#10 - JRL 7140
April 10, 2003
Watching the War
For Russians, Each News Report Reinforces Resentment of U.S.
By Sharon LaFraniere
Washington Post Foreign Service
Last in a series on how people around the world are perceiving the war in Iraq through their local media.
MOSCOW, April 9 -- Lena Manukova flipped on the black Panasonic radio on the crowded windowsill in her tiny kitchen in southwest Moscow this morning while she prepared tea and cheese for breakfast.
Three miles away in her Western-style kitchen, Tatiana Abanina switched on the television set in the corner. Both heard that on Day 21 of the war in Iraq, Iraqi soldiers were donning civilian clothes to fool American troops; Saddam Hussein had apparently escaped the bombs aimed at him, and that hospitals in the capital are overwhelmed with hundreds of victims.
Manukova's reaction: "This is stupidity."
Abanina's response: "It is an international crime."
That about measures the spectrum of opinion in this capital city of 8.5 million as Muscovites tune into the war in huge numbers. The war is either bad or very bad. Americans are either hugely mistaken or blatantly immoral.
The idea that the United States is going to export democracy and wipe out a threat to world peace holds no sway here. In a poll taken at the end of March, 83 percent said they are angered and disgusted by U.S. policy. Six out of 10 said the United States is after Iraq's oil. Five out of 10 said the United States wants to show who is "master of the world."
Many elsewhere have reacted to the war the same way. But while bitter attacks on the U.S. mark a reversal of attitudes in some places, in Russia, resentment of America is never too far from the surface, even when President Vladimir Putin is professing to be President Bush's friend.
It is a potent mixture of Cold War habit, envy, the humiliation felt by a deposed superpower, and a sense of betrayal that the end of communism didn't produce the nirvana that Americans seemed to promise. It last welled up -- even more virulently than it has now -- in 1999 when U.S.-led NATO forces attacked another old ally of Russia's, Yugoslavia.
The Russian media have given these sentiments full vent in its Iraq war coverage -- some would say with the Kremlin's blessing. Media analysts say two state-controlled national television channels, ORT and RTR, repeatedly referred to the coalition troops as "occupation forces," terms typically reserved for the Germans in World War II.
"The coverage was biased," said Anton Nosik, editor in chief of Lenta.ru, a leading Internet news site. "It was a credit to the Iraqi propaganda machine."
The tone has shifted somewhat in the last week, since Putin publicly declared that Russia does not want the United States to lose the war. Still, ORT's spokesman, Sergei Grichyov, said that the Russian media obviously have a different take on the war than CNN or ABC.
"We stress the humanitarian aspect more than the American media, showing the Iraqi people. People's tragedy. That's natural," he said.
There can be little mistaking the views of Denis Shusiky, who reported from Baghdad for a third television network, NTV -- also state-controlled but clinging to its tattered reputation for independence. Quoted about the war in Kommersant-Vlast, a glossy business magazine, he offered a succinct and popular view of Americans.
"I don't like them because they are killing a peaceful population," he said. "Here in Baghdad, it's become obvious that for the Americans the priority is their financial interests and not human lives and they always justify themselves with high ideals."
In her little kitchen, crowded with plants and spices, Manukova, 46, says she has "no hatred of Americans."
What she does now have, she says, is some fear of them. She reels off the reasons: ignorance of other countries and cultures; self-absorption; a desire to strike back for the September 2001 terrorist attacks even "if they don't have the right target"; a blind faith in exporting U.S.-style democracy; and overwhelming power that is not matched by wisdom.
"They simply do not know what they are doing," she said. "They do not have self-insight."
"Maybe they even wish good things for others," she added. "But they do not understand that their way of life cannot be just transplanted to other countries."
Manukova, a former architect, lives with her husband, Igor, an artist, their 17-year-old son and her mother in a four-room apartment. Their neighborhood is favored by the Russian intelligentsia.
Between Manukova and her husband, she is the lively one, with shoulder-length strawberry blond hair and green eyes that he has captured in some of his paintings. They argue every morning over whether to listen to the radio over breakfast. He prefers Bach to war bulletins from Echo Moskvy, Moscow's most esteemed station with a daily audience of 642,000. She calls herself his press secretary because he gets his news from her.
This morning at 9:30, she listened to the latest news while making breakfast. "Will you remember what you heard in 10 years?" her husband demanded, then retreated to his room.
She heard the latest on the controversy over the shots fired at a Russian diplomatic convoy fleeing Baghdad Sunday morning. U.S. officials say the convoy was simply caught in a sudden crossfire that left Russians injured. But the Russian media are crackling with speculation that U.S. soldiers deliberately fired on the convoy because the Americans suspected that the ambassador was trying to ferry out Saddam Hussein's archives.
Manukova isn't sure. "It's one version," she said. She prides herself on her skepticism of authorities and the mass media. Still, everything she sees and hears, she said, "confirms my personal point of view that the war should never have been started."
On the 11 a.m. television broadcast, she saw anti-war protesters in Argentina. "Anti-American sentiments are growing in the world," she said. The RTR network also reported that Iraqi soldiers are donning civilian clothes and fading into the general population. Manukova sees a parallel to Chechnya, where Russia still loses as many as 25 soldiers a week. "So it will become a guerrilla war, and guerrilla wars are endless," she said.
In her kitchen, with fancy white cupboards and a pseudo Corian counter, Tatiana Abanina shares Manukova's opinions wholeheartedly. With this exception: she casts the U.S. motives in a darker light.
Abanina, 55, who teaches Chinese at the prestigious University of International Relations, said the goal of the United States "is to get control of the oil and in this way to exercise control over the world.
"It is an imperialistic approach. It is a dictatorship of the strong over the weak," she said.
If it weren't about oil, she said, the news programs would be showing proof of weapons of mass destruction.
She checked in on the 8 p.m. news on state-controlled RTR, and saw nothing that changed her mind in the scenes of apparent U.S. victory. Thousands of Iraqis were shown cheering in the streets of Baghdad, some of them waving American flags. But they were also looting.
"Maybe they are happy because they can go on plundering and get away with it," she said.
She saw the statue of Saddam Hussein topple. But she noticed it was an American military vehicle that pulled it over.
She pointed out another detail that spoke to her. The statue's head was wrapped in an Iraqi flag after -- and only after -- it had been wrapped in an American flag.