Our language is in constant evolution. Partly this is bottom up, from the inventiveness of creative personalities or writers for commercial advertising. Partly it is top down, from the powers that be as they seek to manipulate and control the thought processes of the broad public.
My brief essay today addresses the latter phenomenon and the introduction of the word “disinformation” into common parlance. There is a charming freshness to it, unlike the stale and repugnant word “propaganda.”
The word “disinformation” has a specific context in time and intent: it is used by the powers that be and by the mainstream media they control to denigrate, marginalize and suppress sources of military, political, economic and other information that might contradict the official government narrative and so dilute the control exercised by those in power over the general population. It is to remove “disinformation” from public life that the United States and EU member states ban RT and other Russian media outlets from the internet, from satellite and cable television channels. The censorship here in Europe varies from country to country and is probably most drastic in France and Germany. One would think that these European states are truly at war with Russia, not just giving a helping hand to Kiev.
In reality, it is these censorious states and the mass media that carry their messages with stenographic precision into print and electronic dissemination who are the ones that day after day feed disinformation to the public. It is cynically composed and consists of a toxic blend of ‘spin,’ by which is meant misleading interpretation of events, and outright lies.
The many months long battle for the provincial Donbas city of Bakhmut, or Artyomovsk as it is known in Russia, has been described variously from on high in Washington, London and Berlin. When the likely outcome was unclear, the defense of Bakhmut was called heroic and demonstrative of the brave fighting spirit of the Ukrainians.
Casualty figures issued by Kiev and then trumpeted from Washington suggested that the Russians were stupidly throwing away the lives of their fighting men by using WWI style human waves of attackers who were decimated by the defenders. Russian lives are cheap was the message. The fact that Russian artillery on site outnumbered and outperformed Ukrainian artillery by a factor of five or seven to one was freely admitted by the Western propagandists as they pleaded for increased supplies to Kiev. They, nonetheless, issued casualty reports for the Russians that inverted the force correlation. It was assumed, obviously with reason, that the public was too lazy or too uninterested to do the arithmetic.
At one moment, the spin doctors in Washington, London and Berlin said that Ukrainian defense of Bakhmut made sense because it was pinning down Russian forces and giving time to the Ukrainians to train and position their men for the heralded “counter offensive” during which they would overrun Russian positions at chosen points in the 600 mile line of combat and drive a wedge through to the Sea of Azov, opening the way for recapture of Crimea. Those were grand words and ambitions to justify continued and ever rising Western military assistance to Kiev.
At another point, the spin doctors said it would be better if Ukraine stopped losing men in Bakhmut and launched instead that much vaunted counter-offensive. Now we were told that Bakhmut is just a Russian fantasy, that it has no strategic value.
In the past couple of weeks, the Russian command has issued daily reports on the progressive capture by Russian forces of Bakhmut, square kilometer after square kilometer. We were told they controlled 75%, then 80% and most recently more than 90% of the city proper while artillery bombardment of the remaining blocks of high rise residential buildings that were being used by Ukrainian defenders for their sniper attacks and intelligence reports on Russian troop movements pulverized everything in their path.
At this point, the attention of Western media defending truth against Russian disinformation was directed at the Ukrainian “successes” in recapturing settlements on the flanks of Bakhmut. Just three days ago The New York Times was telling its readers that these “breakthroughs” by the Ukrainians put in jeopardy the Russian forces holding the city proper: they might be surrounded and compelled to surrender or die. The possibility that the offensives on the flanks were only intended to facilitate withdrawal of remaining Ukrainian soldiers from Bakhmut and were tolerated by the Russians to avoid bloody fights to the death – that possibility crossed no one’s mind at the NYT, it seems.
Midday yesterday, 20 May, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group which did most of the fighting for Bakhmut on the ground, claimed total victory. In the evening, President Vladimir Putin announced to the Russian public that Bakhmut was taken. Joyous messages of congratulations filled the internet message services in Russia as the broad public celebrated a victory as iconic as the Battle for Stalingrad.
Meanwhile, the defenders of the Western public against Russian “disinformation” were hard at work, straining their brains to find what to say. This morning’s New York Times still speaks of the battle for Bakhmut as undecided, pointing yet again to the Ukrainian hold on the flanks.
Given their losses in men and materiel defending Bakhmut, the surrender of the city to the Russians will be a great blow to Ukrainian fighting morale when it is finally admitted. So will the fate of their Commander in Chief General Zaluzhny who, according to Russian sources, has been hospitalized for the past two weeks and remains in critical condition after falling victim to a Russian strike on a provincial command center which killed most of the high officers around him. If nothing else, this speaks to the amazing success of Russian military intelligence directing their firepower.
Meanwhile, Western media attention to Ukraine is conveniently redirected at the nonstop travels of President Zalensky who went from his European tour on to the Middle East, where he attended the meeting of the Arab League, and thence via French military jet to the G7 gathering in Hiroshima where he held talks with fellow heads of state and joined them for the obligatory group photos. All the talk was about when the U.S. will formally give its consent to the dispatch of F16s to Kiev. For the disseminators of Western disinformation this is a wonderful distraction from a war that clearly is going badly for Kiev and in particular a distraction from the counter offensive that looks less likely with each passing day of Russian military strikes on the command centers and weapons stores of the Ukrainian side.
The plume of radioactive smoke and ash that rose from the Khmelnitsky store of British depleted uranium artillery shells in Western Ukraine after a Russian missile strike, just like the extensive damage to the Patriot air defense installation near Kiev by a Russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile tell us all what will be the fate of future Western arms deliveries to Ukraine. It is an interesting question how much longer the Ukrainian military or politicians will put up with their high flying, good life President while the country is well on its way to hell.