At a glance.
- Airspace disinformation.
- Russia's wartime narrative.
- First round in a global mission salvatrice (sez Russia).
- Narrative preparation of the battlespace: Moldova and Georgia.
Russia is looking in the Black Sea for the wreckage of the US drone Russian fighters forced down in international airspace on Tuesday, the Telegraph reports. US Defense Secretary Austin held a call with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Shoigu, during which Secretary Austin objected strongly to Russian conduct: "On March 15, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke by phone with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu regarding recent unprofessional, dangerous, and reckless behavior by the Russian air force in international airspace over the Black Sea. Secretary Austin emphasized that the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows.
Russia has claimed that the US MQ-9 Reaper uncrewed drone was operating inside a temporary extension of Russian sovereign territory. The drone was, Moscow said, “in violation of the boundaries of the temporary airspace use area, defined in order to carry out the special military operation, which has been conveyed to all airspace users and published in accordance to the international norms.” The charge is baseless: international norms make no provision for such temporary extensions of sovereignty. But Moscow is sticking to its story, and the underlying narrative is a familiar one: Russia is the aggrieved party and the real victim. Al Jazeera reports that Foreign Minister Lavrov characterized the US drone flight as a "provocation," and that Russia's temporary restriction of airspace around Crimea was justified under international law, so Moscow is clearly doubling down.
TASS is authorized to disclose that Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyansky, said, "The drone was violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime, and these boundaries were well-known by the United States. I think it’s part of deconflicting arrangements that are usually agreed with great powers in such situations. We think it was a deliberate provocation and a very dangerous provocation." The "temporary airspace regime" is expansive indeed--the MQ-9 was operating about fifty miles off the illegally occupied Crimean coast, which is, of course, thirty-eight miles outside any internationally recognized Russian territorial waters (and that's still speaking counterfactually, since Russia's right to Crimea under international law remains generally disputed).
Russia's wartime narrative.
The Russian outlet Business Gazeta reports a discussion between oligarch Igor Ashmanov (a tech entrepreneur and, inter alia, co-founder of the Great Fatherland Party) and Maria Zakharova, director of the Russian foreign ministry's press department. Their conversation concerned messaging about the special military operation. Mr. Ashmanov called for the revival of Stalin's Sovinformburo. Call it "Rusinformburo," but its mission would be comparable--shaping and controlling the state's narrative. Ms Zakharova said such an effort would be premature and destined to fail simply because there is no consensus about such a narrative within the government itself. "I've said that we do not have a single voice of the state," Business Insider quotes her as saying.
The Institute for the Study of War finds in Ms Zakharova's statement confirmation of what they've suspected: in-fighting among Russia's elites. "Zakharova’s statement is noteworthy and supports several of ISW’s longstanding assessments about deteriorating Kremlin regime and information space control dynamics. The statement supports several assessments: that there is Kremlin infighting between key members of Putin’s inner circle; that Putin has largely ceded the Russian information space over time to a variety of quasi-independent actors; and that Putin is apparently unable to take decisive action to regain control over the Russian information space. It is unclear why Zakharova — a seasoned senior spokesperson — would have openly acknowledged these problems in a public setting. Zakharova may have directly discussed these problems for the first time to temper Russian nationalist milbloggers’ expectations regarding the current capabilities of the Kremlin to cohere around a unified narrative — or possibly even a unified policy."
The view of the war against Ukraine that Russian state television presents: first round in a global mission salvatrice.
There's little uncertainty in evidence, however, either at RT or on the Solovyov show.
RT head Margarita Simonyan and television host Vladimir Solovyov agree that it's Russia's mission to defeat the West and thereby save the world. Their exchange is worth reading (and thus of transcribing at length).
