Putin has waged war on American science and has run a campaign of health disinformation for a decade, the New York Times has argued in an article published on 13 April. According to the New York Times, this is “part of a wider effort to discredit the West and destroy his [Putin’s] enemies from within.” Russia stands accused of spreading conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic – because a couple of Russian Twitter accounts have tweeted some questionable stuff about this latest health crisis.
Over the last years, and in particular since the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the allegations of Russian “meddling” in the American election, we have seen the claim that there supposedly is a wide Russian effort to destroy the West repeated endlessly. For anyone who consumes mainstream news even with a moderate frequency, it would be impossible not to have seen, read or heard this over the last years, since the phrase is recited, almost word for word, every time there is report that is slightly related to Russia.
Yes, maybe Putin and Russia in general are not friendly disposed towards the West. But why should they be, after all? Well before Russia engaged in her efforts to “discredit the West”, the West had been discrediting Russia. Putin and Russia have been accused of many evils, even before Putin actually assumed power in 2000. Why is the West so squeamish about all sort of criticism, about all attempts to discredit it, as if it was an innocent virgin whose purity and virtue are falsely and unjustly being questioned?
But is Russia trying to “destroy” the West? The carelessness with which this wildly out of proportion phrase is reflexively and indiscriminately used is not a sign of a very accurate and cold-blooded assessments of the facts. Established corporate media like the New York Times take infinite pride in positioning themselves as the sole source of the truthful true truth, but by making these insinuative and exaggerated statements, about a war Russia is conducting on America for example, they prove to be not much holier than the demons they accuse of spreading chaos relentlessly.
The West, that is the transatlantic union America and Europe, is often vehemently criticized in Russia media. For one thing, much of this output is produced for internal consumption. That is, unless somebody in Orlando or Paris intentionally decides to consume Russian media and overcomes the language barriers, this is hardly going to influence anyone in the West.
Secondly, the specter of RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is recalled every time the latest fear inducing article about the sinister ends of Russian propaganda is published. However, even before 2016 and the subsequent vast and persistent concerted mediatic effort on the side of established corporate media to assassinate the reputation of an alternative TV channel, RT was not exactly a popular channel among Western audiences and had a relatively small audience. After 2016 and after the phrase “Russian propaganda” entered everyday perception and language, anyone who considers himself intelligent and educated will stay away from RT: mass conditioning is an incredibly powerful tool of persuasion, even for the most powerful minds.
Conspiracy theories have existed long before RT and Putin. In the US they have been the hot topic of discussion on the fringes of public discourse for many years. Trying to put the blame on Russia for US conspiracy theories, as if the sole association with Russia was enough to discredit them, will hardly work and may have the opposite effect.
The bottom line is that accusing Russia of wanting to destroy the West is a delirious conspiracy theory too. The difference is that people generally believe the conspiracy theories they are trying to spread. It is difficult to imagine, however, that the people for the NYT or the CNN producing the millionth story on Russia’s assault on the West believe their own propaganda, though.