Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#8 - JRL 7130
Los Angeles Times
April 3, 2003
Russian, European Media Critical of U.S.-Led Forces

Using depictions of a brutish bully, foreign news outlets focus heavily on civilian casualties and denounce the campaign in Iraq.

By Robyn Dixon and Henry Chu, Times Staff Writers

MOSCOW -- Bloodied corpses of U.S. soldiers or Iraqi civilians, a wounded allied soldier with a serial number written in black on his forehead, relentless commentary on the mistakes of "occupying" forces in Iraq: The sights and sounds are not from an Arab TV network. They are from Russian television.

Amid harsh antiwar rhetoric from the Kremlin -- President Vladimir V. Putin calls the Iraqi war the worst international crisis since World War II -- the war coverage on Russian state television underscores the damage to Russian-U.S. relations caused by the war.

Russians once endured the gory images of military humiliation in Chechnya on their TV screens, but much of today's Iraqi war coverage tells them that the world's most powerful military force is suffering a similar fate. Implicit is the message that America is not so great and Russia is not on its knees after all.

In France and Germany, the two European states that partnered Russia in most strongly opposing the war, the media tone also has been pointedly critical.

"Superpower in the Sand: America's Stuck Blitzkrieg" was the cover headline on the prestigious weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which last week labeled the war as "terror-bombing for freedom."

German newspapers have focused extensively on Iraqi civilian casualties. On its front page Sunday, the popular Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel featured the headline "Bloodbath in Baghdad Market," in reference to the Friday strike that killed dozens.

Drawing on their own country's embarrassing martial past, German media have compared the war with world wars I and II. In Tuesday's Bild, under the headline "Trench Warfare," a story asked, "Will it be as terrible as World War I?" alongside a photo of a German soldier in the trenches then.

In France, Le Monde on Friday questioned, "Where is Bush's war going?" in an article focusing on civilian casualties.

Even in Spain, a staunch ally of the Bush administration, press coverage of the war has been skeptical and critical. It reflects overwhelming public opposition to the pro-war stance of the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who joined the United States and Britain in sponsoring the failed U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Spain's top two newspapers, the center-left El Pais and usually more conservative El Mundo, both have taken an outspoken antiwar stand in their editorial pages. Their news coverage, as in many European newspapers and some U.S. ones, has focused on civilian casualties, Iraqi resistance and setbacks to the U.S.-led forces.

On Wednesday, the front page of the Internet version of El Pais featured a photo of the Baghdad maternity hospital hit by U.S. bombs.

In Wednesday's editorial pages, the newspapers criticized the Anglo-American effort and the support it is getting from the Spanish government. Demanding that Aznar bring back navy ships he has sent to the Persian Gulf to participate in health and relief, El Pais denounced the rising number of civilian casualties.

In Russia, where the populace has been relatively apathetic about the war, the state television coverage is a direct indicator of the Kremlin's viewpoint. Some Russian analysts believe that Putin now outflanks French President Jacques Chirac as the war's most outspoken critic.

An analysis in Kommersant-Vlast magazine found that of 1,432 articles during the first week of the war in 22 major Russian newspapers and seven magazines, 18% labeled it as aggression and the Americans and British as "occupying forces."

"In their desire to subdue Iraq, the U.S. goes so far as to fight against children," said Yekaterina Andreyeva, anchor of the news program "Vremya" on state network Channel One, commenting on a report of a gun battle involving Iraqi boys and American soldiers.

Another Channel One anchor, Zhanna Agalakova, said Friday: "There is utter mess and confusion at the front now. The situation is so grave that U.S. troops opened friendly fire on their own people again. Dozens of Marines were wounded."

Nor can Russia's non-state stations resist the occasional jibe. "British soldiers only have enough courage to watch from afar through the optical sights of their sniper rifles, as hundreds of Arab men snatch boxes of canned and long-life food from each other's hands," said Sergei Mikhailov, from independent TVS, commenting on aid distribution last week in southern Iraq. This from the station whose war and general political coverage is most pro-Western.

Some in Russia think it's all gone too far: Kommersant-Vlast magazine suggested that the station's coverage was so pro-Iraq "it could be translated into Arabic and sent to the Iraqi Information Ministry as humanitarian aid."

The official anti-American tone is seen by many analysts as a populist drive by the Kremlin in the lead-up to next year's presidential election. Andrei Piontkovsky, a liberal analyst writing in Novaya Gazeta, argued that America was Russia's key ally, not worth alienating for cheap appeals to anti-American sentiment. But he said Putin was in a delicate situation.

"If he tries at some point to curb the growing anti-American hysteria and preserve the diplomatic gains he has accumulated in the last year and a half, it will be perceived as proof of his weakness and a new concession to the U.S.A.," he wrote.

Dixon reported from Moscow and Chu from Berlin. Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella and Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau and Achrene Sicakyuz of The Times' Paris Bureau contributed to this report.

Top    Next