Newspaper article International New York Times

Soviet Tactics Fuel Crisis in Internet Era

Newspaper article International New York Times

Soviet Tactics Fuel Crisis in Internet Era

Article excerpt

Russia's propaganda onslaught on Crimea seems anachronistic in an age when Internet access was supposed to undercut the influence of state media.

One of the fixtures of Cold War propaganda was a map flashed across television screens depicting menacing arrows moving toward the borders of an endangered homeland. The cutaway would be to newsreel footage of missiles being fired, marching soldiers or scenes of devastation from past wars.

In the past week, as the crisis in Crimea deepened, similar images have been running on Russia's state-run television. Even for the Kremlin's master propagandists, it is a tenuous stretch -- but that's of no matter. The enemy has been identified: It is the West, allied with "fascist mercenaries" in Ukraine.

The scale of Russia's propaganda effort in the current crisis has been breathtaking, even by Soviet standards. Facts have been twisted, images doctored (Ukrainians shown as fleeing to Russia were actually crossing the border to Poland), and harsh epithets (neo- Nazis) hurled at the demonstrators in Kiev -- who President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia belatedly acknowledged had legitimate gripes against a corrupt and failed government.

If he weren't the boss, such an open contradiction of the official line, made at a televised news conference, might have been censored.

Like so much about Russia's actions in Ukraine, the massive propaganda onslaught seems strangely anachronistic in a time when access to the Internet was supposed to undercut the influence of state-controlled media.

It's all the more puzzling since Russia boasts one of the world's most active and creative blogospheres, not to mention a thriving community of independent hackers drawn from the same top math schools that feed the ranks of the modern-day successor to the K.G.B.

According to a government-sponsored survey conducted last January, almost half of Russia's adult population uses the Internet; for those younger than 34, it is the most used medium, ahead of television. Internet penetration in Russia is proportionately lower than in Europe: The same survey found that 38 percent of small towns had no Internet access at all. …

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