Riddle me this, America: Why is RT, the cable network run as an extension of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, currently live streaming the protests in Kiev?
Around the world, the media reaction toward the protests in Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine — which dramatically escalated and descended into intense violence overnight — has generally been one of sympathy, toward the protest movement, its goal of greater integration with the West, and an end to Russian influence in the country. But not so in Russian media, which has denounced the protests as a Western scheme for influence in Russia’s backyard.
That the Western media would turn a sympathetic ear toward a movement espousing closer ties with the West and seeking to end Russian meddling should come as no surprise. Live streams of the scene at the Maidan — the shorthand name for Independence Square, where protests are centered — have proliferated widely and popped up on a slew of websites. Even Gawker, that fire hose purveyor of Internet snark, got in on the action, posting a live stream and quite earnestly bemoaning the violence.
So why is RT now joining the bandwagon and live streaming from the Maidan? Because the chaos in Kiev plays right into the hands of the Kremlin.
While it is all but certain Russian President Vladimir Putin would have preferred that Ukrainian authorities not stage a bloody crackdown in the middle of the Sochi Olympics, the escalation of violence will be touted from now until the crisis’ end as evidence of the protests radical nature. This line has been emphasized again and again by Moscow, and despite the fact that most of the violence in Kiev appears to have been carried out at the hands of the police, the notion that "terrorists" are behind the protests will be parroted by Kremlin apparatchiks until the end of the crisis.
So far, 25 people — nine of them police officers — have died in what has become the deadliest spate of violence since the protest’s start. "Negotiations will only take place when the violent methods stop, when the opposition gets its armed people off the street and when calm comes back to the country," Hanna Herman, a spokeswoman for Ukrainian President Viktork Yanukovych, told Radio Liberty’s Ukraine service. "Then it will be necessary to sit at the negotiating table."
The message from authorities in Kiev and Moscow is clear: Whatever the protests began as, they have now been hijacked by violent elements at the Maidan. Consider, for example, these headlines from Interfax, which provide a flavor of how the Russian media is spinning the protests. They are all from Tuesday afternoon and into the evening, when police moved to clear the square.
- 2:37 p.m.: Radical protesters burst into Party of Regions’ [the party of Yanukovych] Kyiv office
- 4:01 p.m.: Policemen, protestors sustain injuries in Kyiv clashes
- 4:59 p.m.: Protesters try to enter Ukrainian Health Ministry
- 4:26 p.m.: Five interior troops were wounded in clashes with protesters in Kyiv – Ukrainian Interior Ministry
- 4:44 p.m.: Russia blames Western politicians for new wave of tensions in Ukraine
- 5:44 p.m.: POLICE OPEN CRIMINAL INQUIRY INTO MASS DISTURBANCES IN KYIV ON TUESDAY
- 6:00 p.m.: UKRAINE’S NATIONAL SECURITY, POLICE CHIEFS URGE OPPOSITION LEADERS TO CALM DOWN PROTESTORS, STOP ARMED RESISTANCE, RETURN TO TALKS – STATEMENT
- 6:10 p.m.: Three people killed in Kyiv clashes – opposition
- 6:15 p.m.: Ten interior troops sustain gunshot wounds in Kyiv
- 6:21 p.m.: Ukraine law enforcement services give opposition two hours to stop unrest
- 7:01 p.m.: Ukrainian justice minister urges opposition to stop escalating conflict, start talks
- 7:47 p.m.: Kyiv locals shield windows with plastic to avoid damage
- 9:12 p.m.: NINE KILLED IN KYIV TUESDAY CLASHES: 7 CIVILIANS, 2 POLICEMEN – POLICE
- 9:20 p.m.: Ukrainian opposition leaders must persuade rioters to end violence – Kravchuk
As if that wasn’t enough, RT posted a video taken from a drone above the Kiev "battlefield."
This is the old authoritarian’s bargain: Give me power, and I’ll give you stability. And as Julia Ioffe explains over at the New Republic, Putin views the Kiev protests with great fear. And so his media outlets dutifully portray the Kiev protest movement as a prime example of the kind of instability Putin has so far managed to avoid — or, perhaps more accurately, brutally stamped out. So far, it appears most Russians agree with him. According to a January poll, a full 84 percent of Russians view the Kiev protests as a coup attempt.
Yanukovych has now agreed to a truce with the protesters and has even sacked the head of the armed forces, apparently as a result of the clumsy crackdown. But for those seeking to portray the protests as out-of-control and the workings of a terror group, the images of Kiev on fire remain.