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Thursday, December 1, 2022

How Russia and Right-Wing Americans Came to Agree on a Military Intervention in Ukraine

Following Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s declaration that the country’s actions against Ukraine were committed in self-defense, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and conservative pundit Candace Owens echoed the notion on their respective networks. In response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that he was aiming to “denazify” Ukraine, far-right podcaster Joe Oltmann and right-wing pundit Lara Logan echoed the sentiment.

The echoing was also heard in the opposite direction. Infowars and other far-right American news organisations have fueled a Russian conspiracy theory claiming the United States has been funding biological weapons facilities in Ukraine for years. This allegation has been debunked several times. In response to the rumour, Russian authorities said that they had evidence of bioweapons programmes, which they claimed justified their “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Along with the outbreak of conflict came a convergence of the Kremlin’s talking points and certain right-wing speech in the United States, pushed by individuals on the extreme right of the political spectrum. False information regarding the invasion of Ukraine has travelled both ways on social media, podcasts, and television, with Americans amplifying lies from Russians and the Kremlin propagating fabrications that had grown in American internet communities.

Some right-wing Americans have given credibility to Russia’s assertions and vice versa by reinforcing and feeding each other’s messaging campaigns. They have collaborated to construct an other reality in which the Western bloc of allies are seen as provocateurs, blunders, and liars, which has aided Mr. Putin’s political ascent.

Some conservatives, who had asserted that there would be no invasion, were taken completely by surprise when the war began. Many people were critical of Mr. Putin and Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. Some have now called for more international assistance for Ukraine.

However, in recent days, a number of far-right pundits have shifted their attention back to storylines that are favourable to Mr. Putin’s cause. The most prominent of them has been the bioweapons conspiracy theory, which has offered a means to discourse about the conflict while directing anger at President Biden and the United States administration rather than at President Putin and the Kremlin itself.

For example, since early March, mentions of bioweapons labs associated with the Ukrainian conflict have more than doubled — reaching nearly 1,000 per day on both Russian and English-language social media, cable television, print and online publications, and news organisations. This increase is attributed to the media tracking company Zignal Labs.

According to Zignal’s investigation, the unfounded theory started to gain traction in English-language media around the end of last month. By early March, as photographs of wounded Ukrainians and bombed towns flowed through the internet, the public’s interest had waned.

Years ago, Russia lay the framework for its convergence with many on the American right that has continued to this day. An organisation backed by the Kremlin that specialised in online disinformation, the Internet Research Agency, disseminated inflammatory content on Facebook and other social media platforms prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election in order to sow divisions among Americans and boost Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee.

With the coronavirus outbreak, those on the extreme right have become even more connected with Russia’s propaganda machine. Both aimed to undermine public faith in vaccinations and disguise requirements in order to foster mistrust in the federal government and health institutions, according to the authors. According to Mr. Schafer, anti-vaccine Facebook groups and Telegram channels have become a breeding ground for members of the extreme right and Russian trolls in their search for conspiracy theories to spread throughout the world.

The gathering reached a boiling point last month. Even as Western intelligence indicated that Russia was prepared to attack Ukraine, Mr. Putin branded the country an American colony with a “puppet government” and denied that he had any plans to invade the country.

On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a speech in which he justified an invasion of Ukraine. It was published in its entirety on Infowars. According to Ms. Owens, the conservative pundit, President Putin’s assertion that NATO was extending eastward into Russia and blaming the United States for the conflict was echoed on Twitter. Mr. Putin’s address, she asked her three million followers, to read it immediately in order to understand what was “really” going on.

Ms. Nuland’s remarks drew the attention of Russian authorities as well. “Russia’s charges are well-founded, as seen by the panicked response,” the country’s official account for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Twitter.

Besides promoting the bioweapons conspiracy theory, Joseph Jordan, a white supremacist podcaster who goes by the moniker Eric Striker, echoed Russia’s assertion that a pregnant lady who was wounded in a bombing of a Ukrainian maternity facility had fabricated her injuries to avoid being deported. “The hospital photographs were faked,” Mr. Jordan said in a Telegram message to his 15,000 followers on his Telegram channel.

Some Russians have openly expressed their views on what seems to be common ground between far-right Americans and the Russian government. The anchor of the Russian state-sponsored news programme “60 Minutes,” which is not affiliated with the CBS show of the same name, Olga Skabeeva, spoke about the country’s growing links with Mr. Carlson last week.

“Our friend, the host of Fox News Tucker Carlson, clearly has his own interests,” she added, playing recordings from Mr. Carlson’s programme in which he implied that the United States had pushed for violence in Ukraine. “We have our own interests,” she said. “However, in recent years, they’ve become more and more in sync with our own.”

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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