Russian TV Propagandists Caught Red-Handed: Same Guy, Three Different People (Spy, Bystander, Heroic Surgeon)
12 Apr 2014
Paul Roderick Gregory
Pity Russian propagandists. They must stage scenes of massive and violent demonstrations in East and South Ukraine. They must patch together actual demonstration footage with images of exploding grenades, intermittent automatic weapon fire, wounded pro-Russian civilians, and menacing Ukrainian extremists, organized, paid for, and directed by sinister outside forces. They must show valiant local civilians opposing the Neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist juggernaut from Kiev.
The Putin propaganda machine cannot rest. It must provide new footage daily for a viewing public eager for the next Ukrainian outrage, growing angrier with each passing day, and asking: When will our great leader, Vladimir Putin, go in and rescue our poor brethren across the border in Ukraine?
Interviews with innocent by-standers and ordinary citizens are a staple fare of the coverage. A woman shows the camera hundreds of spent cartridges she gathered after a night of violence. Extremists turn outraged local residents, on their way to visit wounded comrades, away from the hospital. A babushka, in tears, bemoans the terror in which she lives and pleads for the Russians to restore order and civilization. Pretty good stuff. I'd believe it if I did not know better.
The Russian propagandists, trapped on a racing assembly line, are bound to cross wires on occasion. They will make mistakes, which they hope that viewers will not catch. But they have made a huge blunder, for which heads are falling in TV studios in Moscow and in Crimea: Three different channels have featured interviews with one Andrei Petkov, lying wounded in a hospital in the south Ukrainian city of Nikolayev. In the three interviews, he is identified by name. He is on his back in a hospital bed, describing his experiences in the previous evening's violence, which left him with serious wounds. Petkov is dressed in a black outfit, his nose bandaged. In each interview, he speaks softly, but with earnest conviction. He cuts a sympathetic and credible figure.
The problem is that Andrei Petkov is a different person in each interview!
Andrei Petkov, Ordinary Citizen
Andrei Petkov, Rossiya 1 program, ordinary citizen, innocent bystander
On Rossia 1 national news (Vesti), Petkov describes himself as an ordinary citizen of Nikolayev, who went on April 9 "as usual" to protest against the new Ukrainian government. At the demonstration, he was attacked by Neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists, who had been escorted into the city in busses by the Ukrainian police on orders to disperse local demonstrators by force. Petkov testifies that the radicals opened fire on peaceful demonstrators using weapons given them by Europe and the United States. (His interview is interrupted by traumatic scenes of fleeing civilians, rapid gunfire and exploding grenades). Petkov declares that he suffered a brain concussion and other gunfire wounds, which will leave him incapacitated for six months. Petkov, himself, appears to have only a bandaged nose, and the camera crew shows no pictures of the other "heavily wounded victims of the shooting." They, with the exception of Petkov, appear to have been dismissed from the radical-controlled hospital only one day after the shootings.
Andrei Petkov, German Spy
Andrei Petkov, German spy, NTV television
NTV national news conducted an "exclusive" interview with the same Petkov, in the same hospital bed, with the same bandaged nose, only this is an entirely different Petkov. In a contrite voice, Petkov confesses he is a German spy for a secret European organization. Since he left his native Nikolayev in 1992, he acquired several citizenships and has German, Ukrainian and Russian passports. Petkov claims to own fifteen gerontology clinics in Germany and a chateau in Switzerland. This Petkov has done well for himself.
Petkov says that he flew in from Germany, where he lives, with a half million Euros, which he received from a secret group he refused to name. He bought weapons and hired a squad of fifty European mercenaries to put down both Nikolayev's civilian protesters against new Ukrainian government and radical neo-Nazi intruders from Kiev. He wanted a "civilized" solution, but in the melee he fell afoul of the Ukrainian extremists, who shot him in the leg and nose. He had to beg the "creepy young" Ukrainian extremists for his life. He is currently waiting to be operated on and is in the hospital under special security protection.
Andrei Petkov, Pediatric Surgeon, Benefactor, and Patriot
Andrei Petkov, prominent pediatric surgeon, benefactor, and honorable citizen
The National Independent News of Crimea interviewed a third Petkov, in the same hospital, same hospital garb, and same bandage on his nose. This Petkov is noble pediatric surgeon who saved the lives of over 200 infants and who returned to his native city of Nikolayev with an "indefinite" sum of his own money to help organize local protesters against the new Ukrainian government. Attending the nighttime demonstration as an innocent bystander, he found himself caught up in a nightmare of exploding grenades and rapid gunfire from the neo-Nazi extremists. As a physician, he attempted to tend to the wounded carried into tents, but the extremists fired into the makeshift emergency facility. During the shooting he himself was wounded in the nose and leg. The defiant Petkov declares that he is not intimidated. He will personally continue to resist until justice is achieved.
Internet viewers of Rossia 1 news and NTV report posted on YouTube caught the Petkov fabrications and expressed their outrage. The viewers of the Crimean news fairly tale were given no chance to comment.
The Petkov fabrications would make for a good laugh were the situation not so serious. Readers should not think that Petkov affair is an isolated incident. It is the norm rather than the exception. Viewers of Russian television are fed a daily diet of fabrications that show non-existent gun battles, savage beatings of innocent civilians, sinister forces proudly displaying Nazi regalia, and tearful residents of east and south Ukraine longing for annexation into Russia. Readers must understand that the Crimean Anschluss, accepted by many in the West, as a joyous, celebratory reunion was a cynical spectacle organized by Russian special forces, protest tourists, and local mafia thugs.
The Petkov Blunder shows that Russian propaganda has no regard for the truth and is willing to resort to the crudest of disinformation to form public opinion at home, in Ukraine, and abroad. Who knows how many Western television stations have carried such lies? They definitely accepted the Russian version — joyful people, band music and dancing, and Soviet-style 97 percent votes. After the Petkov Blunder how can we believe anything that Russian propaganda says?
That many Russian viewers have bought into Putin's Big Lie tells us something about their psychological makeup. The fabricated scenes of mass violence, grenade explosions, and constant automatic weapon fire should raise a number of questions for viewers. Where is the film of solemn funerals of those killed in the mayhem? Russian camera crews, unlike other Russians denied admission, were in the hospital to which the seriously wounded were carried. Why did the camera crews not film the crowded wards full of the victims of Ukrainian violence? Why did the ubiquitous Mr. Petkov not show his leg pierced by a bullet? It seems strange that his nose with the direct hit of a revolver bullet would be treated with a single bandage?
Apparently Russian viewers want to believe these fairy tales. They want to think their country is in the right. They want to be proud of their country. Accordingly, they make ideal subjects for Big Lie propaganda. I do not know how they will feel when they eventually learn the truth.
I have a more immediate question for the Putin trolls, who earn a living disputing almost every word I write on Putin's actions in Ukraine. How are you going to explain this one? My guess is that the Putin trolls will remain silent. Let's see.
The author serves on the International Academic Advisory Board of the Kiev School of Economics. The views are those of the author and not the school.
The author's latest book is Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives.
Further Paul Roderick Gregory articles on Ukraine can be found at www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/