Neljapäev, 09 Aprill 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 14 2020 - Laas Leivat
It was China in early April that supplied Estonia with 2.6 million items of personal protection equipment for the battle against the Covid 19 pandemic.
However the Russian media reported it like this: “Russian plane brought Chinese masks, gowns and gloves to Estonia”, was posted on eadaily.com; “Russian pilots helped the Baltic states in their fight against the Corona virus”, published by Rossiiskaja Gazeta; “Russian plane brings humanitarian aid to Estonia from China“, appeared on antimaidan.com; then “Russia brings masks and gloves to Estonia, when the USA brings rockets” on vpk-news.ru
From a misleading headline to a lie, it was a full transition from Russians planes and pilots helping, to Russia actually supplying the aid and the USA supplying arms. Many other news portals and outlets repeated the slanted and simply false story, with pictures of the Russian transport planes decked out with the Russian flag. Photos of Estonian foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu and government affairs minister Jaak Aab meeting the plane accompanied the stories. Classical propaganda but still credible to many at home and abroad.
The true facts were missing. Russia did not transport or supply humanitarian aid. The items were purchased by the Estonian government and the Russian plane belong to the Volga-Dnepr transportation company, willing to move the supplies at reasonable cost and fulfilling an extended contract with Estonia’s on-line retailer, Hansapost,
This ‘fake news’ echos the Kremlin’s similar efforts at distorting and outright fabricating other stories, applauding Russia’s humanitarian assistance to Iran, Italy and the USA. Touting the Kremlin’s charitable initiatives, is Putin’s way of breaking out of diplomatic isolation.
The Kremlin is also exploiting another event about one week ago, when a shipment of Russian medical supplies arrived by plane in New York. Trump and Putin had agreed during a phone conversation that Russia would sell ventilators and masks, apparently sharing the cost 50-50, with half of the bill being covered by Russia’s Direct Investment Fund.
Not surprisingly Trump did not mention that the US in fact paid for part of the batch but stated how magnanimous Putin had been to make such a kind gesture. A substantial propaganda coup for the Kremlin’s ‘humanitarian aid’ narrative that it is using with abandon. It was a US State Department official however who mentioned that the deal involved a payment, but at a discount price.
Officials are also reluctant to make commentary about Russia’s shipment of medical equipment accompanied by Russian military experts in nuclear/biological/chemical defense to the northern Italian own of Bergamo. Not only did the Russian specialists have a working relationship with Russian military intelligence, the supplies provided were 80 percent unusable under the pandemic conditions. But the Kremlin made sure it gained considerable plus points in the process.
Many US officials felt that it would be inappropriate to point out the violation of US trade sanctions still in force against Russia during the pandemic. You don’t bite the hand that helps you, or at least appears to help. However critics of the deal, have serious concerns about Washington becoming dependent on a major adversary who is consistently attempting to undermine the country’s democratic processes.
Using the pandemic as a useful launching pad for its propaganda and disinformation barrage has given the Kremlin substantial international advantage. Russia emerges as a source of charitable largess and humanitarian compassion, which is acknowledged by Trump himself who stated that the kind deed took only a friendly call to Putin. His victory number one: We’re not such bad guys after all!
The trade sanctions against Russia are based mainly on its illegal takeover and annexation of Crimea and its continuing aggression against Ukraine. By ignoring the enforcement of these sanctions, albeit for an emergency, a decision that few are willing to challenge, the USA has itself signaled Moscow that pragmatism, rather than principle rule in their relationship. Putin can easily interpret this as an indirect legitimization of Russia’s international incursions. Victory number two!
(to be continued)Laas Leivat