened – Yanukovych changing his mind at the last moment and Georgia and Moldova signing – detonates the four assertions: they cannot be true. QED
Now to a second question. Has any Western media outlet discussed, at any level of detail, what the terms of the agreement were? I have not seen anything; I’ve read opinions but I have seen nothing with any detail in the Western media. Not even the authors of theWikipedia entry can find anything about what the agreement actually said. Why not? Isn’t that a relevant part of the story? Or might seeing the details raise questions about how beneficial the deal would have been for Ukraine? Better to keep the discussion at the level of EU agreement Good! Russia agreement Bad! That’s propaganda, not reporting. QED
Finally a third question. A decade ago there were protests in Kiev and elsewhere and people power triumphed. A decade ago the people demanded new elections, got them and West-friendly people were voted in. A decade ago democracy triumphed over corruption, Russian influence and so on and on. And here we are again (with a lot more violence and some creepy people we didn’t see much of then, but never mind). Have you seen any Western media outlet discuss this fact? Or speculate on what happened to the "Orange Revolution” and Yushchenko and how Ukraine got back to Yanukovych? Or even mention that this is a second appearance of the same theme? Or don’t you agree that everything is written up as if this was something absolutely unprecedented in modern Ukrainian history? Propaganda again: a constructed narrative designed to make the audience feel a certain way. If one were to think about "Orange Revolution” I and its failure, one would have a different opinion of "Orange Revolution” II; probably not a very optimistic or supportive one. So don’t remind anyone. QED
So, I submit that we have three powerful arguments that the SWMN is a construction that plays up some facts, ignores others and avoids certain questions. In short, something manufactured by interests that are not necessarily concerned with improving the miserable situation in Ukraine but are playing some geopolitical game. (And playing it rather ineptly: I very much doubt that the supporters of "88” are going to just go away quietly. And they don’t like the EU or NATO.)
Some more evidence of manufacture: given that the famous Nuland-Pyatt conversation was out there and could not be ignored by media outlets that pretend to objectivity, chase the squirrel: make the reporting about her opinion of the EU and not about the fact that two American diplomats have been caught arranging the chairs in the new Ukrainian government. (And, the way things are looking, I doubt either "Klitsch” or "Yats” will be in the chair when the music stops.) That’s propaganda – or information-management, if you prefer – too.
So, Dear Readers, I’m not really trying to persuade any of you; what I hope you will do is try these arguments out on your neighbours and see if they have any effect at weakening the deep narrative planted in their heads by endless repetition. And, please, report back either way.
We spend our time talking to each other: preaching to the converted. That may be amusing and keep us from watching daytime TV but it doesn’t move anything forward. We have to come up with something that makes our neighbours, daily subjected to propaganda (here’s an egregious example), stop and think a bit. Why? Because calling Putin/Russia the Enemy could have very painful consequences for a lot of people. Quite apart from the moral repugnancy of cheering on what may turn out to be really terrible times for Ukrainians who, are after all, people who’ve never done any of us any harm.