Crisis in Crimea, According to Kremlin TV: Tea, Sandwiches, and Selfies

RT, the website of the Kremlin-funded television station, is laced with propaganda.

In the West, Russia's invasion of Crimea is seen as a violation of international norms and state sovereignty. But over at, the website of the Kremlin-funded television station, it's all tea, sandwiches, and music. At least that was a story leading the home page this weekend.

Another story on the site formerly known as Russia Today claimed Ukrainian troops in Crimea had switched sides according to a single "unnamed source."

As Russian troops seized control of government buildings and communication hubs across the Crimean Peninsula, photos from RT's Instagram account featured Simferopol residents happily posing with squad members for selfies.{{thirdPartyEmbed type:instagram id:lCh2HGM3GI}}

Another photo on RT's Instagram account showed a pro-Russian protester hoisting a sign that read: "In Russia, we have brothers. In Europe, we're slaves." A photo on the website showed a Simferopol resident in short shorts and spike heels smiling beside a soldier with a caption that read, "The question of what's more dangerous in close combat — high heels or a machine gun — remains open."

Still others showed soldiers beside smiling children and mothers with strollers.

Simferopol residents pose with solider. (Photo by Andrey Stenin via RIA Novosti as seen on

Simferopol father and son pose with soldier. (Photo by Andrey Stenin via RIA Novosti as seen on

When RT first came to the U.S. in 2010, it had high hopes for providing a more complete portrait of Russia. Former RT host Alyona Minkovski's show landed her a job with The Huffington Post, and Julian Assange hosted an exclusive TV series on the site in 2012. Larry King's RT show debuted in June.

But now people on the inside are concerned about how the network is going to cover the news in Crimea and Ukraine, and about what the brass is going to say, according to a former RT employee. So far it's unclear.

"They are not by any means keen on the Washington consensus and the State Department's view of the crisis," said the source, "but they're also appalled by the possibility of toeing the Kremlin's line on this."

Still there have perhaps been times when RT provided a useful counterpoint. During the Georgia crisis in 2008, for instance, RT's insistence that Georgia had fired the first shot, expecting NATO back up, was later supported by an independent investigation.

More often though, it's simply toed the Kremlin line. Indeed, it's hard to believe that any Russian state-financed media could be truly independent of the Kremlin.

In Syria in 2012, for instance, as international outcry and body counts increased, RT continued to minimize civilian causalities and promote the narrative that foreign intervention would be disastrous. The coverage was perfectly in tune with the Kremlin's position, helping to supply a counter-narrative to make the U.S. look out of line for lecturing Russia on Syria.

Recent developments in Crimea and Ukraine put RT's problematic coverage back in the spotlight. The New Republic's Julia Ioffe observed Sunday that RT ran zero coverage of the antiwar protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, even though arrest numbers were in the hundreds and demonstrations were brutally broken up by Russian police. (Photos of that are here.)

And plenty of others have expressed frustration with the coverage.

Someone, apparently motivated by RT's propagandistic coverage, decided to take matters into his or her own hands.

Over the weekend, RT was reportedly hacked, with attackers replacing the word "Russian" and "military" with "Nazi"' in all headlines relating to the use of military force in Crimea and Ukraine. Some headlines briefly read, "Russian senators vote to use stabilizing Nazi forces on Ukrainian territory," according to Softpedia's report.

On its Twitter feed Saturday, RT acknowledged the problem and has since resolved the issue, though no group has yet come forward to claim responsibility.