Vlad goes to Sochi
Say what you like about the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, no prior Russian ruler has come close to deluging the world with as much English-language propaganda. And as the Sochi Olympics approach, his minions are moving into overdrive.
It all started with a Russia blog called Russia Blog. This wasn't the Kremlin on its own, it was the Kremlin co-opting an extremist anti-evolution think tank call Discovery Institute, cleverly realizing it had lots of friends with names like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul, you know, the kind of folks who don't want evolution taught in schools. Having got its feet wet, then came a mega-blog called Russia Profile. After that we got Russia Today, with not only a gigantic website and a YouTube channel but also a brick-and-mortar cable television network. Then the Kremlin started purchasing massive space in Western newspapers, preying on their financial vulnerability, and slipping in a color supplement called Russia Beyond the Headlines that could easily be confused with the content of the New York Times it was mixed in with.
Of course, Russia also has its answer to Voice of America, namely Voice of Russia, which can trace its lineage directly back to the USSR. And now, the latest Kremlin gambit is a little enterprise known as Russia Direct.
What's new and different about Russia Direct, you ask? Not much. In fact, Russia Direct is more like a "back to basics" approach. With a little poking around on Russia Profile, Russia Today and Russia Beyond the Headlines, you found out they were Kremlin controlled. Russia Profile was operated by the Kremlin's newswire RIA Novosti, Russia Today was operated directly by the Kremlin and Russia Beyond the Headlines was operated by the Kremlin's main newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta. But with Russia Blog, you had to dig deeper to see the ties between the blog's Russian editor and the Kremlin. Same holds true for Russia Direct.
Basically, it's just the "big lie" theory. Tell a lie big enough and often enough and it will be believed.
Russia Direct tells you it is published by Eugene Abov, who is the editor of Russia Beyond the Headlines. It is edited by Ekaterina Zabrovskaya, who also worked for RIA Novosti and Russia Beyond the Headlines. Its "Project Director" is Olga Ivanova, someone whose brazen lies about the 2008 invasion of Georgia in the pages of the Washington Post I exposed years ago on Pajamas Media and in a letter to the WaPo editor. At that time, Ivanova was studying how to destroy America at an American university.
Russia Direct explains itself as follows: "Russia Direct features articles, white papers and monthly memos that provide the kind of nuanced understanding required by those with a deep involvement and interest in U.S. and Russian foreign policy. Russia Direct approaches U.S.-Russia relations with an attitude that celebrates good storytelling and strong journalism." But there is no clear statement that Russia Direct is a Kremlin project.
Here's an example of Abov's "storytelling."
On August 24, 2013, Dominic Basulato, the "U.S. Editor" of Russia Direct, published an article about the Sochi games which tried feverishly to direct the world's attention away from the tsunami of negative publicity the games were getting as Russia made it clear that homosexual athletes who acted gay during the games would face arrest. To highlight the type of cash the Kremlin is prepared to throw at English-language propaganda, here's Basulato's bio statement:
Dominic Basulato a regular blog with The Washington Post and a daily blog on Winter Olympics host city Sochi. In addition to publishing the first-ever iPad travel guide to Sochi, Dominic has lived in the House of Writers in Moscow, taught finance at Moscow's first MBA program, published a weekly column for a Russian newspaper and completed a certificate program in Russian language from Moscow State University. He has an undergraduate degree in Politics and Russian Studies from Princeton and an MBA in emerging markets from Yale.
Basulato's diatribe about Sochi is full of so many distortions and misdirections that there ought to be a special Pulitzer Prize developed just for this style of reporting created in his honor.
The most breathtaking lie is Basualto's claim that Sochi's will be the "greenest Olympics ever" because it has a solar-powered rail station and Portuguese snow leopards in its zoo. In fact, Sochi's will be by far the most damaging Olympics in history where the environment is concerned. Greenpeace has condemned it, as the Kremlin has obliterated the local environment in every way imaginable. Outside the venues, Sochi is now the world's largest toilet. The Kremlin has responded to criticism by announcing it will arrest anyone who tries to demonstrate in support of the environment in Sochi.
