The leading German print publications are today largely hostile in their reporting on Russian foreign policy, at best noncommittal. For mainstream, Russia is a country which invents foreign enemies to suit current domestic needs and changes them at will. Above all, there is a German confidence in its own superiority and bemusement at the follies of the barbarians at the outer limits of the EU.
Overview of German Press Reports on the Russian-Turkish Confrontation
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
My last article posted on these pages regarding the news blackout in mainstream European media for developments putting Russia in a favorable light went viral, attracting more than 19,000 visitors, many of them drawn to the article by Facebook and other social media. It also attracted a larger than usual number of serious comments, including from one reader who correctly pointed out that there was extensive commentary on the Russian military’s briefing last Wednesday in the online edition of the mass circulation Spiegel magazine.
In light of this remark, I decided to take a close look at that Spiegel article, and then also to examine one by one Germany’s newspapers of record during a week of momentous news from Russia. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense gave its unprecedented news briefing on Turkish complicity in oil trade with the Islamic State. On Thursday President Putin delivered his hour long state of the nation address. The former was largely ignored, to be sure, but the latter was covered by all papers in one way or another in their Friday, 4 December edition.
I stayed strictly with print media, because that is easiest to track down days or weeks after release. And in any case, television coverage by Germany’s major stations was already the subject of an overview article by a German alternative news portal that validated my generalizations and also republished my article in German translation: https://propagandaschau.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/die-westliche-informationsblockade-ueber-russische-pressekonferenz/
Spiegel Online, “Rebuke to Turkey” by Raniah Salloum
This substantial article dismisses the logic and value of the Russian Ministry of Defense briefing. But it is weasel worded, seeking to discredit some elements in the Russian presentation while distracting attention away from essentials. It is based on assumptions about Russian military operations in Syria that are unproven and in fact contradict much that is known in the public domain. And finally it is undone by the actions of others in the American coalition, namely the French and now the British, who, following the Russian lead, are targeting in their strikes precisely the same oil infrastructure that the Kremlin alleges underpins the finances of the Islamic State.
The author stresses that the satellite and aerial reconnaissance photos of the oil logistics were taken far from where the Russian jet was shot down by the Turkish F-16s, as if proximity were relevant to the Russian charges against Turkey/Erdogan over complicity with jihadists. The author also devotes a lot of attention to the role of intermediate traders and transporters, who are of various nationalities. That by itself says little or nothing about the ultimate beneficiaries of the trade.
The author avoids the obvious fact of tankers waiting at the Syrian border to pass into Turkey. He says nothing about those tankers passing through IS controlled territory to get there . Regardless of the provenance of the oil, the tanker caravans surely did not get rights of transit for free, so that whoever was doing the trading had to be paying off IS. Indeed, given the normal investigatory reasoning of cui bono, it is up to the Turkish government to prove that they are not profiting from the cross border trade in grey market oil, rather than up to the Russians to produce bills of sale to Erdogan’s son to prove their case against his regime.
In effect, the Spiegel Online article was repeating rejections of the Russian proofs that were disseminated in Washington by Pentagon or State Department spin doctors immediately after the Russian briefing. The tell-tale sign of authorship was precisely the explanation at the very end of the article as to why the US coalition did not previously attack the oil tankers and infrastructure: that they were concerned over possible civilian casualties from such attacks. However, the US has not demonstrated great concern for civilian casualties as collateral damage in its operations in the Middle East theater these past 12 years, as all the drone attacks on wedding parties and the most recent bombing of a Médecins sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz prove conclusively.
Moreover, the author of this article, like nearly all Western commentators on the situation takes for right and proper that the autonomous Kurdish territory in the north of Iraq is selling oil to Turkey directly and in violation of the monopoly on oil trade held by the central government in Baghdad. This illegal trade enjoys benign neglect from Turkey’s American allies, even though it is a direct violation of Iraqi economic sovereignty, because the Americans seek to protect the Iraqi Kurdish population from the violence and discrimination of the Shiite regime in Baghdad that they themselves empowered when they brought down Saddam Hussein and disbanded the largely Sunni Iraqi army. It was a very short step from Turkish violation of Iraqi economic sovereignty to its latest violation of Iraqi military and security integrity by its moving tanks and troops into the outskirts of Mosul ostensibly for training the Iraqi Kurdish armed forces (Peshmerga) in the past week. And even today, the office of the Turkish premier is arguing for the creation of a secure zone in northern Syria where refugees can be safe and so not need to cross the border into Turkey; that proposal may seem reasonable to human rights campaigners in Western Europe, but translated into simple English he is arguing for a Turkish protectorate.
In its 4 December issue Die Welt offers a couple of articles dealing with Putin’s address to the nation the day before.
“Allah wanted to punish the Turkish elite” by Julia Smirnova, Moscow correspondent.
This is a brief run-down of the content of the speech, but with a definite focus on the sections dealing with Turkey and the Syrian civil war. Putin’s well-seeded sound bites were of course picked up: “Only Allah knows why they did it. Allah wanted probably punish the Turkish elite by depriving them of their reason.” In general, though, President Putin’s comments on Turkey are described as ‘threatening and aggressive.’
