Russian chest thumping has reached a new high (or low, if you prefer) in the wake of Russia’s forcible annexation of the Ukrainian province of Crimea.
“Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” television news anchor and hardcore propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov bragged on his weekly current affairs television show. This bizarre and threatening rant was accompanied by a wall-sized background illustration of a nuclear explosion. Russia has ratcheted up the anti-American rhetoric on national television to match President Putin’s military aggression against Ukraine.
Kiselev went on to mock the weakness of the American president. He told Russian viewers that because of Russia’s nuclear weapons, President Obama is constantly calling Putin, trying to negotiate over the Ukrainian crisis. He went on to say that Obama is not interested in, and is probably scared of, an open confrontation with Russia. And finally, Kiselev reminded viewers that were the United States to launch a nuclear attack on Russia, the Russians would be able to respond immediately.
Were these fevered ramblings of a crazy mind, a bully intoxicated with a sense of power after snatching a prized possession (Crimea) from a defenseless neighbor (Ukraine)? Undoubtedly, but there is, nonetheless, a method to the madness. It is unfortunately true that President Obama, by his endless phone calls to Putin and explicit renunciation of the use of American military power, has made himself look rather feeble. The Russian propaganda machine is reacting to the scent of Obama’s weakness with coarse ridicule.
Furthermore, anti-American rhetoric has been a staple of Russian propaganda since the early days of the Soviet Union. It waned during the thaw of the 1990s, but came roaring back under nationalist Vladimir Putin. Indeed, Kiselev happens to be the man appointed by Putin to head a new Russian propaganda enterprise, Russia Segodnya (Russia Today). This move came after Putin shut the doors on Ria Novosti, the Russian government news agency, which had achieved a somewhat more independent stature.
Furthermore, “Russia-1,” the channel on which Kiselev’s nuclear comments appeared, has millions of viewers (mostly Russian-speaking). His show airs in prime time and, as Putin has eliminated just about every source of independent electronic media, it is a show that everybody watches. As Putin thumbs his nose at American sanctions, his media machine is—yet again— working to paint the United States as the enemy.