I Watched Russian State Television for a Whole Day

Here's what I learned.
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Have you heard about the nefarious Polish general who made Napoleon invade Russia? No? You must not have been watching Rossia-1 television on March 31.

According to a documentary aired on Russia's main state-run channel, General Michal Sokolnicki's goal was the dismembering of the Russian Empire and the establishment of a Greater Poland extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea, buffered from a rump Russia by a series of garrison states.

"From the report of General Sokolnicki: 'Cut back thus to its natural limits, cut off from the shores of the Baltic and the Black Sea, separated from the Great Empire [editor's note: Napoleonic France], watched over by buffer states, and constantly in the sights of an army that is always ready to give a decisive response to aggression, Russia will be forced to give up greedy plans and any temptation to try any kind of usurpation forever.'"

The text of Sokolnicki's report, which Rossia's investigators visited in a military archive near Paris, scrolls over a graphic of Europe in flames as the narrator reads it. The documentary, called The War of 1812: The First Information War, notes that part of the Polish design against the Russian Empire was to stir up ethnic conflicts, including with the Crimean Tatars and the peoples of the Caucasus.

March 31 was a relatively staid day on Rossia-1. None of Russia's most aggressive spokesmen—Dmitry Kiselyov, Aleksei Pushkov, Aleksandr Dugin, for example—was anywhere to be seen. Even President Vladimir Putin was only fleetingly present. Nonetheless, certain themes and moods ran through the entire day: Russia is an oasis of calm good governance in a world of chaos. Fascism is on the march in the world and Russia must be vigilant. The motif of "Europe in flames" plays out repeatedly through the day.

In the early evening, there is an hour-long, non-journalistic talk show called On Air Live devoted to events in Ukraine. A range of guests representing positions from the rabidly anti-Maidan to the extremely rabidly anti-Maidan argued on the theme of "the morals of the new Ukrainian elite" while behind them large screens played loops of the burning tires of the Kiev demonstrations last month.

In passing we learn such "facts" as that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko finds domestic and foreign enemies "no worse than Stalin did." That the radical nationalist Right Sector activists are "her storm troopers." That "hundreds were killed, thousands were crippled, and downtown Kiev was destroyed" by the Maidan protests.

At one point a man introduced as a psychologist connects Tymoshenko with the figurehead of the White Brotherhood, a bizarre cult that began in Donetsk and swept through the newly independent countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The psychologist says he "noticed" from his research that people who were involved in this sect went on to become "national socialists."

Toward the end, Sergei Khizhnyak, identified as the head of the NGO Stop Maidan, tells how he had to flee the Kiev suburb of Boryspil and how his apartment was allegedly looted in this exchange with program moderator Boris Korchevnikov.

Korchevnikov: "What happened to your apartment?"

Khizhnyak: "I came here, evacuating my family. My neighbors called me and said that some people came in masks with guns. They cut down the door and the apartment was completely looted. Everything was removed."

Korchevnikov: "How can this be in this day and age in the center of Europe?"

The program ends with a priest denouncing the Femen protest movement as "devilish" and saying that Maidan actually began on August 17, 2012, when a topless Femen leader Inna Shevchenko took a chainsaw to an Orthodox cross in support of the Russian performance-art group Pussy Riot.

* * *

In many ways, the 8 p.m. news broadcast brings the themes of the day together. It is a masterwork of mentioning controversial points as if they were indisputable facts. What is unsaid is as important as what is said: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent four hours discussing "the federalization of Ukraine" in Paris. President Vladimir Putin criticized the "economic blockade" of Moldova's Transdniester region. The United States "firmly backs terrorists" in Syria.

What was not said was that Kerry told Lavrov there would be no discussion of Ukraine's domestic affairs without the participation of Ukraine; that Moldova, Ukraine, and the EU deny there are any problems or delays on Transdniester's borders; and that Russia politically and militarily supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has killed tens of thousands of its own citizens over the last three years. It shows Putin and Sberbank head German Gref discussing the creation of a new Russian electronic-payments system in the next six months. What was not said was that the move is necessary because U.S. sanctions over Crimea prevent Visa and MasterCard from working with Russian banks.

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