The filmmaker behind a Kremlin-backed program making headlines for its revelations about Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine is on the record asserting that propaganda and journalism are indistinguishable.
Andrei Kondrashev made the remarks to RFE/RL's Russian Service around the time he was embarking on the "full-length documentary" for Russian state TV whose promotional clips have garnered considerable attention in the past week.
In the spots for Kondrashev's program, titled Crimea: Path To The Motherland, President Vladimir Putin appears to contradict the Kremlin's insistence that it has not been a party to what Russian officials have repeatedly described as Ukraine's "civil war."
The clips have provided ammunition in the war of words over Russia's actions in Ukraine but offered few clues as to why Putin would choose to stray from the Kremlin's preferred narrative so far.
Kondrashev, a Rossia-1 anchorman, is a household name in Russia.
He told RFE/RL's Russian Service in May, when he was being decorated by Putin for his "objective" coverage of events in Crimea, that "Now any propaganda in the media is essentially journalism."
In discussing the Kremlin award, Kondrashev said, "Soldiers and officers receive awards for combat. It is an absolutely identical situation for us, because war is now moving to the area of journalism. This fact is absolute and you can't argue with it."
He hinged his view on the argument that Russian television news "developed according to BBC and CNN standards." Citing a conversation with a like-minded German journalist, he argued: "Television journalism has transformed as a whole and the standards of media organizations that we once considered our models have shifted to an area that you call 'propaganda' today. We have simply adopted the same methods that they [BBC and CNN] use today."
Kondrashev's views dovetail with the "hybrid warfare" that Kyiv and Western critics accuse Russia of waging in the Ukraine conflict, ushering in the unrecognized Crimean annexation and continuing bloodshed as pro-Russian fighters battle pro-Kyiv forces in southeastern Ukraine. More than 6,000 people have died in the violence, according to the United Nations.
In the promotional teases, Russia's president talks of issuing an order to "start work to return Crimea to Russia" weeks before the referendum -- under occupation and with masked gunmen overseeing the voting -- which outsiders discounted but Moscow and its proxies used to justify Crimea's secession from Ukraine. Putin also describes organizing "a closed survey" that suggested three out of four Crimeans wished to join Russia.
Putin long ago acknowledged that the armed "little green men" in Crimea that spearheaded the occupation were not "local militia," as he had suggested at the time, but Russian special forces.
There was no official announcement of the program's planned broadcast date, but Russian website Lenta suggested on March 11 that it would air on March 16, the first anniversary of the status referendum organized by Russian and pro-Moscow forces occupying the peninsula at the time.
Lenta also speculates about the identities of the four senior security and defense officials whom Putin purportedly told to "start work" on the "unification." It suggests they were "probably" Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Federal Security Service director Aleksandr Bortnikov, Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, director of military intelligence at the General Staff, and Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev.
It also notes a claim by Putin, repeated on Rossia-1's website, that the secret polling on unification with Russia that Putin ordered showed 75 percent support among Crimeans -- a figure well above that of opinion polls prior to the covert occupation of the peninsula, but considerably lower than the nearly 97 percent that occupation authorities claimed in the March 16 vote on independence.
Putin is quoted as explaining away discrepancies by suggesting it "became obvious to me that if we arrived at [the context of a possible unification] the level or number of those who would like this historic event to occur would be much higher."
Lenta concludes that one year after the unrecognized annexation of Crimea, unexplained "dark spots" remain in our knowledge of events there in late February and early March, ahead of that land grab. It adds admiringly that The Path To The Motherland will fill in those gaps "in the first person."
If the Rossia-1 program was indeed filmed "in an atmosphere of secrecy," as Lenta claims, the flood of headlines it has spawned comprises what critics of Moscow's Ukrainian moves regard as open secrets.
Asked about the program trailer, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "Certainly, what we've seen is consistent with the deceitful approach we've seen when denying Russia's involvement in eastern Ukraine."
-- Andy Heil