Russian propaganda links anti-vaccination with Ukraine

Strangely enough, Canadians opposed to COVID vaccines typically support the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

image Mother Jones

What is the connection? None that I can see. One is a medical issue, the other a military one.

Big Tent political parties embrace diverse positions but they don’t compare with the widely disparate views of Russia’s misadventures in Ukraine and the dangers of COVID vaccines.

Political leaders are not immune. Alberta’s new Premier Danielle Smith supports both antivaxxers and Russia.

Her parroting of Russian propaganda came to a wider public audience after she became premier.

Smith is coming under fire for comments she made online about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a few months before getting the province’s top job.

In a livestream on April 29, Smith was asked about her thoughts on the “peace plan for Ukraine, Russia.”

She answered by giving a hypothetical case where Canada has nuclear weapons and is aligned with Russia, and how that would upset the U.S.

“So, why would we be surprised if Russia is upset because Ukraine has nuclear weapons and is aligned with the United States?” she said in the livestream. “I think the only answer for Ukraine is neutrality.”

Her ignorance is astonishing. Ukraine doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Ukraine is neutral, not a member of NATO.

On February 24, Smith was asked if areas of Ukraine should be allowed to break away and govern themselves independently.

“It seems to me the great powers of the world did a terrible job defining the new borders of countries after WWII”, Smith replied, “So much of the conflict we have had since is due to different people being crammed under one national government that don’t like each other,” the post said.

She added that nations should be allowed to break away and govern themselves independently if they want.

Of course that’s true. Quebec almost broke away from Canada in a narrow vote conducted in 1995. However, Quebec wasn’t invaded by a foreign government and forced to vote for separation while staring down the barrel of a gun.

Smith’s source of propaganda is, a website known for promoting disinformation from Russia.

A board member with the Canada-Ukraine Foundation calls the comments deeply disturbing and misinformed.

“To be honest, I was taken aback,” board member Bohdan Romaniuk told CTV News.

“With all due respect to our new premier, they demonstrate a profound ignorance of history,” he said.

Smith is not the only Canada who has fallen under the sway of Russian propaganda.

In survey conducted in March by EKOS, unvaccinated Canadians are much more likely than those who received three doses to believe Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was justified.

The poll found 26 per cent of those who identified as unvaccinated agreed the Russian invasion is justified compared to only two per cent of surveyed Canadians who said they had three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and who supported the invasion.

What connects the two issues? EKOS president Frank Graves says it’s clear:

“This is definitely a new and bluntly insidious force that’s contributing to polarization and disinformation and poor decision-making. And it doesn’t seem to be going away. Things are getting worse,” said Graves. “I don’t think this is because those people had an ingrained sympathy to the Russians. They’re reading this online, they’re consuming this from the same sources that were giving them the anti-vax stuff.”


War is an anachronism

War is a poor way to control and influence others.

A better way is propaganda. It surprises me that Russia resorts to war in Ukraine when its propaganda machine is so effective. Invasions leave enemies who just want to kill you.

image: book cover

The best way is to use propaganda that’s not even recognized as propaganda.

That’s what U.S. does so well. They call it the “entertainment industry.” Others call it the exportation of U.S. culture. Fundamentally, its propaganda. It portrays the American way of life as ideal; despite the fact that millions of Americans who face poverty, discrimination and poor access to health care.

Tanner Mirrless, in his book Hearts and Mines, The US Empire’s Culture Industry details the U.S. propaganda machine. The way of winning the world was formulated long ago.

“On April 14,1917, a week after the US joined the Allied forces by declaring war on Germany, President Woodrow Wilson used his executive power to establish the Committee on Public Information (CPI) for the purpose of rallying US and world opinion to the cause of defeating Germany and promoting the supremacy of the United States’ liberal democratic capitalist ideals,” says Mirrless.

“The CPI mobilized every sector of the US culture industry, especially the PR wing, in order to engineer public consent to its version of America and to censor expressions of dissent.”

