What You're Not Being Told About Russia
When I speak with people here in the West about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I hear the same thing over and over. On all sides of the political spectrum, whether it’s PhDs, political pundits or people with actual jobs, everyone struggles with one thing above all: who do we trust to tell us the truth?
The opening up of the media landscape, which has wrestled control of information away from a small group of oligarchs, has been an eye-opener for billions of people around the world. We have seen how the media lie, misrepresent, push agendas and interfere in our elections. This became particularly apparent during the last two years, in which the alienation many of us feel from the mainstream narratives has been harder and harder to ignore.
Mistrust in relation to vaccines and other COVID-related public health measures is one of the stark consequences:
So what does this mean for the war in Ukraine? As I’ve written before, one of the consequences of the abundance of information combined with our loss of faith in mainstream institutions is that we are entering a new Dark Age in which our ability to form accurate maps of the world is being degraded rather than improved.
If you are a fellow Very Online Person, you may have seen a portion of populists on both Left and Right descend into what Helen Dale incisively calls Ukraine Truthism (a reference to 9/11 Truthers who reject the official explanation of that terrible event) in recent weeks.
For the populist Left, who have always hated the West and see it as the root of all evil, siding with our enemies is par for the course. On the populist Right, the perfectly legitimate desire to keep us out of yet another foreign war, the similarly legitimate distrust of the media (if they lied to us about everything else, how do we know they’re not lying about Ukraine?), a hatred of Western elites and uncritical consumption of Russian propaganda have created a perfect storm.
Much of this is understandable. Foreign wars are bad. The media is full of liars. Western elites have been busily destroying the foundations of our civilisation for decades. And Russian propaganda will appeal to people who feel misled by our own.
The result is that some people have forgotten who we are dealing with. If you are upset about Western media misleading you, it’s odd to uncritically imbibe narratives from Uncle Vlad who lied about his intentions and whose Foreign Minister claimed that Russia did not attack Ukraine as his forces were turning Mariupol into rubble.
One of the reasons this is happening is that despite the abundance of commentary and reporting on the war and overwhelming volumes of footage from Ukraine itself, the one thing very few people in the West are able to do is get the information from sources in Russia. They do not speak Russian. They do not have friends or family in Russia. They do not watch Russian state TV or read Russian newspapers.
If you think this is the point at which I explain that you should listen to me and only to me, I’m sorry to disappoint my critics - my ego is big, but not that big!
To understand the mood among Russian decision-makers and commentators, the best thing to do is to listen to them.
Before you watch the video below, please be warned that every fibre of your being will refuse to believe what you hear. You will tell yourself that these people are fringe lunatics, that they don’t mean what they say, that nobody in Russia can possibly think this way.
Alas, the comments you are about to see are from the two most prominent shows on Russian TV from which most Russians still get their news: An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov and News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselyov. For American readers, these are Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson level figures. For British readers, think Andrew Neil or Piers Morgan.
More importantly, in a country like Russia, which has banned all independent media, these comments could not be made unless the people making them knew their Kremlin paymasters masters approved:
At 7PM UK time, we are releasing an interview with former Putin advisor, Andrey Illarionov, a man who helped President Putin re-build Russia’s economy. He is no deranged Putin-hater, describing his former boss as “the most rational man I’ve ever met”. But he has stark warnings for us here in the West about Russia’s intentions - let’s hope Western decision-makers are listening.