Like a typical Soviet propagandist, Basualto seems not to notice the contradictions in his own text. He admits: "Sochi is first and foremost a subtropical summer resort on the Black Sea. Hosting a Winter Olympics in a subtropical zone has never been done before." He admits that because of this Sochi involves a "massive snowmaking operation that includes laying down futuristic, cold-preserving tarps along the mountainsides, in order to guarantee enough snow in 2014." He states: "The entire area of Greater Sochi has been turned into Europe's largest construction zone -- a surreal landscape of hotels, condos, theme parks and architecturally stunning new competition venues like the Bolshoi Ice Dome." It's one thing for the Kremlin to engage in this unnecessary process (why not stage the games in a winter zone? isn't that what winter athletes would want?) and to brag about its construction achievements, but how can any thinking person believe such conduct will leave Sochi anything but ravaged, the opposite of green, in a country that is one of the world's worst environmental villains?
Next Basualto claims, in one of the most deranged statements about Russia I've ever read, that the Sochi Olympics may be responsible for "bringing peace to a volatile region that has struggled for centuries." This is a lie so bold it's worthy of the Politburo. Basualto doesn't even mention the fact that terrorist-separatist Doku Umarov, public enemy number one on the Caucasus region, has openly declared war on the Sochi games and promised a tsunami of terrorism. The people of the Caucasus are outraged by the staging of the games because of its destruction of ground many local denizens consider holy. The Olympics will bring war to Sochi, not peace, and it will enflame the Caucasus beyond measure.
Basualto then asserts that Russia's Olympics will have a cool factor because the Olympic flame will be sent into space and because some of the medals will have pieces of meteorite embedded in them. Really? Does Russia really want the world to focus on the fact that rocket after Russian rocket has exploded in flames in an extremely humiliating fashion? Is it really in good taste to decorate medals with fragments from "a bus-sized meteor [that] exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs across western Siberia, injuring more than 1,000 people around [a] city of one million."
Basualto claims that Sochi might transform Russia because 25,000 "volunteers" have been recruited to help staff the games. Really? He apparently hasn't heard about Putin's relentless xenophobic bashing of foreigners, nor is he aware of how routine it is for the Kremlin to pay citizens to attend political rallies just for show and even to buy their votes. He admits that volunteerism and charity are at barbaric levels in Russia, he doesn't even try to give any real facts. Though Russia has a top-ten economy, it doesn't rank in the top 125 nations of the world for charitable giving. Staging the Olympics in a tropical area of Russia means that the Olympic spirit will reach its lowest ebb in the history of the games. The notion that anything could change in Russia for the better because of it is pure hallucination.
Finally, Basualto drops jaws again with another incredibly deranged whopper: "Dumping $50 billion into an area the size of greater Los Angeles has to result in some kind of economic impact, never mind how much corruption is said to have occurred." It's almost as if he's openly admitting that his words can't be taken seriously, that it's all a big joke just to collect a hefty paycheck. It's incredible to think that this sentence could have been written by somebody who graduated from both Princeton and Yale.
Basualto chooses to ignore the fact that there have been calls for a boycott of Sochi for many years, long before Russia's horrifying crackdown on gays, in response to Russia's barbaric aggression against its tiny neighbor Georgia in 2008, when Russia annexed two huge chunks of Georgian territory to international condemnation.
He chooses to ignore the fact that Russia's skies are among the most unfriendly in the world, with Russian commercial planes dropping out of the sky like hailstones, meaning that people who travel to Moscow and then down to Sochi by air are taking their lives in their hands.
He wants the USA to simply ignore the fact that Russia is giving massive military and financial support to the American-hating terrorists of Hizb'allah, supporting Syria and Iran, and that it has given asylum to America's public enemy #1 Edward Snowden.
He wants Europe to ignore Russia's aggressive efforts at energy blackmail and to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the EU.
In short, Basualto wants the world to just give up and let Putin use the Olympic legacy to further crush dissent and whip up anti-American hysteria throughout the world. If this actually happens, it will be the end of the Olypmic Games as we know it.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.