The author’s main insight is to describe what she calls ‘a miraculous transformation’ in Putin’s attitude to the West. The anti-Western rhetoric of last year was now completely absent. Instead ‘Russia is a part of the global world,’ and is positioning itself as a potential ally of the West in the fight against terrorism, ‘even as its leader.’ At the same time, Russia now has a new enemy: Turkey.The reporting is noncommittal, at arm’s length.
“Criticism of Erdogan. Putin is lying even when he is telling the truth,” by Richard Herzinger, correspondent for politics and society
This one also focuses on Putin’s state of the nation address. His remarks on Turkey are said to have been ‘threatening and aggressive.’ Putin’s allegations are all products of his ‘propaganda machine.’ The author turns the Russians’ accusations around against them. Without any supporting evidence, he says that the greatest beneficiary of the oil trade is the Assad regime in Damascus that Putin supports. He asserts that Assad has a de facto alliance with IS to decimate the moderate opposition forces.
We get from Herzinger bombast instead of arguments. The Turkish-Russian standoff is between ‘tsar and sultan.’ The ‘truth’ that Putin is using as the basis for his lies is the ‘open secret’ that Turkey has been using moderate opposition channels to maintain contact with the jihadists.
And to what purpose are the Russian lies? The author tells us Russia is seeking to bring Turkey to its knees with economic sanctions so as to attack NATO in its weak spot. In the final analyss, Herzinger has a complacent German view from on high at the battle between Untermenschen at the EU’s periphery.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung “What joins Germany and Turkey in a War” by Christiane Schloetzer
The commentary is devoted mainly to German-Turkish relations as new ‘brothers in arms’ now that Germany is committed to assisting the military effort against the Islamic State and its officers will be sharing the dining facilities at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey with officers of other nations in the US-led coalition. The skeptical, arms-length treatment of Turkey in general and of the Erdogan regime in particular is spelled out nicely in the extended subtitle of the article: “Turkey is needed in the fight against the Islamic State. Erdogan celebrates the new international recognition as a victory. That does not bode well.”
The author describes Erdogan’s shooting down the Russian jet as a macho act undertaken by an actor whose shoes are too big for him. Turkey is clearly criticized for supporting any and all forces in Syria opposed to Assad. Russia is described neutrally. The allegations/proofs of Turkish treachery in the war with IS are given no specific rating but it is assumed Assad has been double dealing. The tone of the author is, as in the case of the article from Die Welt, superior and indulgent to the parties in the Turkish-Russian dispute. Jaded, mildly cynical, not engaged.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “Neues Jahr, neuer Feind,” [New Year, New Enemy] by Friedrich Schmidt, political correspondent
This is a review of Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly: “This is a ritual, …a routine, going on year after year. But the enemies against whom Putin’s rhetoric is directed change. “ Last year, in relation to the annexation of Crimea, it was the USA and its allies. This year, the author tells us, there was hardly a word about Ukraine, and the USA was not named directly. Now Putin’s animus was directed against Turkey. The Russian accusations against Erdogan are rejected out of hand as unproven.
Apart from this quick dismissal of the foreign policy dimension of the speech, the article is quite a stew having one intent: to suggest a vast chasm exists between the Kremlin’s words and deeds. Schmidt mentions the passages calling for further crackdown on corruption, then says they were belied by the presence of several scandalous personalities in the hall. He takes as the God’s truth a recent attack on the family of state prosecutor Yuri Chaika coming from the foundation of Alexei Navalny. He mentions Putin’s words about planned improvements to the health insurance programs and funding for advanced surgery in central clinics, then counters with reports of late payments being made to doctors and nurses.
The leading German print publications are today largely hostile in their reporting on Russian foreign policy, at best noncommittal. For mainstream, Russia remains a mafia state, or a country which invents foreign enemies to suit current domestic needs and changes them at will. Above all, there is a German confidence in its own superiority and bemusement at the follies of the barbarians at the outer limits of the EU.
Meanwhile public opinion poll results of citizen satisfaction published in Die Welt on Friday show a continued majority (54%) content with Mutti Merkel, even if her ratings are far behind those of her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble (at 75% positive). The Germans are clearly getting the government they want, possibly the government they deserve.
Other European countries are less enthralled to Chancellor Merkel’s policies. In particular, there have been widespread expressions of anger over her open door to refugees in a number of EU states. Perhaps for this reason, in recent weeks Merkel has moved into the shadows of the European stage. Partly by default, partly due to the extraordinary attention that came his way following the Paris terror attacks, French President Hollande has taken the baton and is running with it. Given his call for coordinated military action in Syria with Russia, France may displace Germany as the country defining EU relations with the Kremlin. And as I pointed out in the days immediately following 13 November, public opinion in France is massively in favor of alliance with Russia against the jihadists.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2015
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G. Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to firstname.lastname@example.org