It is always tricky to try to get a sense of what is happening in a country by parsings its media as there is often a big disconnect between what the talking heads say and what most of the people really feel. And yet, this can a useful exercise in the following circumstances:
A) The media is pretty tightly controlled by the regime in power at which point is can be analyzed to see what kind of “consent manufacturing” or “opinion massaging” is being performed. For example, most wars are normally preceded by media vilification campaign against the other side. Thus, observing such a vilification campaign can be considered as an “indicator” or even “warning” of a possible military attack, especially is other indicators and warnings point to the same eventual outcome
B) The media is more or less independent from the regime, but primarily linked to the national elites and their agenda. Here again, because these elites, by definition, have power and access, they can use the media to put pressure on the formal leaders of the country. Think of the Israel Lobby and its use of the US media to promote the wars on Iraq, Iran and Syria.
C) Finally, the media can be more or less “in tune with” the general public and its concerns, hopes and ideas, at which point it can offer a good insight into what is going on.
Regardless of which of the models above applies to Russia (for what it is worth, I personally think that it is a mix of the three), it is, I strongly believe, very important to note the following fact: three of the most popular shows on Russian TV have increasingly become strident in their outrage over what is happening in the Ukraine, over the US’s hypocrisy and over the need to put a stop to the atrocities committed by the Ukrainian junta. These shows are:
- Sunday Evening with Vladimir Soloviev (Воскресный Вечер с Владимиром Соловьевым)
- Politics with Petr Tolstoi (Политика с Петром Толстым)
- News of the Week with Dmitri Kiselev (Вести Недели с Дмитрием Киселевым)
I think that it is worth saying a few words about these shows.
Sunday Evening with Vladimir Soloviev:
This show is hosted by a very famous personality, Vladimir Soloviev, who is a very interesting guy. Soloviev is a Jew, and he is not shy about reminding his audience about it, who was even elected as a member of the Presidium of the Russian Jewish Congress. He is also a Russian patriot who categorically denies that there is anti-Semitism in Russia, much less so state sponsored, and he is a very outspoken supporter of Putin and his policies. He is categorically opposed to the junta in Kiev and to Ukie neo-Nazism and he does not mince his words about them. He has several shows where in often invites very controversial personalities, including Zhirinovsky, which he very skillfully interviews. While Soloviev’s style is definitely “popular”, he is also very smart, quick to think on his feet, well read and outspoken to a degree few Russian journalists dare to me. His position on the Ukraine is simple: he as a Jew and as a Russian has zero tolerance for Ukie nationalism, neo-Nazism or Banderism. He is a determined and total enemy of the new regime.
Politics with Peter Tolstoi:
I would describe this show as a somewhat more sophisticated version of the previous one, possibly addressed at a more mature audience. The host, Petr Tolstoi, and his co-host, Alexander Gordon (another patriotic Russian Jew), are more soft spoken in their style, but they are also no less anti-junta and anti-Nazi than Soloviev. Their show regularly has guest from the Ukraine, including high visibility ones like Oleg Tsarev or representatives of the self-declared popular republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
New of the Week with Dmitri Kiselev:
Kiselev is often see as the “voice of the Kremlin” which has recently appointed him to run the newly created official Russian media agency “Rossiia Segodnia” (which in English translates into “Russia Today” but which should not be confused with the RT TV Channel run by Margarita Simonian). Kiselev is a very outspoken critic of the West for which he is absolutely hated by the western media which accuses him of homophobia, anti-Semitism, propaganda, lies, etc. Unlike the two previous shows I mentioned, “News of the Week” is what is called an “author’s news show” in Russia, a mix of news and personal commentary. It airs on Sunday evenings.
The first thing which I noticed is that the two first shows which, in theory, are weekly shows have for a while no run special editions on a regular basis. For example, Soloviev’s “Sunday Evening” show can now regularly be seen on week days, sometimes several times in the same week, besides its normal Sunday airtime. Clearly these shows are in a full overdrive mode.
Second, it is hard to convey here the level of absolute rage, disgust and frustration of most of the hosts and guests about the situation in the Ukraine. Furthermore, those few representatives of the pro-US Russian “liberal” non-system opposition (too small get make it to the Duma) or the representatives of Yanukovich’s “Party of Regions” who dare to show up often end up being literally mobbed, if not by the hosts, then by the other guests. As for the hosts, they politely but mercilessly rip apart all the arguments of these two categories of guests. Pro-junta guests from the Ukraine, they don’t dare show up on these shows anymore (they tried in the past, and got mercilessly destroyed each time). Kiselevs’ show being more of a newscast, he does feature statements or interviews made by pro-US or pro-junta people, but they are always followed by a blunt rebuttal of their arguments and a passionate denunciation of their hypocrisy.
