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How the Russian media were selecting the president of Ukraine

By Igor YAKOVENKO, special to The Day, Moscow
22 November, 2016 - 10:12
The Kremlin believes the fairy tales spread on its orders by the media machine it has created itself

Since Americans elected Donald Trump as their new president, political life has grown more active in Russia. Firstly, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev proposed to rename Caffe Americano to Russiano. Secondly, President Vladimir Putin issued an asymmetric response to Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague Fatou Bensouda, who called the Russian occupation of Crimea the Russian occupation, and oppression and persecution of the Crimean Tatars the oppression and persecution. In response, Putin immediately signed a decree withdrawing Russia from the Rome Statute, the act which established the International Criminal Court. Thus, the Russian president has given a piece of excellent advice to all the criminals of this planet who are seeking to avoid responsibility: you can simply tell the prosecutor that you do not recognize them as such.

The Russian media have also been busy with a serious and important matter of the salvation of Ukraine. The thing is, Ukraine has perished. Well, it is in the process of perishing, maybe. It has been at it for the past three years, since the Euromaidan started there in November 2013. And since then, not a day goes by without some Russian media relaying an important message that the final collapse of Ukraine is imminent, and it is about to disintegrate into many small and several large pieces, and the large ones will start crawling towards Russia at once, while the small ones will be grabbed by Poland.

At the same time, Ukraine has been experiencing another process, namely the downfall of the Poroshenko regime. This process began on June 7, 2014, at the very instant when Poroshenko was sworn in as president of Ukraine.

Once it happened, he began to fall from power. And since repeated announcements of Poroshenko’s fall have started to have soporific effect on the audience, which has led to the relevant media’s ratings, and hence their incomes falling instead of Poroshenko, ingenious newspapermen and TV reporters have begun to entertain the public by appointing various presidents to lead Ukraine, each better than the previous one.

In the TV casting for the Ukrainian presidency, Russia-1 channel mostly preferred the candidacy of Oleksandr Zakharchenko, the head boss of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). “Before long, the DNR troops will capture Kyiv, and Zakharchenko will become president of Ukraine” – Vladimir Solovyov likes to insert such remarks to his programs. Since the summer of 2016, some Russian media have been dreaming about Nadia Savchenko. I mean, dreaming in a good way, wishing that she become president of Ukraine.

Website of Russia’s most popular newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda features an article by Ivan Grachev, entitled “Savchenko Has Become President of Ukraine” and written in the genre of dystopia. The newspaper’s contributor looks into the spring of 2019 and sees the following picture. Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” thrive and have the entire world trading with them. Ukraine has only a half of its population left, as the rest have gone to work in Russia and the Donbas, and people have finally elected Savchenko president. The author then tries to impress the reader with a flight of fancy, but it gets dull somehow. Grachev’s imagination extends only to picturing Savchenko taking all the candy from Poroshenko and all the money from the banks to distribute it all to citizens of Ukraine. It turns out to be some sort of a children’s party instead of a dystopia.

Solovyov’s Sunday Night weekly shows are far more interesting, as every one of them features some truly fiery talk. The presenter’s November 16 program, broadcast by Russia-1, had Solovyov solemnly introducing Volodymyr Oliinyk as a presidential candidate. That individual has likely been already forgotten by citizens of Ukraine, because he has been on the run for almost three years already as he is wanted in connection with a criminal investigation. The General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine has accused Oliinyk, who is a former member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, of organizing an illegal vote in the Ukrainian parliament on January 16, 2014. On that day, a rigged vote record was made to claim that several laws that aimed to destroy freedom of speech in Ukraine had been passed, which caused a wave of protests in the country. The Verkhovna Rada swiftly rescinded these dictatorial laws, which were only “approved” by a rigged vote, Oliinyk fled the country, and then joined forces with another fugitive, the former prime minister Mykola Azarov as they created the so-called Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine, and immediately offered himself for president. And now, Solovyov has his own candidate for the highest office in Ukraine, whom he can retrieve as need be and present to the public.

For almost three years. Russian TV studios have been creating and presenting to the Russian audience an amazing picture of Ukrainian politics. In this picture, the real Ukrainian politicians, the president, and serving MPs can only flash through, like shadows, with their caricature portraits sometimes being brought to studios just to laugh at, while journalists portray as real participants of Ukrainian politics people who, as a rule, are on the wanted list in Ukraine or have long left politics.

Besides Oliinyk, the Ukrainian political elite as represented in Solovyov’s programs includes Ihor Markov (another wanted man) and Mykola Levchenko and Spyrydon Kilinkarov, both probably barely remembered in today’s Ukraine. All of them, of course, told the presenter that Ukraine was living through a total nightmare that would soon finally end.

“The Poroshenko regime will fall soon,” Markov pronounced solidly and responsibly. And then he joked: “There is a struggle there between the Subversive Plan and the Thief Plan.” Since the Subversive Plan is the name used in the recent Ukrainian political folklore for a form of Russian aggression, and the Thief Plan is how the pro-Russian opposition labels president Poroshenko’s attempts to confront this aggression, Oliinyk immediately decided to clarify things.

Having once again introduced himself as a Ukrainian presidential candidate, Oliinyk made two important announcements. Firstly, he said that Poroshenko was actually the title character of the Subversive Plan, because he was allegedly undermining Ukraine. Meanwhile, Oliinyk failed to explain who then the hidden operator of the Thief Plan was. It remained a mystery all along, because Oliinyk just could not name Russia, which has been protecting him from prosecution, as the organizer of the Thief Plan. The Ukrainian presidential candidate continued by solemnly announcing that a rebellion would start soon in Ukraine, and then went silent for a long time.

It is important to note that the dolls playing Ukrainian politicians in Solovyov’s theater have some differences in terms of their life situations. Hence, we have some differences in rhetoric as well. Being wanted in connection with criminal acts, Oliinyk and Markov realize that they will never return to Ukraine and do not associate their future with that country. Therefore, they speak unreservedly, and hopefully predict doom, dissolution, riots and all sorts of other woes to befall Ukraine.

Levchenko’s life situation is somewhat different, as he still has quite sizeable financial interests in Ukraine which he tries to protect, including by appearing in Solovyov’s studio. These interests are well-known to everyone in that studio, so they use this knowledge to reproach him sometimes, calling him a defender and hanger-on of the oligarchs. It gets quite rough sometimes, and one feels a pity time and again for poor Levchenko, who tries to simultaneously please his masters in Ukraine and supporters of Russian aggression who dominate the Russian TV. Levchenko really, really wants to see a change of government in Ukraine which would transfer power to his preferred team of oligarchs, but he just as really does not want Ukraine to be swallowed up by Russia, as he is well aware that his prospects will be exactly zero in that case. “Ukraine is going through a change of government…” Levchenko said when starting to present his “soft” version of the events, but he was immediately interrupted by one of Solovyov’s chief hawks, one Dmitry Kulikov. “There is no Ukraine, none at all!” the Russian political analyst angrily interrupted the double-dealer Levchenko. And he was immediately rewarded for his strong stand by a thunderous applause in the studio.

This entire TV freak show could have been treated with irony only, if not for one thing. Namely, the Kremlin believes the fairy tales spread on its orders by the media machine it has created itself. At some point, they may try to bring to life the plot of the TV fairy tale.