June 15, 2018, and the Football World Cup in Russia is one day old, with a colourful and tasteful opening ceremony, and Russia beating Saudi Arabia in the opening game by five goals to nil. The torrent of anti-Russian propaganda by western news media, led by the United Kingdom, which has been constant over the past weeks, has reached something of a peak and a look at some of the British media is instructive.
The LGBT cause, hooliganism, racism, heavy-handed policing, and of course the favoured Russian politician-martyr in the West, Alexei Navalny, have all been trumpeted to the skies in making the case against Russia, supported by predictable outpourings by unreconstructed anti-Putin criminal-exiles in Britain like Khodorkovsky. On the opening ceremony, the BBC World Service thought President Putin’s speech was excessively long, but opinion on this was not shared by all.
The print media said it was ‘mercifully short’ and drew a contrast with the ‘non-event’ in Sao Paulo in Brazil four years earlier and the ‘cold congested Johannesburg of 2010’. The media lamented that few Europeans were to be seen in Moscow, but there were plenty of other fans creating a festive atmosphere, though one paper chose to identify two Englishmen from Lancashire who were appalled by the hotel prices of $130 for a room.
Evidently these two worthies have no recent experience of hotel prices in Britain. There was ‘no intimidating presence of armed police and soldiers’ one paper noted ruefully, along with a mention that ‘armed and undercover police officers’ were drafted to protect football fans at outdoor screenings of World Cup matches ~ but these turned out on closer reading to be taking place in the United Kingdom.
Robbie Williams was criticised implicitly for agreeing to sing at the opening ceremony and openly mocked for what was described as an obscene gesture, apparently towards those who objected to him being there. The Russian airline Aeroflot was not exempt from sarcastic comment, and nor were the soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gegiev. President Putin’s congratulations to the successful Russian football team were portrayed as an ‘order to keep it up.’
In The Times newspaper, a person by the name of Hamish Bretton-Gordon in a fit of irrelevance contrasted attention on the World Cup in Russia with the plight of 2.7 million rebels in Syria’s Idlib province where civilians, mainly women and children, were allegedly being killed in their hundreds, and hospitals targeted by Russian and Syrian airstrikes, and would become tomorrow’s jihadists if left ‘at the mercy of Assad, Putin and Isis.’
This ‘expert’, who is obviously ignorant of both the Syrian situation on the ground and of the Astana process, urged that Putin be persuaded ‘to work for meaningful peace in Syria’. On an opposite page, another warmongering expert called Edward Lucas writes about deterring ‘Russian aggression in Eastern Europe’ and notes with satisfaction that US special forces are helping locals in Sweden and Finland to create ‘behind the lines capability to harass and disrupt any Russian intervention’ in the event of ‘a surprise Russian incursion into the Baltic states.’
It is clearly with a heavy heart that the same Lucas admits that ‘in Germany 58 per cent of people see Russia as a reliable partner, and 43 per cent count China in that category. Only 14 per cent trust the USA,’ despite Washington nobly trying to arm Ukraine and block the North Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany ‘which will export Kremlin influence, not hydrocarbons, to the West.’
Elsewhere the same paper notes with disapproval that Putin has asked the ‘dictator [Kim Jong-un] to visit him in Russia’ whereas a few lines further down, it states approvingly that Japanese Prime Minister Abe ‘seeks own summit’ with ‘Mr Kim’ and will take the initiative to work towards solving bilateral issues. The BBC World News website on 17 June had an item titled ‘Your guide to Russian football insults’ and a newspaper the same day notified the British public that the England team in Russia have been warned not to order hotel room service in case they were poisoned.
British media have spared no effort to locate Russian voices adverse to President Putin and ‘his sinister values’. The World Cup was over-budgeted and over-promoted, said one, quoting a cost of $13 billion. The towns of Prem and Kazan are described as ‘free-spirited’ and having such virtues as ‘liberal social values, bold artistic experiments, freedom, individuality and joy,’ representing the ‘intellectual power of ordinary people’.
In Kazan, ‘no one in the sparse crowd looked terribly impressed’ by the World Cup happenings; ‘there were no prizes for cacophony.’ And it was observed with satisfaction that ‘some people sat on small wooden platforms that afforded no view at all of the match.’
A Russian female politician was quoted as warning Russian women not to have sex with foreigners and against producing mixed race children. A self-proclaimed British gay rights activist was briefly held by the police for staging an unauthorised demonstration and released. The nerve attack on two Russians in Britain in circumstances which are distinctly fishy and unconvincing to most of the world has been replayed incessantly with gloating about the expulsion of Russian diplomats.
In the Sun newspaper, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who had earlier likened the World Cup with Hitler’s Olympic Games of 1936, inevitably made an appearance with a two-column article, stating that Britain’s dispute ‘is solely with the current administration of the Kremlin’ and that Putin’s ‘prestige is on the line’ since it ‘will be impossible for any of us completely to ignore the realities of Russian behaviour in Europe and around the world.’ The New Statesman magazine opined that ‘Russia looks like being the worst of all possible World Cup hosts.’
These intemperate, ignorant and irrational critiques of Russia can be expected to continue, and will influence the ignorant in Britain and the rest of the West which harbours a media with similar prejudices. This should be alarming, since despite the West’s blatant propaganda, Russia is considered a valued friend in most of the non-West world, and in some of the political parties within Europe itself. The British media has a long and unsavoury tradition of belittling every country where their sporting teams play abroad.
These attitudes and prejudices of the British media and others like them, make the world a more dangerous and confrontational place. It is too much to hope for, that the British media will focus its attention on the football field and nothing else. As for the Russians, they have shown amazing forbearance. They must have known this barrage of hostility was coming, and it is good that they have developed a thick skin. They know that nothing better could have been expected from the Europeans, Americans and their sundry camp-followers.
The writer is India‘s former Foreign Secretary