I took these three examples because of their high visibility but this also applies to the rest of the Russian TV media. Even those channels (like Ren-TV) or journalists (like Tatiana Mitkova) who used to be very “democratic” and “liberal” have radically changed their tune. Now they are almost on the frontline of the anti-junta and generally anti-western journalism in Russia. Oh sure, some liberal leftovers from the past (like that ugly old fart Pozner) still have their shows on air, and some TV (Dozhd) or radio (Ekho Moskvy) stations still parrot the “Psaki” narrative, but they are clearly struggling to survive and their audience is becoming smaller and smaller.
So what does that all mean for Putin?
Contrary to some of the “armchair strategist” who post comments here about Putin of selling out, being a coward or a hypocrite, something in the range of 80% of Russians support him and his handling of the events in the Ukraine. So far, his personal position and authority are as rock solid as ever. However, watching the amazing evolution of the Russian TV over the past few months, I come to one of three possible conclusions:
1) If hypothesis A above is correct, then the Kremlin is engaged in a massive PR campaign to prepare the Russian public for a military intervention in the Ukraine.
2) If hypothesis B above is correct, then there is a very influential segment of the Russian elites which is engaged in a campaign to force the Kremlin to militarily intervene in the Ukraine.
3) If hypothesis C above is correct, then there is such a groundswell of outrage and disgust in the Russian public opinion that the Kremlin will have no other choice but to militarily intervene to stop the terror operations of the junta.
As I said above, my personal feeling that the reality of Russian media today is a mix of A+B+C, in which case there is a gradual coalescing of anger and determination taking place on all levels of the Russian society which will eventually result in a Russian military intervention against the Ukrainian death squads in Novorossia.
All this is to make the following point: when I wrote yesterday that the “crazies”, as I called them might, well get what they want (a Russian military intervention) – I really meant it. I still think that this would be very bad for Russia, the Ukraine and Europe, but that does not mean that I am oblivious to the fact that it might happen, very soon in fact.
My sense is that Poroshenko or, more accurately his puppet-masters in Washington, have just a few days left to stop the so-called “anti terrorist operation”. From the recent meeting in France, I get mixed messages. Merkel and Hollande probably would prefer that this insanity stop now. But Obama and his puppet-masters? Simply put, and no matter how hard Putin might try, there are provocations which the Kremlin simply cannot ignore.
Today I heard that there are already 12’000 refugees just in the Rostov-on-the-Don area. That means that the real numbers are way higher. Furthermore, the Ukie Air Force is now using cluster munitions and deliberate attacks on local towns and villages which are pretty much getting flattened or, at leas, burned to the ground. And I did get a confirmation that the Ukrainian death squads have executed wounded combatants in a hospital near Kramatorsk. In the meantime, Putin has informally met with Poroshenko in France, the (completely incompetent) Russian ambassador to Kiev has returned from his “consultations” in Moscow and he will attend the inauguration of Poroshenko. While I fully understand what the Kremlin is doing (denying the US the kind of “enemy” it wants) and while I fully support that goal, I am also aware that this policy cannot be sustained much longer and that something will have to happen soon, very soon. Right now, my personal hunch, my guesstimate, is that the US will over-rule the EU and that Poroshenko will not only continue, but even escalate the junta’s terror operations in the east and southeast. If that is indeed what happens, Russia will intervene, there is, alas, no doubt in my mind at all. How?
What a Russian military intervention might look like
Russia might pretend try to get a UNSC resolution supporting a peacemaking operation of the CSTO in the Ukraine, if only just to make sure that all legal options have been exhausted. Then I would expect to see a no-fly zone declared over the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, combined with the opening, by force if needed (it will), of humanitarian corridors towards these regions. At this point I expect the Ukie junta to fold and run, but if some units do not, they will be destroyed. The purely military phase of this intervention will take no more than 24 hours and will more or less stop at the administrative border between the Lugansk and Donetsk regions and the Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhie regions. If directly threatened, of course, Russian forces could strike deeper inside the rest of the Ukraine, targeting missile/artillery positions or enemy airpower (in the air or on the ground). At this point I would expect some EU leader to do what Sakozy did in 08.08.08 and travel to Moscow to agree to a ceasefire which Moscow would accept. Once the situation in the Donbass is more or less stabilized, I would expect Russia to pull out most of Russian forces, probably “forgetting a few “goodies” here and there, not unlike what happened in South Ossetia. Finally, and especially if the EU continues to allow the US to imposed its insane and counter-productive foreign policy (or what passes for it) on Europe, I would expect Russia to recognize the People’s Republic of Novorossia and provide it with security guarantees (again, the model of Ossetia and Abkhazia applies).
Again, I would prefer if a solution could be found without an overt Russian military intervention, but obviously that does not depend on me. The Americans are stuck, they have failed at everything, and they have no other choice than to engage in a idiotic media campaign to convince the world that “Putin has blinked” and that “Obama is a tough President”. This is quite ridiculous, of course, as this is not about a John Wayne style “blinking exercise” but about the future of the European continent. But the European politicians are so corrupt, so spineless, so mediocre and so incompetent (remember how Boris Johnson, Mayor of London called some of them “great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies”?) that they will probably let the Americans decide the future or Europe for them.
I hope that I am wrong, but chances are that a Russian military intervention will happen in the not too distant future.