Robert Pszczel, Director of NATO Information Office in Moscow, seems to have been invited to a Russian TV program as a punching bag. “You are a Pole, and this alone makes you a Russophobe,” he was told in the TV studio when discussing the conflict in Donbas. The NATO diplomat was talking with notorious Russian nationalists Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Aliaksandr Rutskoy in the program ‘Politics’ (Channel Rossiya 1).
Pro-Kremlin political writers also took part in the program. They accused Pszczel of NATO’s fuelling the war in Donbas and stated that ‘hundreds of Poles’ were killed in Donbas, their bodies ‘secretly being taken to Warsaw’. In keeping with the best traditions of Soviet propaganda, the hosts deprived the guest of any chance to be heard out. Robert Pszczel considers their behaviour as ‘a show of hatred’.
Are the people you were talking to at the studio of channel cynical? Or do they really believe that Ukrainians are monsters and Western mercenaries are en masse fighting in the east of Ukraine?
I am trying to be careful when speaking about my conversation partners’ motives. In Russia we are dealing with very aggressive information policy toward Ukraine. It is based on thought-out arguments which are not consistent with reality. It is a grotesque and diabolised image that is being formed due to daily doses of propaganda on Russian TV. I do not know whether people engaged believe in their own words. But they speak them out and even cry out in public – I mean politicians, opinion leaders. Most journalists fail to argue against it; on the contrary, they help create such image.
And all this leads to the situation when Russia’s former Vice President Alexander Rutskoy cries out that Ukrainians are monsters and cannibals. Such behaviour builds an image of hatred.
On the other side, however, some surveys prove that most Russians are not in favour of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. At the same time, there are people who believe that Russia is not intervening. Anyway, it is noteworthy that people en masse do not fly to arms in spite of such vicious propaganda.
Not giving a second thought your partners in conversation told about ‘hundreds of killed Poles’ who were fighting for Kyiv and whose bodies were transported to Warsaw by plane but there is no proof of it.
Neither you nor me know exactly whether some citizens of Poland are fighting on either side. But what they talk about in public, about planes carrying bodies of Polish mercenaries and landing every day in Warsaw is nonsense that is broadcast and then repeated.
As a diplomat, you speak to Russian officials and politicians privately. Do they view the same ideas ‘off record’ and in public?
I would not like to make these private talks public, but I would say that the phenomenon that was in place after the annexation of Crimea – ‘champagne patriotism’ – still exists and is widely represented.
Isn’t it [champagne] flat yet?
Poisoning is deep. What concerns me is the pious opinion that Russia’s stance on Ukraine is widely supported abroad. It is frustrating. Other diplomats and I are trying to persuade our Russian colleagues not to tell their citizens about the things that do not exist. Let’s take the UN resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an example. Voting results – 100:11, not in Russia’s favour. And such countries as North Korea are among those 11. How can one state that the world supports Russia’s stance? The situation is unhealthy because no policy can be build on bad foundation.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former advisor at the Kremlin, says that today’s Russia is ruled by Ostankino, i.e. state-owned media corporation, while politicians, including Putin, just repeat all they see and hear on TV, and vice versa. Is it true?
Peter Pomerantsev, a British producer of Ukrainian descent, has recently had published a book about Russian media [Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible– Belsat.eu] that proves this point.
Ostankino is really able to create any image of the world – a conservative and nationalist image today, liberal tomorrow. As a result, on the day after tomorrow it is possible to make people believe that the Judgement Day is to come in three days.
A talk to journalists and producers working for big Russian state channels may seem a talk to politicians. They consider themselves not only as media persons but political demiurges as well.
After your participation in the program Internet users, mainly Ukrainians, commented on the video on Youtube saying you were the only person to oppose the Horde and that you happened to be in a cage with lions or crazy apes. Going to appear as a guest did you anticipate such ‘welcome’ there?
I would like to point out that this is users’ opinion, not mine. Such talk about opponents only deteriorates the situation. I have been working in Moscow for four years and observing the process of the demonisation of Ukraine. The demonisation of the organisation I work for has been in progress for many years. That is why I was not much surprised at such blatancy. It is the personal attacks that are really annoying.
They said ‘you are a Pole – you are a Russophobe a priori’…
Sometimes [their] statements are more interesting, e.g. the statement by a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry who called NATO commander Breedlove ‘a man who creates only warm air’. I faced so much animosity against NATO that I am difficult to surprise. I get a lot of SMS and tweets; I would say that people who send them give a free scope to their imagination. But I must say I have recently received a lot of e-mails from Russians, about 80% of them say they are ashamed for their media’s actions.