Whataboutism at its Best
The usual fever dreams of the pro-Kremlin media were out in full force this week (ok, when are they not?!), milking the entire spectrum of master narratives that are the hallmark of Russia’s vast and multifaceted disinformation machinery. In a nutshell, this alternate reality posits, the Western establishment and institutional order threaten everything that “we”, ordinary citizens of the world, hold dear: traditional values, sovereignty, national identity, democratic choice, security and stability… the list is never-ending. There is no sin the West or one of its proxy agents hasn’t at one or another point committed.
This week was a masterclass of the pro-Kremlin media’s expert tactics of distraction, moral relativism, and whataboutism: that is, attempting to discredit an opponent’s position by accusing them of hypocrisy, usually without any evidence. The Kremlin regularly attempts to dismiss its critics by accusing them of the same offense (or worse), without actually addressing the criticism in question. No matter the topic, Russia and its allies are consistently exonerated of any wrongdoing: strategically, this remains the single unifying thread that coordinates pro-Kremlin disinformation across time and geography. NATO is the aggressor, not Russia. The Kerch Strait incident was a deliberate Ukrainian provocation in which Russia was innocent. Assad never deployed chemical weapons in Syria; that’s a joint effort between terrorists and the White Helmets. Western sanctions have no legitimate justification; they only aim to harm ordinary Russian people. None of these claims are new; we register them in the database every week, ad infinitum.
The week’s most extreme cases centred on fascism and paedophilia – two of the Kremlin’s favourite topics for rousing public outrage and hacking audience attention. New “evidence” has emerged about Finnish concentration camps in World War II: the guards were allegedly raping dying children. Russian media also twisted a satirical article, presenting it as a real story, which claimed that the Estonian government has threatened Russia with a “final military solution“.
Genocide was on the table too, with the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention – which aims to combat violence against women – accused of being a satanic LGBT plot to destroy the traditional family. Meanwhile, postmodern feminism is to blame for the total emasculation and destruction of men, while women become the all-powerful overlords.
Sensationalist stories aimed at eliciting indignation and outrage are intentionally paired with more subtle stories that distort truth just enough to make one doubt reality, and wonder whether there is in fact a sliver of truth to the pro-Kremlin line. This self-doubt and second-guessing of fact-based reality is one of the primary objectives of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. After all, next to outlandish allegations of paedophilia and Nazism, don’t claims about the US actively stoking tensions with Russia and Ukraine’s responsibility to recognise Crimea as Russian sound almost… reasonable? Well, that’s exactly what the Kremlin is betting on.