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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Russia Today - in Russian?

The government-owned news website "Russia Today", known for presenting the perspectives of the government of the Russian Federation to English-speaking audiences, has now started publishing articles about current affairs in Russian. These articles bear no relationship to the articles published in English (or the other languages of the website).

"Rossiya Syevodniya" (Russia Today) began life as a tolerably respectable (by the standards of the region) state-owned Russian television news channel, owned by the Russian government. Millions of Russians (and a proportion of Belarussians and Ukrainians) still watch Rossiya Syevodniya for their digest of daily news, and it is substantially better than a number of other Russian television news sources.

Rossiya Syevodniya drifted into controversy with the launch of its English language television channel, based in London. The other English language media operation of the Russian government is Sputnik, based in Edinburgh. There are important differences between the two: not for the casual voyeur of Russian propaganda, but because the different emphases between the two media sources represent differences of priorities and alignments between different branches of Russia's security and intelligence agencies. Without reveal too many secrets, Sputnik has more of a military (intelligence) focus than does Russia Today (in English). Let it be.

Russia Today has focused its journalism upon persuasion of potentially sympathetic English native-speaking intellectuals, civil servants and politicians upon the notion that the western media narrative about Russian foreign policy (and indeed domestic policy) is biased. Every story is planted with a view to revealing some fact hitherto unknown to western intellectuals that changes the light in which Russian government policy might be viewed through a moral lens in light of the background western anti-Russian media narrative. At least, that is what the editors of Russia Today think they are doing.

In other words, Russia Today is conceived as a counter to western "fake news" about Russia. If the BBC, one of Russia Today's bugbears, is determined to proliferate biased media reports about the Russian government's actions at home and abroad, then Russia Today will serve as an intellectual counterpoint to the BBC's failures to present issues fairly. Each Russia Today article, in English, seeks to reveal something about geopolitical or domestic issues involving Russia that an intelligent person might infer should properly cause Russia to be seen in a more sympathetic light. That is the principles underlying Russia Today, and it is consistently displayed in the content of its journalism.

Russia Today, in English, is articulate, intellectual and fascinating. Even if a number of the assertions it makes turn out to be false (in other words, it too is a propagator of fake news), its expression of those ideas is done with an intellectual sophistication so as to grip the reader and cause him to ask which perspective is right and which is wrong. At the very least, the Russia Today philosophy espouses, a number of intellectual people, with policy influence over potential decision-makers, will come to ask whether the traditional western narrative is really the monolithic bulwark of truth it pretends to be; or whether there is a genuine issue as to the alleged bias against Russia inherent in western media.

It cannot be denied that Russia Today is effective at least to some degree in trying to achieve this goal. Its articles are well-written. It is seldom easy to disregard them as reprehensibly fake, no matter how much we might wish to do so. The Russian Federation has invested substantial resources in Russia Today; its journalists in London are grossly over-paid by market standards, and that is because Russia is seeking the best individuals to engage in its project.

Moreover Russia Today forces the West to eat its own tail. In abiding by highly intellectual standards of journalism, represented in the quality of its articles that render it a popular website, this media source takes unscrupulous advantage of western norms of free speech to pedal its own distorted perspectives while relying upon democratic instincts towards liberty to avoid its own suppression. I personally think that while Russia Today might be described as an entirely dystopic phenomenon, its appeal to western free speech values is sufficiently compelling, when combined with the quality of its output (after all, western media does hide inconvenient truths from its readers, and Russia Today does expose them in a number of cases), that I have resorted to reading this bizarre and ingenious, if malignant, media source every day and I cannot imagine upon what principled grounds we could ever ban it. The Russians are better at media than we might imagine.

Why then is Russia Today now suddenly publishing articles in Russian? That was never its purpose. The audience must be Russian exiles. The stories on RT Russian are unrelated to RT English. Whereas RT English is now devoted to defences of the Coronavirus pandemic responses executed by the Russian government, RT Russian is replete with stories asserting Russia's hidden but continuing military and economic supremacy around the world. In other words, the purpose of RT Russian is to persuade Russian exiles and dissidents that they have left the mothership too soon. The hyper-wealthy care little about disease. The Russian hyper-wealthy reading RT Russian spend their lives in the shadow of their decisions to abandon their mother country in favour of residence in countries like England, wondering whether the forceful arm of the Russian state will come after them.

RT Russian is a game of fake news involved in persuading Russian exiles to doubt themselves; maybe they have backed the wrong horse. It is an ingenious and targeted form of propaganda.

Incidentally, RT Russian's internet articles contained website programming subroutines preventing their automatic translation into other languages (for examples, by Google Translate). Draw such paranoid inferences on the part of the Russian state as you may consider appropriate, from this idle fact.


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