“Russian propaganda is sexually transmitted”
The US intelligence agencies’ report on the Kremlin’s alleged hack of the recent presidential election seems to have achieved the impossible…
For once, pro-Kremlin and opposition commentators have coincided in their assessments, with both sides calling the report unconvincing.
The public version of the report, in which the overall conclusions play a more central role than the still-classified evidence, has given the Russian propaganda machine an absolute field day. Just take a look at the following headlines on the state-owned Vesti.ru:
“CIA Material on Cyber-Attacks Scant”
“Great Cry and Little Wool”
“Peskov: Cyber-Attack Report Not Worth Reading in Detail”
Since a significant part of the report was given over to a discussion of the RT channel, and specifically its editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, the “first lady” of Russian propaganda has been particularly scathing in her assessment of its American authors. “The report,” she fumes, “is simply astonishing, betraying as it does a remarkable degree of ignorance and carelessness, and testifying to the authors’ fundamental inability to make use of publicly available sources – the Internet, for one – to say nothing of intelligence networks.”
Simonyan, it must be said, isn’t averse to out-and-out trolling either. Take her response to the report’s analysis of Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik: “We have Sputnik branches working across the former Soviet Union. They are run by my deputy and onetime boyfriend Andrei Blagodyrenko. I offered him the job after we broke up. It was on his guard that the Sputnik branches climbed to pole position for audience reach in their respective countries – scientific proof of the fact that Russian propaganda is sexually transmitted. Draw your own conclusions.”
We love that idea – Russian propaganda being sexually transmitted. Of course, you understand that this means what you are reading here is a condom…
But nor was criticism of the report limited to those obliged to criticise it in order to stay on-message. Many commentators, for example, failed to understand why an inquiry expected to focus predominantly on the details of the alleged hacking should deal at such length with the workaday influence of Russian propaganda on Western public opinion. “I can just picture this little gem: a 1960 CIA report into Pravda’s biased coverage of Nixon’s election campaign,” quipped Russian netizen Mikhail. Meanwhile, Alexei Navalny’s close associate Leonid Volkov remarked that the US intelligence agencies had clearly overestimated the effectiveness of RT’s propaganda – and just as clearly underestimated the channel’s ability to buy YouTube views.
Although few were prepared to praise the report, human rights activist and journalist Alexander Podrabinek managed to formulate an emotional argument in its support: “Everyone’s entitled to believe the report – or disbelieve it. But we Russians, of all people, must know with what ferocity our regime tries to weasel its way out of a fix whenever it’s accused of criminal intent. […] Impudent lies, feigned indignation, taunting jibes – these are the trademarks of the Russian regime. Are we, of all people, really going to doubt its capacity to commit outrages throughout the world?”
Much like many others, Konstantin Remchukov, the chief editor of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, does not believe that the public version of the text provides direct evidence of Russian involvement in the hacking. Nor does he consider it justified to withhold such evidence, or to include it solely in the classified version of the report: “if evidence exists, provide it, and it’ll be case closed.”
Political analyst Alexander Morozov, for his part, believes that, having “sold” a demo version of its cyber-warfare capabilities on the international political market, the Kremlin could, if it so desired, derive benefit even from the not-entirely-successful US intelligence report: “The publication of this report will go down in history as the moment when Russia drew level with the US in terms of military-political capabilities. For the rest of the world, meanwhile, it will attest to the fact that the Russians are ‘very cool:’ they hacked something in the US, the CIA admitted as much, and yet no reprisals were forthcoming for anyone.”
And that pretty much sums up how many of us are secretly as proud as anything about what we’ve done.
“We’ve defeated our enemies by turning their own weapon (the computer) against them!” – such sentiments, it must be said, really do resonate with many Russians; as Liliya Shestova remarks, they catalyse upsurges of national pride even at the very zenith of the power vertical: “The Russian elite cannot disguise its pride at something which, as it so likes to claim, Russia had nothing to do with.”
Facebook user Irina, meanwhile, alleges the following about the prevailing mood among ordinary Russians: “I’ll let you in on a terrible secret. In our deepest heart of hearts, we harbour the childish hope that our intelligence agencies really did interfere in America’s political processes and turned them to our advantage. And we hope that America’s own agencies are just so dense that they’ve not been able to prove it.”
There really is nothing so satisfying as playground politics – we beat you and you can’t catch us. So, there.