Russia’s propaganda machine revs up ahead of UN’s MH17 vote

Russia’s state media machine appears to have gone into conspiracy theory overdrive.

A well-coordinated campaign appeared to be underway ahead of the July 29 U.N. Security Council vote on whether to form a tribunal to investigate the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Its goal seems to be aimed at discrediting the widely accepted version that Russian-separatists were to blame for the crash that killed all 298 people on board using a surface-to-air missile system supplied by Russia.

But the campaign, complete with misinformation, half-truths and obfuscation, was frantic, sloppy and full of holes.

One narrative added to the media campaign’s repertoire is a story that claims a bomb had been on board flight MH17. Another is that a CIA operative posing as a BBC reporter brought down the plane, according to the media arm of Russia’s Defense Ministry. A third version, citing anonymous sources, says Ukrainian soldiers mistakenly shot down the plane during training.

They all are buttressed by a whole slew of “expert commentaries” that claim the international investigation and calls for a tribunal are part of a Western-backed conspiracy.

These theories follow the version put forward by Russia’s Defense Ministry last year that a Ukrainian SU-25 jet shot down the plane, as well as the more far-fetched explanation that all 298 passengers on board the plane had actually been dead well in advance, their corpses used by some Illuminati-esque international syndicate to stage the entire tragedy and pin the blame on Russia.

Indeed, Moscow-based polling firm Levada Center told the Kyiv Post earlier this month that a majority of Russians believe Ukraine shot down the civilian plane, while 10 percent think that the West is responsible.

The surge of fresh conspiracy theories – which, incidentally, contradict all the earlier ones – came as the U.N. Security Council was due to meet and vote on a resolution establishing an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for the catastrophe.

Russia is firmly against the measure and has indicated it will veto the measure as a permanent member of the council.

Two Dutch-led investigations into the downing of flight MH17 have yet to be released to the public.

Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine have all spoken in favor of a tribunal. Russia has reacted to the proposal with indignation, with Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin saying it is “not a proper thing to do” before the results of the investigation have been released.

Russia’s media machine was rabid in backing the Russian government’s official stance on the issue, so much so that they seemed unable to keep their story straight.

Analysts said the bombardment of narratives on MH17 are part of an ongoing campaign to supplant the very idea of truth – to create so much doubt among a domestic audience that Russians give up on looking for it.

The latest report by Life News, a pro-Kremlin outlet, claiming a bomb had been on board the plane cites an independent expert called Yury Antipov, who is said to be conducting his own investigation into the tragedy. Antipov has repeatedly been cited by Russian media to challenge the West’s version of events on MH17.

But he can’t seem to stay consistent.

Last summer, he pushed the theory that the plane brought down over Donetsk Oblast “was not the same plane that departed from Holland” in comments to Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. Antipov said he believed the plane that crashed was actually a Malaysian airliner that disappeared months earlier.

Thus, the MH17 crash was all staged by President Petro Poroshenko as a “back-up plan” in case Ukrainian forces lose ground to Russian-backed separatists in the east, he posited.

Now, the crash was real but caused by a bomb on board, Antipov insists.

To critical observers, such bizarre narratives may reek of desperation. But in the larger information war, they serve a much more insidious purpose.

Peter Pomerantsev, a London-based expert on Russia’s use of information as a weapon, has previously described such tactics as part of a “linguistic sabotage of the infrastructure of reason” meant to “spread confusion about the status of truth.”

The idea is that if the audience begins to doubt the very existence of truth in the first place, it ceases to matter at all. The same tactic can be seen in the Russian media’s handling of the MH17 coverage now.

The focus is mostly on Russia’s domestic audience, Pomerantsev said, “to make sure Russians are left befuddled” about the truth.

“It does sound desperate, but I don’t know their overall media strategy on MH17. Often the individual lies are silly (crucified kids, etc.), but they actually fit a fairly well worked out meta narrative (chaos in Ukraine – stability in Russia),” he told the Kyiv Post.

In this case, the meta-narrative applies not only to who is responsible for the MH17 crash, but also to those in charge of investigating it.

Russia’s Sputnik news agency, which is under control of the government, has churned out story after story portraying Russia as a scapegoat in the MH17 investigation, citing a former German politician to say the West is “exploiting” the MH17 incident to “fuel the conflict” in Ukraine, and that the calls for a tribunal are part of a conspiracy by Western intelligence agencies to destroy Russia.

Such reports reflected President Vladimir Putin’s personal ideology, which has already penetrated the media machine so deeply. “The Kremlin need not tell the propaganda hounds what to do,” said Vasily Gatov, a media expert and visiting fellow at the University of Southern California Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership.

But they also “convey the regime’s paranoia of persecution,” he added.

The media is trying to drill home Putin’s message about the “West’s mistreatment of Russia – of its goals, values, virtues, intentions, actions, etc.” he said.

“MH17 is just a reason, a particular source of danger that could be – in Putin’s eyes – enlarged at the will of the West. What he fears is that a MH17 special court will not only conduct hearings and establish some judgement on the plane crash, but also decide further on all implied Russian sins, from Crimea to Donbas and even further,” Gatov said.

“Slobodan Milošević’s fate is what makes Putin paranoid,” Gatov said, referring to the former Yugoslav leader who was found guilty of war crimes at The Hague.

Source: The Kyiv Post.