By Finian Cunningham
Russia’s threatened disqualification from the Euro 2016 Football Championship over fan violence fits into a pattern of systematically demonizing Russia in the Western media on a host of other issues.
For the past two years, Russia has been blamed for annexing countries, invading others and threatening the entire geopolitical architecture of European security.
Moscow has been vilified for having a sinister role in the shooting down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine in July 2014, with the loss of 298 lives.
And according to Western media narrative, Russia is flexing its muscles in Syria to prop up the «tyrannical regime» of Bashar al-Assad, and likewise throwing its military weight around to intimidate former Soviet states in the Baltic region and in Central Asia. See this report in CIA-sponsored outlet Radio Free Europe about how Russia is allegedly slapping Turkmenistan around over gas trade.
Russia’s international image has also been tarnished in other more insidious ways. Western claims that its Olympic athletes have been using performance-boosting drugs, with tacit approval from the authorities, has added to the image of Russia being a lawless state.
The banning of Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova over her alleged use of a banned substance has also played into the same theme of blackening Russia, even though she plausibly claims an innocent mistake.
Then there is a litany of personal attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin with high-flown allegations of him sanctioning violence against political opponents and being involved in financial corruption. Recall the Panama Papers kerfuffle directed at Putin and how that quickly died a death from lack of credibility. None of these claims are ever upheld with evidence. They are nevertheless unceasingly thrown out with the maxim that if enough mud is slung then some of it will at least eventually stick.
All in all, those «damned Russians» are just so nefarious, so the inculcated narrative, or more bluntly, propaganda brainwashing, goes. This is hybrid warfare, which paradoxically Washington and its European NATO allies bombastically accuse Russia of engaging in. The very transgressions that Russia is accused of are actually far more applicable to the US and NATO.
The threat to international security stems from NATO’s dramatic military buildup in the Baltic, Black Sea and Eastern Europe, where this week it is holding the biggest-ever military exercises since the end of the Cold War, with over 31,000 American, British, German and other troops marching across Poland towards Russia.
As for «annexation», the Black Sea territory of Crimea voted in a legally held referendum to join the Russian Federation only after the NATO powers backed a military coup d’état in Ukraine in February 2014, installing a fascist regime which then proceeded to wage a war of aggression on the ethnic Russian people in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 9,000 people and displacing over a million others.
Paradoxically, and laughably, hybrid warfare is the term used by NATO generals, think tanks and politicians accusing Russian of deploying a myriad of offensive techniques, including open military power, covert destabilization, exerting financial or trade leverage, as well as informational subversion and public perception management.
In each of these categories of alleged Russian aggression, it is the NATO powers who can be much more substantially indicted as the perpetrators. Astoundingly, it is US and NATO troops that are amassing on Russia’s borders; it is Washington and its European allies that destabilized Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Georgia, and Iraq and Afghanistan before them; it is the Western powers who instigated economic sanctions on Russia. And it is Western countries and their media who continually churn out pejorative stories of Russian malfeasance.
The latest episode is depraved soccer violence by Russian fans at the Euro 2016 Championships being held in France this month. The Russian Football Union is to be fined €150,000 by the tournament’s organizing body UEFA. Russia has also been given a suspended disqualification whereby the national team will be ejected from the competition if its fans commit further violence.
Violent clashes between Russia and England fans in Marseille
Reading some of the British media headlines on the violence that broke out in the southern French city of Marseille last weekend one could be forgiven for suspecting that Russian special forces had been dispatched by the Kremlin to wreak havoc. Readers were told that Russian hooligans were «well trained in combat», that they acted with «military organization» and were «tooled up» with gum shields and «telescopic truncheons».
This is the same kind of wild-eyed Western media innuendo that has imputed Russia with covert destabilization in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.
The singling out of Russian football for punitive action also betrays a biased political and media agenda.
This is not to absolve Russian hooligans from violence in France this past week. Video footage clearly shows Russian fans in the match against England in Marseille’s Velodrome Stadium making what appears to be a gratuitous charge on their opponents. The French prosecutor later estimated that «150 Russian individuals» were associated with incitement. That’s out of a total of 12,000 Russian football fans who are believed to have travelled to France to support their team. Or about 1 per cent of the total. It doesn’t seem fair or logical that a whole nation is punished for the wanton actions of a tiny few, whose behavior by the way was vehemently condemned by the Russian authorities.
Moreover, there are reliable reports that England and local French soccer hooligans – known as «ultras» – were also involved in inciting at least some of the violence in Marseille. But, illogically, UEFA said it was limiting its assessment to only those events that occurred inside the stadium. British media reports even published photographs of England fans being arrested by French police, yet that didn’t stop these same outlets from continuing to trumpet their «Russian-thugs» narrative.
In a separate incident in the other southern French city of Nice, several Northern Ireland supporters were injured when they were reportedly attacked on the streets by French ultras.
Following the violence in Marseille and Nice, arrest figures released by the French authorities showed that most of those held in custody were English and French nationals.
There were also critical comments by fans themselves that the UEFA organizers did not sufficiently segregate rival fans near the soccer venues. That was particularly pertinent in the case of England’s encounter with Russia, even though both countries have a reputation among police for supporter violence. Furthermore, many fans said that the French police greatly exacerbated the violence by using indiscriminate and extremely heavy-handed techniques against crowds who had nothing to do with initial disturbances.
However, out of all the melee so far during the Euro 2016 tournament it is Russia that has been singled out for blame and punishment.
But should we be surprised? This distorted focus on football violence is exactly in keeping with much else distorted focus regarding Russia in the Western media as directed by Washington and its allied NATO governments.
Russia is blamed for everything: from global insecurity to inciting war, from shooting down civilian airliners to annexing neighboring countries.
And so violence flares up during Euro 2016, and right away countries with notorious fan hooliganism – England and France – immediately turn to brand Russia as the sole source of mayhem.
This is just more NATO hybrid warfare, with a populist football spin.
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