Russian Newspaper Coverage of the US Time of Troubles

Seeing America tear itself apart again is a depressing sight; watching police wade into protesters along streets where I’ve walked my dog or eaten ice cream gives it a particular poignancy. I’ve already received some media requests for comment on Russia’s ‘role’ in the current US conflagration. (What to call; it? ‘Riots’ puts the blame squarely on the protesters, which is hardly accurate. That Russian word bunt, or explosion of violence works perhaps. Even better, smutnoe vremya, ‘time of troubles’) The common themes from US journalists seem to be (1) what is the Russian role in instigating the violence and (2) how are the Russians spinning and enjoying the sight of America in flames. What a sad insight into the knee-jerk assumptions in play.

Of course, you can absolutely count on Moscow using this the next time America wants to lecture Russia on human rights and police abuses, and I am sure there are some examples of toxic propaganda on both sides being magnified by Russian-linked or -sympathetic channels. But I have seen no evidence of anything more than that, and the almost touchingly-lunatic nonsense we have seen on the net of police departments being brainwashed into violent abuses by Russian military intelligence (I’m not going to magnify it with a link – if you really must, do Google it) says much more about contemporary desperation to find an outside force to blame than anything else.

But on the media coverage, looking at Russia’s newspapers, at least, what strikes me is that actually it is relatively low-key and factual. The story tends to be some way down the running order (the SpaceX shuttle mission gets more play), and pretty factual. Let’s see:

The government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta headlines its story ‘Trump hid in a bunker during riots in Washington‘ (hang on, wasn’t he meant to be Putin’s willing acolyte?)

Izvestiya, another government-close paper and one often inclined to waspishness, again provides a pretty factual account under the title ‘More than 4 thousand people arrested during the riots in the United States.’

The tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda takes a different, personal approach, interviewing ‘Nina’, a migrant who had moved from Berdsk to Minneapolis, ground zero of the current troubles: ‘This city never seemed to the girl criminal and troubled, even the coronavirus did not frighten the Siberian woman.’ Now, ‘a Russian girl describes the pogroms in Minneapolis.’ It is obviously more emotive, but frankly not that different from so many eyewitness accounts we are hearing, and nor is there an obvious bias. As she concludes, ‘I don’t know how to react. On the one hand, the police are to blame. On the other hand, I do not support the riots.’

Meanwhile, Moskovskii Komsomolets turns to Valery Garbuzov, director of ISKAN, the Institute of the USA and Canada, for expert commentary, wondering in its subtitle ‘Who can end the riots in the USA?’ Again, this strikes me a pretty fair-minded, with a note that ‘Trump has a reputation as a racist, [and] will take advantage of all these events’ but also a statement that ‘I would not say unequivocally that it is Trump who is to blame for what is happening. What is happening today has happened before and, I am convinced, will happen during this century from time to time, the deepest reasons still lie in the fact that the problems of the black population in America by and large have not been resolved.’ It seems hard to disagree.

When asked about the claims of a Russian hand in all this, he is rightly dismissive: ‘Such logic is, of course, quite primitive. Nevertheless, it is in demand today. The evidence regarding alleged interference… is also obviously superficial. Sometimes it comes to some kind of mania, but there is nothing surprising here…’

The business paper Vedomosti doesn’t really cover the story, but Kommersant suggests that ‘America is starting to get tired of riots.’ Hardly sounds that delighted.

I could go on, and I am sure the tone is going to be rather different on some TV programmes (although these are often really entertainment – of a sort – masquerading as news analysis), but the truth of the matters, America, is that

  1. The Russian media is not delighting at your misery; and for that matter
  2. The Russian media isn’t that interested in you…
Leave a comment


  1. Ray C. Finch III

     /  June 1, 2020

    Disagree, sort of. Not sure Russian newspapers are necessarily reflective of the influence of the Kremlin-supported media juggernaut. The Russian TV screens are filled with zloradstsvo over the latest violence within their “partner” America. Below is a typical example of their not-so hidden joy at Uncle Sam’s decline.

    • Mark Galeotti

       /  June 1, 2020

      Well, I do very explicitly state that I am looking at newspapers, and while one can simply choose to look elsewhere, that’s just choosing another slice of the media environment. Yes, as I say, there are certain TV shows that one can rely on for schadenfreude, but even so, they are also not necessarily reflective of the whole. Even in that one, the anchors stick to facts, it’s the talking heads who bring the hype and extremism (not exactly unknown on US TV, too). There is quite a lot of sober and ‘normal’ Russian TV news coverage, as well.

      • Ray C. Finch III

         /  June 1, 2020

        Mostly valid points. Maybe I’m merely watching/listening/reading from different Russian sources, but still disagree that “the Russian media is not delighting at your misery,” or that they aren’t “interested” in celebrating the many failures of US domestic and foreign policies. The C-virus has shifted some of the focus, and perhaps there’s been a Kremlin wink to tone down the American-bashing until 3 November, but in my estimation, a key platform of the current leadership rests upon weakening what they regard as the hegemonic status of the US.

  2. James Ransom

     /  June 2, 2020

    Mark, as always, thanks for your professional approach to news analysis: no jumping on bandwagons, selectively fueling “narratives” or succumbing to the common vice of willful blindness to discrepant data. Russia has its problems and we surely have our own, of our own making.



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