Solovyov opened with, “We’ll manage. We have to save the world. This is Russia’s great purpose.” Simonyan took it from there. “There is no doubt that we will manage, with God’s help," she began. "I would like to tell them" (meaning the hostile Western media) "since they are translating and broadcasting all this, I want to tell you this right into the camera, do you understand that fighting for peace is the same as, pardon the expression, our program airs late at night," and is therefore not a family show, so she quotes George Carlin, circa 1970, "Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity. Just think about it. It really is the way it is. When you understand this, maybe you’ll be less hypocritical, but that’s unlikely." She continued:
"And now about us. I traveled to Sochi on the holidays, and, of course, strangers on the street and relatives came up to me. Everyone is asking the same questions: What will happen next? When will all this end? How will all of this end? What are our goals? To define goals, we should first define our definitions. Let’s determine them, at long last. Some call these events a special military operation. Others call it war. I don’t see a big difference. Let’s understand against whom we’re fighting. We aren’t fighting against Ukraine. We defeated Ukraine in the first two or three days. Then, a war with NATO started. And not only with NATO, because we are fighting non-NATO countries as well. Right now a war against NATO is taking place on the territory of Ukraine. There is no other way to perceive this.
"For us, this war, this challenge, this threat, is significant in its might. In its might, you know? Thank God, not in the magnitude of a tragedy, of a catastrophe for our people, thank God. But in its might, it is more powerful than World War II and our Great Patriotic War. Because, let me remind you, in a Great Patriotic War, we were on the same side of barricades with Great Britain and to some extent with France, and the United States, that have been slow in starting, but in the end, when we’d practically already won, they got involved. Don’t forget the Lend Lease; we were together with them against a handful of mighty countries, powerful countries in the military sense: Germany, Italy, and Japan.
"Still, those were three countries. Right now, it is the entire so-called Western world. We don’t have any real allies, like we had in World War II. We have many well-wishing observers: China, India, the Arab World, Latin America. But who are our allies? Allies who could help us with Lend Lease, opening a second front? Do we have these kind of allies? No, we don’t. They’re scared. They would like to help us, but they can’t, because it’s scary.
"And now, about our goals. Think about what will happen when we win this war. I purposely say not “if,” but “when,” because I don’t want to think about “if.” With God’s help, when we win this war, we’ll win not against Ukraine. We won’t just take Bakhmut, or Vuhledar, etc. Think about it. We will defeat the entire Western world, which is currently sending all of its might over there. They admit that their own stocks are already depleted of many different things. This has been going on for only one year, right? Without a doubt, when Ukraine’s manpower is depleted, the same way they immediately helped them in a military sense, with ammunition, equipment, etc., as soon as we destroyed all of it in two days. The same way, they will send their human resources. Of course, they will find thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions if there is a will. As long as you have the money–and they do–they will find people to go there are mercenaries, hordes of them. When we defeat this entire horde, we will simply confirm our excellent status, the knowledge of which so warms my heart, as the greatest country in the world."
Narrative preparation of the battlespace: Moldova and Georgia.
Moldovan police said yesterday that they had stopped a Russian attempt to foment unrest in Moldova. The AP reports, "The head of Moldova’s police, Viorel Cernauteanu, said in a news conference that an undercover agent had infiltrated groups of “diversionists,” some Russian citizens, who allegedly were promised $10,000 to organize “mass disorder” during the protest in the capital, Chisinau. Seven people were detained, he said."
The Daily Beast reports that Russia is conducting a major influence campaign against Moldova, perhaps in preparation for an invasion like the one under way in Ukraine. Ambassador Michael Carpenter, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to Moldova said, “What I clearly observed while I was there was a very intense Russian information operation” whose goal is "to create uncertainty.”
Microsoft this week drew attention to Russian influence campaigns in Moldova: "Russia-aligned influence operations have also recently heightened tensions in Moldova. Russian media promoted protests supported by a pro-Russia political party encouraging citizens to demand the government pay for winter energy bills. Another Russia-aligned campaign called 'Moldova Leaks' published alleged leaks from Moldovan politicians, just one of a number of hack-and-leak operations aimed at sowing distrust between European citizens and their governments."
Moldova is seen as having a relationship to Russia analogous, in significant ways, to Ukraine's. Russia has for several years detached a strip of Moldovan territory, Transnistria, on the grounds that it's an ethnic Russian territory entitled to self-determination. The resemblance to Russian action in Ukraine's Donbas is obvious.
A different influence campaign also seems to be in progress against Georgia. RT presents an example of the current line of Kremlin disinformation concerning Georgia: it's a hotbed of Western non-governmental organizations, and, in the world RT is constructing, Western NGOs are invariably up to no-good.