The Russians done it!

The latest news made me think that it’s probably about time for a new regular feature on this blog, recounting the latest dastardly deeds for which Russia has been deemed responsible, and titled ‘The Russians Done It’ . I suspect that if I keep doing this over a while and then tally up the results, it will create a picture of an all-powerful, omnipresent Russia which poses a deadly threat to Western civilization. I suppose that I could counterpoise this with another regular feature – one which recounts all the stories about Russia’s decline and imminent collapse – but the contrast between the two Russias (one astonishingly powerful and efficient, and the other decaying and incompetent) might cause too much cognitive dissonance, so for now I’ll stick with ‘The Russians Done It!’

What sparked this new venture was a couple of stories I read in the British press, one in The Guardian and the other in The Daily Mail. I realise that finding ‘fake news’ in the Mail is very much a case of picking low hanging fruit, but it purports to be a genuine newspaper, so I think it’s fair game. Anyway, these are the stories which sparked my interest.

The first concerns the weekend’s referendum in Macedonia concerning the country’s official name. I have no personal stake in this particular issue – if it’s Macedonia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia [FYROM], Northern Macedonia, or whatever, it’s all the same to me. It’s for [Northern] Macedonians to decide, which was kind of the point of the referendum. But as I’m sure all well-informed readers are aware, Greece doesn’t agree with me on that and thinks that it isn’t entirely up to [Northern] Macedonians to decide, and that Greece should have a veto over the name. Which is why the Greeks have been pressing their neighbours to drop the name Macedonia, and have been blocking their entry into NATO and the EU as long as they don’t.

It seemed as if the issue had finally been resolved, with an agreement that FYROM would be renamed Northern Macedonia, in return for which the doors to NATO and the EU would open. The problem is that only 34% of FYROM’s citizens turned out to vote in this weekend’s referendum, rendering the whole thing legally invalid. FYROM’s prime minister has promised to press ahead with the name change regardless, but it’s not clear that he’ll able to do this, so for now the Macedonians’ efforts to join the Western world’s favourite clubs seems in jeopardy.

How did this happen? You know the answer – ‘The Russians done it!’ That, at any rate, is the view of The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, who reacted to the referendum result with an article entitled ‘Result of Macedonia’s victory is another victory for Russia.’ It couldn’t be that Macedonia’s didn’t like being pressured to change their name and independently boycotted the referendum en masse out of genuine indignation. No, that would be too simple. They must have been manipulated into it by an outside power intent on sabotaging their entry into NATO and the EU. Tisdall notes:

For students of the 2016 US presidential election, Russia’s methods in Macedonia look highly familiar. Disinformation campaigns and “fake news”, cyberwarfare and hacking, phoney Facebook and Twitter accounts and secret cash payments – the modern equivalent of communist-era “red gold” – are all alleged to have been used.

Russia denies interfering. But western diplomats claimed last month that 40 new posts a day were appearing on Facebook encouraging a referendum boycott. Postings asked “are you going to let Albanians change your name?” – a blatant attempt to stoke tensions with majority-Slav Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority.

Tisdall cites US defence secretary James Mattis as saying on a recent trip to Skopje that there ‘was no doubt they [the Russians] have transferred money and conducting broader influence campaigns.’ Then, without a trace of irony, Tisdall continues:

Mattis’s attempt to bolster the yes vote, backed by $8m in US congressional funding, were complemented by visits by Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary general, and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief. Britain’s Foreign Office reportedly provided referendum funds. All sought to assure Macedonians their future security and prosperity were best served by closer integration with the west.

‘Who’s carrying out the ‘influence operation’ here?’, one might ask. Tisdall comments that Western states ‘were out-thought, outspent, and outmanoeuvred by Moscow’. This is odd, as his article mentions $8m of American money, but no Russian funds, only $21,000 allegedly paid to nationalist groups by ‘Greek businessmen sympathetic to the Russian cause.’ I don’t know how Tisdall comes up with ‘outspent’. As with so many other stories I’ve discussed on this blog, the author appears to be making it all up.

