‘Will RT acknowledge it was wrong?’

OK, fat chance, one might say – but let me explain. Under the headline ‘‘Will Die Welt acknowledge it was wrong?’, Russian state TV channel RT has been making hay with the news that a German court found that a critical piece in Die Welt (here, if you’re interested) made untrue statements about RT. Now, let’s be clear – the article is indeed pretty shoddy, and something of a case study in the kind of cheap reporting that represents a very real problem – Russian disinformation – as an issue much more dangerous than it really is.

However, what inevitably caught my eye is the following line in the RT piece:

The column, bylined by Die Welt writer Ulrich Clauss, sought to expose a purported Russian disinformation campaign in Germany and targeted RT DE as one of its elements. The alleged operation, the article said, was being conducted under the so-called ‘Gerasimov doctrine’. It’s a non-existent Russian military policy that even Mark Galeotti, the person who coined the term, acknowledged was a product of translation error.

Now, I have time and again tried to lay the ghost of the mythical doctrine, both on this blog and in sundry articles, including the Foreign Policy piece linked there. I have always been absolutely clear that the issue is that, even while acknowledging in the original blog post from 2014 that Russian Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov probably didn’t write the original 2013 piece that started the whole business ‘and it certainly isn’t a doctrine‘, I used a placeholder title, and people obsessed on that, not the actual analysis. I stand by the actual content of the blog – my ‘guilt’ is is having created a snappy term.

I’ve never said that it was a problem with the translation (which was by Robert Coulson of RFE/RL), but RT has long been claiming this, albeit without even saying quite what the translation error is meant to be. I think the original allegation came from long-time RT stalwart Bryan MacDonald, but it has been used by other RT writers since. (Although these days it seems RT pieces – like the one in question – are often unbylined, so it’s hard to know who is writing for them.)

So, as I have repeatedly said,

  1. I do not believe there was any such translation error
  2. The ‘Gerasimov Doctrine’ does not exist – but nor did I ever claim it did
  3. The problem came from people seemingly too eager to see some nefarious Russian scheme, and for whom a neat term like this was too good or useful to question.

I’ve been hammering on about this from the first, long before the 2018 article in Foreign Policy. I’ve even explored quite why the ‘doctrine’ acquired such traction for the journal Critical Studies on Security. Assuming the people at RT do even the least homework, or even just read replies to past tweets of theirs, they know all this.

Yet still the false claim that this was a translation error (which presumable is meant to delegitimise the source?) persists – and also that I ‘acknowledge’ this.

I would also add that to the best of my knowledge, they have never reached out to me to fact check or otherwise support their claim, something that I thought ought to be basic journalistic good practice.

There’s an irony that in what is a story actually about RT being vindicated – and as I have said in the past, as well as the RT-as-Kremlin-propaganda there is also RT-as-clickbait-journalism and RT-as-decent-broadcaster – that they cannot just accept a bit of positive affirmation, but have to push it further, and roll untruths and hints of sinister conspiracy (‘was it a mistake or a deliberate provocation, what do you think?‘) into it.

So, I find myself wondering, ‘Will RT acknowledge it was wrong?’ As Dinara Toktosunova, head of RT in Germany, apparently opined, ‘I hope our colleagues will have the dignity to acknowledge their mistake.’

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