Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


The news from Russia

June 20, 2012


NEWS is a subjective thing. It is different from fact. Some news is based on a selection of facts, some on selectively ignoring them.

Disinformation is a different genre. It uses half-truths and plain lies to project what passes for news. Indian journalist Syed Mohamed Kazmi is lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail awaiting trial for three unending months because he marshalled sacred facts to present events in Syria.

His accounts of the goings-on also in Iran and Lebanon challenged the dominant western storytelling about the chess moves currently under way there. Kazmi’s enviable contacts in the Persian-Arabic speaking region made him asset and villain in rival camps.

Israel and India contrived an untenable terror story involving a mysterious bomb attack on an Israeli car in Delhi. Kazmi was named as an accused, which effectively silenced him as a reporter at a crucial time on the Middle East chessboard. With the Indian reporter out of the frame the Pilger-Fisk battery is left alone to stand up to the Murdochian onslaught prevailing in Syria and elsewhere.

Because news is a subjective thing, Kazmi would be a hero in Russia just as he is something of a villain for Israel and its votaries in India. It is the season of white nights over St Petersburg when the sun hardly gets to go down before it bobs up again.

The Russians are not losing any sleep though — not over the prolonged daylight hours, and not over the political mess the world is wading through. On the contrary, Moscow has taken a surprisingly assertive stand on Syria.

Not that it has not stood up recently on other key issues, namely, Iran, the Nato-led anti-missile defence shield proposed in Europe and over President Vladimir Putin’s recent re-election itself, which the West resented.

It may not be a coincidence that I am thinking of Kazmi in Moscow. His version of events in Syria tallies with the Russian account of the facts from the volatile region.

For a South Asian readership-viewership that is heavily dependent on the BBC-CNN-Fox News-vended information or western wire agencies to glean global events on a regular basis the Russian slant or for that matter the Chinese view of the world almost doesn’t exist.

This is how Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may have got to take the unusual step to spell out his perspective on Syria in a 3,000-word piece he wrote in The Huffington Post.

Most other foreign ministers would call a simple news conference if they had to clarify a policy matter. But Mr Lavrov perhaps knows that news is a subjective thing and not all journalists, including the most professional ones, would successfully decode much less purvey the nuanced arguments of high-stake diplomacy.

The media has alerted us about Russian warships heading for Syria. That’s an important aspect of the story no doubt. But the cogent narrative of the issue would remain elusive without some important points Mr Lavrov made.

Russia does not support Bashar al-Assad’s regime he wrote. It was for the people to Syria to determine who should rule and how. He makes a strong point against the way the Syrian story has been reported.

“Unfortunately, qualified and honest analysis of developments in Syria and their potential consequences is still in short supply. Quite often it is replaced by primitive images and black-and-white propaganda clichés. For several months major international media outlets have been reproducing reports about the corrupt dictatorial regime ruthlessly suppressing the aspiration of its own people to freedom and democracy,” Mr Lavrov wrote.

“It seems, however, that the authors of those reports did not bother asking themselves how the government could manage to stay in power without public support for more than a year, despite the extensive sanctions imposed by its main economic partners. Why did the majority of people vote for the draft constitution proposed by the authorities? Why, after all, have most Syrian soldiers remained loyal to their commanders? If fear is the only explanation, then why did it fail to help other authoritarian rulers?”

A major sticking point against a more comprehensive global intervention in Syria was rooted in the misappropriation by the West of the terms of the earlier resolution cleared by Russia to deal with Qadhafi’s Libya.

“Unfortunately, the actions undertaken by Nato countries under these resolutions led to their grave violation and support for one of the parties to the civil war, with the goal of ousting the existing regime — damaging in the process the authority of the Security Council.”

The complicated situation in Iraq and the crisis in Afghanistan, which Moscow believes is far from over, are by-products of western zeal to intervene in a hurry. “There are many indications that things are far from being good in Libya after the ousting of Muammar Qadhafi. Instability has spread further to the Sahara and Sahel region, and the situation in Mali was dramatically aggravated.”

Similarly, the possibility of a military strike against Iran should worry the world.

Independent of the Iran tangle, however, Mr Lavrov argues that fuelling intra-Syrian strife could trigger events that would affect the situation in the vast territory surrounding Syria in the most negative way, having a devastating impact on both regional and international security.

“Risk factors include loss of control over the Syrian-Israeli border, a worsening of the situation in Lebanon and other countries in the region, weapons falling into the ‘wrong hands’, including those of terrorist organisations, and, perhaps the most dangerous of all, an aggravation of interfaith tensions and contradictions inside the Islamic world.”

Diplomats don’t trouble trouble till trouble troubles them. Mr Lavrov took a veiled shot at Saudi Arabia for a reason. Respect for human rights, he said, has traditionally been, and continues to be, a major problem for the states of the Middle East.

The good thing about Mr Lavrov’s assertions is that he doesn’t have to worry about getting locked up for flaunting his set of facts as has happened with the hapless Indian journalist.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.