I’ve been watching Russia’s English language channel RT on independent American television for the past month or so, wondering what motivates Moscow in its choice of stories. RT, France 24 and Al-Jazeera cumulatively provide a much more complete picture of what is going on in the world than any combination of American channels and the BBC. Like their British and American counterparts, these channels are in competition, with France 24 being more pro-European than the BBC, and Al-Jazeera striving to retain its Third World credentials while being accepted by Washington. But RT is the only one to systematically draw attention to politically significant stories that the American press ignores and to provide a regular platform for activists such as Thom Hartmann and Chris Hedges, who are absent from the mainstream American media.
The Russian government apparently believes it is more important for Americans to be well informed than Russians, since what the U.S. government does impacts the entire world, affecting decisions the Russian government has to make. Nothing better illustrates this situation than the American plan to install missiles in Europe, a replay of its nineteen-eighties installation of Pershing missiles in West Germany to counter the Soviet Union’s SS20s. During the Cold War, which began in earnest with the 1948 Soviet blockade of Berlin, to which the U.S. responded by airlifting in supplies, Europe was divided into an Eastern and a Western bloc, the arms race justified by the ‘threat’ that the Soviet Union would overrun its Western half. American missiles were removed in 1987, when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Two years later the Berlin Wall fell and the countries of Eastern Europe regained their independence. Four years later, under Boris Yeltsin, the Soviet Union was dissolved.
Now, more than twenty years later, the American government wants to install missiles in Europe to deter Iran from building a nuclear weapons capability, while Iran defends its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium like every other country for medical and energy uses. The proposed Missile Defense System includes Aegis ships equipped with interceptor batteries, a command-and-control base in Ramstein, Germany, and a radar in Turkey. Washington initially told its NATO partners that Russia would participate in the project, but Russia has consistently refused to do so until Washington provides binding assurances that it is not aimed at them. Hence, despite official ‘agreement’ at the Chicago NATO summit, Europe remains a reluctant partner. In a recent International Herald Tribune article (www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/opinion/yes-to-missile-defense-with-russia.html), even Germany agreed with the Russians that the U.S. could put nukes on its interceptors.
This standoff alone would justify Russian efforts to reach an American audience with anti-war messages. But it is not the whole story. The four-year long global financial crisis has been a wellspring for Nazi movements, never far from the surface in Europe (see recent developments in Greece and France), but also in Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries. Americans who fought the Nazis in the Second World War are now in their late eighties, and their children’s memories only go as far back as Vietnam. Very differently, the ‘Great Patriotic War’ is still taught to every Russian child, and Russia continues to celebrate its victory over Nazi Germany with a full-fledged military parade. Not surprisingly, neo-Nazi movements and other signs of creeping fascism are of greater significance to Russians than to Americans.
I began writing about creeping fascism in the United States in 2009, and I was not crying wolf. By now the United States is widely seen in decline, but that may well be irrelevant if, as is increasingly being suggested, power is rapidly shifting to world corporations. If Mitt Romney becomes the next president, he promises to lower the unemployment rate to 6% by making the Bush tax cuts permanent, cutting wages, encouraging more foreign workers to leave and more American workers to retire early, while cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that if followed globally, these steps would make the world a better place for the 1% while shrinking the 99%, increasingly seen as expendable.
America’s air of decline offers opportunities for deniers to access the limelight, but due to a lack of international literacy, few speculate on what the new power alignment might be. Discussions tend to revolve the question of whether China will fail to become the next superpower due to the impact on an ageing population of its one-child policy. Russia is rarely mentioned, but if RT is any guide, Putin is aiming for a Russia/China duopoly.
More likely, I think, is a multi-polar world run by Brazil on the Southern American hemisphere, Russia on the ‘European’ peninsula, India on the subcontinent and China in the Pacific. Unlike Washington, the four original BRIC countries, which account for over 40% of the world population, agree that dealing with the global challenge of development and climate will require cooperative rather than confrontational behavior. However different each individual country’s past, this fundamental socialist principle has survived their respective transitions to market economies. And as illustrated by the message that runs through all of RT’s programming, better informing Americans about their government and the world at large is an indispensable first step. When China and India launch their respective English language television news services, their messages, though embodied in different cultural contexts, are likely to be the same.