As also does veteran BBC journalist John Simpson in the Daily Mail article I mentioned. Some of you may recall the salacious case of British MP Stephen Milligan, who killed himself in a bungled case of erotic auto-asphyxiation back in 1995. Now Simpson, who was Mulligan’s friend, is having doubts about the official verdict of ‘misadventure’. As the Mail reports:

He [Simpson] said he thought little about it until much later when he spoke to another close friend of Mr Milligan’s. Simpson added: ‘He said “I’m thinking of writing a book about it because it was so obvious that he was murdered by the KGB. What better way to kill somebody without there being any form of investigation than this?” Many people just thought it was funny or savage or were too embarrassed to have anything to do with it. Then he came up with the fact that at least two people, critics of the Yeltsin government, had died in the same way in Russia.’

Putting aside the fact that the KGB no longer existed in 1995, what is the evidence to support this theory? Simpson produces none, other that the fact that in his previous career as a journalist Milligan ‘had successfully reported on the new Yeltsin government in Moscow for The Sunday Times and the BBC.’ I guess that’s all the proof you need.

Things happen for all sorts of reasons. Someday British journalists are going to have to learn that Russia isn’t usually one of them. Until then, expect more headlines telling us that ‘The Russians done it!’ Apparently it sells newspapers.

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10 thoughts on “The Russians done it!”

  1. We have a Macedonian nationalist here at the office. Based on what I’ve heard from him over the years, it’s very common there, a small Balkan nation being constantly denied legitimacy and undermined in various ways by its neighbors: Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. (And by Serbia too, I’m sure, I just don’t remember the details. Something about uneven economic development during the Tito times?)

    He is a super-passionate opponent of the name change, and huge enthusiast of the boycott. And yesterday I heard all the standard jokes: ‘Why was I was so stupid to boycott the referendum for free? Is it too late to go get that Russian money? Where do I get in the line?’

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “I suspect that if I keep doing this over a while and then tally up the results, it will create a picture of an all-powerful, omnipresent Russia which poses a deadly threat to Western civilization. I suppose that I could counterpoise this with another regular feature – one which recounts all the stories about Russia’s decline and imminent collapse”

    🙂

    “Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935.

    – Herr Altmann,- said his secretary, – I notice you’re reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?

    – On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more: that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Also in “TRDI”: Russian Trolls Behind Some Negative ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Tweets: Study

    “A new study found that some of the negative reaction tweets about the Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie were created by Russian trolls, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Researcher Morten Bay of the University of Southern California found that 21.9 percent of all the tweets analyzed about the film had a negative view, with 50.9 percent of the negative tweets showing indications they were “likely politically motivated or not even human.” Bay added that a “number” of those users appeared “to be Russian trolls.” Bay concluded that the tweets were part of “deliberate, organized political influence measures disguised as fan arguments” that aimed to propagate “widespread discord and dysfunction in American society.” “Persuading voters of this narrative remains a strategic goal for the U.S. alt-right movement, as well as the Russian Federation,” Bay wrote. He also wrote that the movie’s political undertones were “consistent” with older Star Wars films, leading him to believe that the political divisiveness of the Trump era “primed these fans with a particular type of political messaging that is in direct conflict with the values presented in The Last Jedi.””

    Like

      1. Ahww, shucks! 😦 But, Professor, it’s not the article that’s important (also it’s hilarious), but your take on it.

        Like

    1. “S” – “science”

      Quote from the “study” mentioned by DailyBeast: “16 out of 967 analysed tweets had “several of the Russian troll characteristics” which include auto-generated handles and no profile picture.”

      I think this study does not go far enough! What if the Ruskis meddled in “Las Jedi” at the scrip-writing phase?!

      Like

  4. Compare the results of this referendum and international reaction to them to the results of Hungarian migrant quota referendum in 2016 – not so long ago!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I detest gross hypocrisy and the stories in both rags concerning this matter is totally hypocritical. There is no country that interferes in other nations’ internal affairs more than the US, with help from its lapdogs such as the UK. No wonder the print and electronic media are so mistrusted. Readers and viewers are much more sophisticated and knowledgeable than in the past. They will not continue to allow mass media to lie to them!.

    Liked by 1 person

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