• Frank Furedi
  • Frank Furedi
  • Sociologist, commentator and author
Article

Why I’m sceptical about stories exposing Russian antics

I must admit that when I listen to the news or read the papers, I struggle to know what to believe and what to ignore when it comes to Russia.

I really don’t want to join the ranks of the conspiracy theorist so I decided to give the UK government’s version of what happened in Salisbury the benefit of a doubt.

However, I am less sure about those murky pictures of the now infamous GRU Colonel Anatoly Chepiga. He may or he may not be Russia’s James Bond in reverse.

One reason why I remain sceptical of so many of the stories exposing the calumny and misdeeds of Russia and its evil President Putin is that they are utterly predictable and simplistic.

These days it is inconceivable to hold an election in a Western country without apparently courting the risk of Russian interference in the democratic process.

The accusation that Russian trolls and hackers have influenced a particular election has become a routine feature of the electoral process. Consequently, there are many deluded folks who believe that the EU referendum result in the UK would have been very different if the Russians had not fooled around on social media.

Russia also stands accused of corrupting the democratic process in the 2016 American presidential election - as well as interfering in recent elections in Sweden, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Catalonia and Germany.

It is as if, behind the scenes, the invisible hands of the Kremlin monster are programming the political behaviour of naive and innocent voters in the West.

No doubt Russia does its share of dirty tricks and only a fool would take the statements made by the Kremlin oligarchy at face value.

But in the current climate of a mini-Cold War hysteria there is a danger of unwittingly heightening global tensions through outbursts of childish propaganda.

I do worry when Western politicians and policy makers possess an image of Russia that bears little relationship to reality.

Take the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which before the event, many critics denounced as the 21st century version of the 1936 Nazi Olympics.

British fans were warned that they would face violent Russian thugs and hostile sullen citizens should they dare to go to the games.

The foreign office and an assorted group of MPs claimed that Russia’s homophobic and racist culture threatened the security of black and openly gay and lesbian fans.

Just in case anyone missed this message, Tom Tugendhat, chair of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, stated that he did not feel reassured that “UK nationals will be safe, regardless of their background or sexual orientation”.

The alarmist invective hurled at Russia was no doubt motivated by a genuine anxiety about the growing geopolitical presence of Russia and the assertiveness of its president.

But distorting reality and attempting to discredit and de-legitimatise Russian political authority can have dangerous unintended consequences.

Far too many propagandists in the West assume that turning Russia into a pariah state is a desirable objective. It is not.

Russia and Western nations have their own geo-political interests which may from time to time come into conflict.

But it makes far more sense to ease up on the propaganda war and treat Russia with the respect that any great nation deserves.

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