The U.S. cultural industry has had a profound effect on the spread of American values. With the advent of rock ‘n’ roll in the sixties, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley were all sporting blue denim. This aesthetic penetrated the Soviet Bloc and Russian youths clamored for the apparel of the rebel U.S. culture.

Bruce Springsteen released Born In The USA in 1984. The cover, shot by Annie Lebovitz, featured Springsteen’s ass in all its American glory, clad in a pair of jeans – these were jeans that had been worn by a red-blooded, all-American male. “It was the ass of free-market capitalism (”

Russian youths enthusiastically embraced jeans and all that they represented. It was a propaganda coup.

Despite the successes of the mighty U.S. propaganda machine, the U.S. continues to go to war with bad outcomes.

The American invasion of Canada in the War of 1812 didn’t go well for the Yankees. In retaliation, we invaded Washington City and burned down the Capitol. It was the only time since the American Revolutionary War that a foreign power has captured and occupied the capital of the United States.

In echoes of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, then past U.S. President Thomas Jefferson declared in August,1812, “The acquisition of Canada, this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.”

Russian president Putin displays the same hubris as Jefferson when he imagines a walk in the park as Ukrainians throw flowers and kisses at the liberating troops.

If you want to gain influence and control of others, don’t corner them in a back alley with a gang of thugs at your back and beat them up –win them over with entertainment that carries your culture.

Persuasion is far more effective than war.  It’s time we sent the military types like Putin to the corner with a dunce cap on and let them reflect on the error of their ways.

 “Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer. (Sun Tzu).”

China could learn propaganda techniques from the U.S.

China’s attempts to control the impression that the world has of China at the Beijing Winter Olympics is clumsy compared to propaganda used by the U.S. during the First World War.

image: Amazon

Back then, the U.S. showed how reporters and can be recruited to carry positive messages around the world.

China is making a mistake by increasing the control and intimidation of reporters.

Unlike the last time when Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008, visiting reporters will not be able to travel around either the country or the city itself, but will instead be confined to a “closed loop” bubble with limited interaction even with athletes taking part in the Games.

According to a report from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China:

“The Chinese state continues to find new ways to intimidate foreign correspondents, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press seeks to interview, via online trolling, physical assaults, cyber hacking, and visa denials.”

The U.S. successfully overcame resistance to the First World War by using public relations techniques.

In 1917, the U.S. had joined the Allied forces in defeating Germany. But Americans had voted for President Woodrow Wilson because he had promised to keep them out of war. Recent immigrants and radical working-class organizations viewed the war as an imperialist rivalry between states that served industrial elites.

To overcome the opposition to the war, Wilson hired public opinion guru Walter Lippmann to gain national and international support for the war.

“Wilson used his executive power to establish the Committee on Public Information (CPI) for the purpose of rallying US and world opinion to the cause of defeating Germany and promoting the supremacy of the United States’ liberal democratic capitalist ideals (Hearts and Mines, Tanner Mirrlees).”

The head of the CPI said: “recognition of Public Opinion as a major force” made the First World War different “from previous conflicts in that it necessitated a “fight for the minds of men, for the conquest of their convictions. There was no part of the great war machinery that we did not touch, no medium of appeal that we did not employ,”

One of the targets in the public relations exercise was the foreign-language press. The CPI opened press offices in every world capital. The federal agency also provided war correspondents with its own content.

The CPI brought reporters from around the world to the U.S. so they might “see with their own eyes, hear with their own ears,” the power and resolve of the United States.

While travelling the U.S., the foreign newsmakers sent home daily reports by cable and by mail, and on returning home, they wrote glowing news articles and lectured to promote U.S. aims.

Importantly, because these journalists were not directly affiliated with the U.S. government, their depiction of the United States seemed more credible and trustworthy. Every column carried weight because it came from the pen of a writer in whom the readers had confidence.

China’s attempt to harass and intimidate reporters at the Beijing Winter Olympics is counterproductive from a public relations point of view. It will simply reinforce the impression that the West has of a country under siege.