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An Exercise in Deciphering: Russian News Coverage of the Ukraine Conflict

By: John Boersdamm

Here I have translated news articles from Russian into English. Released on March 28th and 29th 2022, both are articles on the same topic: the war in Ukraine. My goal is to give people who do not normally have access to Russian news media a glimpse into the realities of Russian news. Just like Russians, we in the United States get news updates every day on the war in Ukraine. But those who do not read or speak Russian only get the outsider’s perspective on what’s going in Russia domestically and abroad. It would also be a mistake to discount potential bias that could be seeping into the perspectives that we English speakers get from our news sources as an intrinsic result of living in a country with Western viewpoints. That is not to say that these Russian articles are free from bias, they only display a different brand of bias from what we normally get. I’m of the opinion that it would be a useful exercise to have a deeper look into these Russian news articles and see what’s written, and also read between the lines.

The first article is from the news source Yabloko. Yabloko is not only a source of news, but it was also a seat-occupying opposition party in the State Duma (Russia’s version of a national congress). Although they no longer hold seats in the State Duma, they still hold seats in regional parliaments. The war in Ukraine has served to refocus and reunify Yabloko’s anti-Putin disposition. Yabloko has come to symbolize an anti-Putin public political movement in recent years. The Second Article is from NTV, Russia’s state-sponsored media source. Historically, NTV was started as Russia’s free television news channel, but in 2001, NTV came under Russia’s state, financially controlled via Gazprom. Russia’s centralized federal government uses part of its massive oil profit (about 321,269,190,000 USD) to fund their state-sponsored, and by proxy state-controlled, media station: NTV. NTV publishes both print media, as well as operating on the Twenty-Four-Hour News Cycle. In essence, it’s a twenty-four-hour pro-Putin propaganda outlet.

Let’s now move on to compare these articles. Both articles are about the conflict in Ukraine, but the two could not be more different from one another. Yabloko turns its eyes inward and focuses on the most pressing and primary concerns of its citizens. In between the lines, we read anti-Putin sentiment. The representative Boris Vishnevsky’s primary focus is about quality of life and the impending hardships the average Russian citizen will be facing, especially for those in St. Petersburg. Yabloko directs its criticisms inward, voicing their hopes for peace and the end of the war. It also highlights the fact that Russian quality of life will continue to decline, and there is limited access to medicine. But NTV’s article directs blame on the West. It also incites fear and anti-Western sentiment. We also see the typical pro-Putin propaganda points, calling Biden weak, old, and emotional. These types of accusations are meant to strengthen Putin’s image in the eyes of the Russian citizens, and to bolster domestic support of Russia’s so-called “Special Military Operation.” One major difference we must recognize is the difference in language used when talking about the situation in Ukraine. NTV calls it “Special Military Operation” while Yabloko calls it the war in Ukraine. The difference in language is important because it shapes the way readers think about it. NTV’s use of the term "special military operation" downplays the severity of current events and the role that the Russian government is taking. But Yabloko recognizes the war in Ukraine for what is truly is. Neither of the articles touch on progression nor regression of the war effort in Ukraine. After comparing these articles, their own individual aims are clear and conflicting. But while Yabloko is a more reliable source of information, it is not necessarily free from bias.

Although we in the West understand that NTV is an instrument of propaganda and misinformation, it’s important to understand that many Russian citizens believe it to be truth, and actually trust NTV as a reliable source of information. This is one of the many reasons why Russia is able to continue its war in Ukraine with some domestic support. Although NTV’s article is blatant propaganda, it is still valuable information in understanding Russia’s domestic situation. To remain informed on global issues, it’s important to read all types of news articles to understand more outside of just the perspective which we are subject to, and what we believe to be true. It’s also important to understand what people believe and why. Yabloko’s article offers perspective into domestic hardships faced by Russian citizens. It’s easy to villainize Russia, its government, and especially Vladimir Putin, but it’s important to remember that their citizens are people too - many of which are not to blame for the war in Ukraine. Different media sources offer different perspectives, but it is up to the reader to decide what they believe. Taking these news articles into context, we get a glimpse into current domestic Russian life, and what different Russian news media sources say about the war in Ukraine.

This post was written by a student that worked with Just Words during the Spring 2022 smester.

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