Russian Propaganda: First Inventing a Story and then Trying to Use It Retroactively

By Giorgi Kvelashvili

One month ago, on March 13, one of Georgia’s independent television channels, Imedi-TV, aired a phony news broadcast in primetime pretending to report on a new Russian invasion of Georgia sometime this coming June. A half-hour-long newscast featured several interconnected stories on how the Kremlin, in the TV producer’s own imagination of course, might exploit pro-Russian groupings in Georgia to the advantage of its own political and military ends.

The bogus reportage culminating in a faux full-scale Russian invasion and President Saakashvili’s assassination included an episode in which leaders of several Eastern European countries fly to Georgia to show their support to the friendly nation which had just been invaded by Russia.

Unlike those parts of the fake broadcast which were appraised by Georgian viewers as highly unrealistic – such as the defection of several Georgian army units to the enemy side – the form of support chosen by Georgia’s Eastern European partners seemed to many as quite natural. The presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia indeed arrived in Tbilisi during the real Russian invasion in August 2008 and their courage was highly praised by the Georgian public.

Needless to say, that Imedi-TV’s phony newscast caused ripples of controversy in Georgia as well as in Russia and Western capitals. Russian media’s reaction ranged from irate to ironic. Their own reports added a great many speculations to the Georgian channel’s already speculative and highly controversial phony newscast.

But one of Russia’s news agencies, Regnum, outdid all others with both the time it devoted to the Georgian channel’s broadcast and with the canards it issued with its interpretations. Regnum is close to the Kremlin and serves as one of Russia’s most important propaganda tools on the Internet. On March 15, two days after Imedi-TV aired its phony video, Regnum put out an article entitled “Georgian TV Company Imedi ‘Buried’ Polish President.” In it, the Russian news agency, “relying on the information” provided by the “head of the Georgian community in Poland, Davit Gamtsemlidze,” stated that in the Imedi report “Lech Kaczynski, allegedly flying to help Georgia, was killed in a plane blast.”

On 10 April 2010, Lech Kaczynski, President of Poland and a great friend of Georgia, indeed died when a Russian-built Tu-154 crashed while attempting to land at the Smolensk airport in Russia. Regnum did not wait long to publish an article the same morning, naming it “Georgian TV Channel Forecasts Disaster: Kaczynski’s Plane Caught on a Tree.” Regnum referred to its own article that had been published almost a month ago and once again alleged that “according to [the bogus newscast of] the Georgian TV channel, a plane carrying [President Kaczynski] to help Georgia exploded.” The same story – making a peculiar connection between the one-month-old Georgian video and the tragic death of the Polish president three days ago – was reprinted by scores of Russian media sources, including Vedomosti and other influential publications.

In reality, the fake report released by Georgia’s Imedi-TV never mentioned President Kaczynski’s death or a plane explosion. The portion of the newscast that referred to the Eastern European leaders read, “The planes with several Eastern European leaders on board already were in the air and flying to Tbilisi when the Russian aviation hit the Tbilisi international airport and the Vaziani military airfield [near Tbilisi].” This part of the report is about one minute long and starts at 6:30 min in the video below. It does not even mention the Polish president by name.

As often happens in the Kremlin’s international relations, a problem is created and then followed by bargaining to offer a solution. Something similar is happening in Russian propaganda. In the case of Regnum’s Imedi coverage, it first invented a story and then used it retroactively to ‘connect’ the present and past developments. Regnum’s aim was to smear Georgia and its government but for everyone else it appeared to be a cheap manipulation on the tragedy of immense magnitude.