Following the Valdai International Discussion Club’s 13th annual meeting on 24-27 October, the independent Estonian-language weekly newspaper Eesti Ekspress published a summary of the meeting, which blamed the United States for the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West.
Event: A 2 November article in the independent Estonian-language weekly newspaper Eesti Ekspress on the Valdai International Discussion Club’s 13th annual meeting presented an overview of the difficult relations between Moscow and Washington. The article blamed both sides equally, in part because of mutual misunderstanding. It said that for the United States, Russia represents a threat that forces NATO to respond in defense of its members. But for Russia, the U.S. and NATO are also threats. Tensions have intensified, the article continued, to the point that one of the sides must compromise. The Kremlin seems to be ready to make a deal with Washington, it said; if NATO would back off, so would Moscow. The club is a Kremlin-founded institution that organizes an annual conference where Russian officials (including Vladimir Putin) and largely sympathetic international experts and thinkers discuss issues of mutual interest. The Kremlin uses the club to promote its ideas and policies.
The false fact or narrative: The article’s conclusion that both sides are to blame for tensions and that differences arise from misperceptions and conflicting points of view does not reflect reality. The article did not mention Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, its invasion of eastern Ukraine, its large, unannounced military exercises, its violation of the airspace of Western countries or the war-like rhetoric of some Russian leaders.
Reality on the ground:Tensions between NATO and Russia began to worsen following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. A statement by NATO’s foreign ministers condemned the “illegal military intervention in Ukraine and Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” At the NATO Wales Summit in September 2014, members adopted a joint statement that “strongly condemned Russia’s illegal and illegitimate self-declared ‘annexation’ of Crimea and its continued and deliberate destabilization of eastern Ukraine in violation of international law.” At that summit, the alliance also agreed to enhance NATO’s military along its members’ borders with Russia. At NATO’s July 2016 summit in Warsaw, members approved a plan to move additional troops on a rotating basis into the Baltic states and Poland to reassure allies in the face of Russia’s continued aggressive behavior.
Technique: Pleading for relativity.
Audience: The Estonian people, including decision-makers.
Analysis: The Kremlin uses moral equivalence to undermine Western positions and is based on the ideas of post-modernism, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche’s maxim that “there are no facts, only interpretations,” and on Jean Baudrillard’s view that “the simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth; it is the truth which conceals that there is none.” This technique—used to question any facts the Kremlin finds to be inconvenient—was partly described in 2014 by Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss in the study “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money.”
Description of sources: Eesti Ekspress is an Estonian-language, independent weekly newspaper.