What threat? Russian state TV downplays Moscow’s role in Ukraine crisis

MOSCOW, Jan 25 (Reuters) – NATO is working to bolster its eastern flank and Western governments have warned of crippling economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, but watching Russian state TV will not makes little sense, for now at least, that war might be imminent.

Russian state television – vital to the Kremlin’s public messaging across 11 time zones – has often focused in recent days on other issues such as Russian athletes’ hopes for the Beijing Winter Olympics or the rise of the Omicron business.

“At the moment there is no sense that the enemy is at the door and that we will soon start a war… It is not happening at all,” said a Russian media analyst, who is expressed on condition of anonymity.

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In their reports on Ukraine, Russian state media say Western ‘panic’ is fueling tensions, along with US troop reinforcements in the region and arms supplies to Kiev – not the presence of about 100,000 Russian soldiers near the Ukrainian border.

“They made it up (the Russian threat)… Americans have been scared of a Russian invasion for months,” a reporter for the Vesti show told viewers.

WEST TO BLAME

Such messages dovetail with the Kremlin’s insistence that it is the West, not Moscow, that poses a threat to regional peace and stability, a view that independent polling data shows is widely accepted in Russia.

“It is important (for the Kremlin) that it continues to give the impression that the West is inflaming the situation,” Denis Volkov, director of Moscow-based independent pollster Levada, said of the Russian media coverage.

Anti-Americanism and scathing comments about pro-Western Ukrainian governments have been at the heart of Russian state television since 2014, when Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for a separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine broke relations with Kiev.

A Russian service member is seen atop a T-72B3 main battle tank during military exercises in the Kadamovsky Range in Rostov region, Russia December 20, 2021. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov/File Photo

Western diplomats, analysts and other actors are now scrutinizing Russian media coverage of Ukraine for any war drumbeats – and clues as to whether President Vladimir Putin’s troop deployments are indeed the prelude to a military move or simply a huge bluff to gain security concessions. from West.

Moscow said it wanted written responses this week to its demands, including never to allow Ukraine to join NATO.

Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said it would be a mistake to draw general conclusions from the current mood of media coverage of the state.

“It is obvious that there is a kind of pause. No order has come from above for state television. Nobody knows what decisions will be made,” he said.

“If necessary, they can return to hard war propaganda at any time and explain why it is necessary. It all depends on the current situation. This should not be taken as reassuring,” Kolesnikov said.

According to Levada data, about 40% of Russians think a war is possible.

“Judging by public opinion, (society) is already ready for war. I don’t think it needs to be prepared… It doesn’t want war, it wants detente, but she is convinced that nothing can be done,” Levada said. Volkov.

On the streets of Moscow on Tuesday, passers-by said they thought Russia was acting defensively.

“I don’t think Russia will attack anyone. But I can believe there will be a huge Western provocation, which is already underway…Russia will defend itself, and it has to,” said one woman who only gave her name as Olga.

Alexei, 33, said: “As for the Russian troops on the border, I heard that the United States is also massing its troops in Europe. So the situation is not so simple – do we want to Defend or attack? In my opinion, it’s vague.”

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Additional reporting by Alexander Reshetnikov Editing by Gareth Jones

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