Russian TV program links United States to treason at home

February 17

The Rossiya 1 television channel took an 85-minute break from its Olympic coverage Monday evening to show a film called “The Biochemistry of Treason,” featuring the United States in a co-starring role.

An attack on the “daily betrayals” that Russia suffers, the film argued that America has waged and still wages a cunning psychological war against this country, picking up where the Nazis left off in 1945. (This wouldn’t be Russia without a dark reference to World War II.) Americans want nothing less, it said, than the breakup of the Russian Federation.

“Their aim,” said a historian named Yuri Zhukov, “is to create as many traitors as possible, who would be able to cooperate with the new occupiers.”

Coming in the midst of a winter sports festival designed to promote international harmony, and just days after President Vladimir Putin’s amicable visit to the American Olympic house here, the prime-time film on nationwide TV portrayed the United States as an implacably hostile and astonishingly competent foe.

Anti-Americanism is par for the course on state-supported Russian TV, but the airing of the film on a night of Olympic action made an especially unsubtle point.

To prove its case, the film interspersed clips of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels with snippets from 1950s American TV ads, paused briefly on the punk protest group Pussy Riot, and cut from the toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad by U.S. troops in 2003 to the toppling of a statue of Lenin in Kiev, Ukraine, by protesters in December.

The film opened with a long segment on Gen. Andrei Vlasov, who was captured by the Germans in 1942 and became a turncoat. What marked him as a traitor, it suggested, were the same characteristics that distinguish members of the Russian opposition today.

“You can recognize Vlasov in any of today’s traitors,” said another historian, Boris Yulin.

The film didn’t mention that Vlasov was captured by U.S. troops in 1945 and turned over to the Soviets, who hanged him. It did show a memorial to him in Nanuet, N.Y. “Of course,” said the producer and narrator, Konstantin Syomin, “the memorial is protected by the American flag.” (It was erected by the Russian church, which also wasn’t mentioned.)

The film included numerous clips of Russians making approving comments about Vlasov — the gist being that he was against Joseph Stalin and therefore a patriot — and about the United States. “The United States is the leader of world civilization,” said a Russian nationalist, Ilya Lazarenko. “Americans are kind by nature,” said an emigre named Yuri Mosha.

These moments were apparently designed to get viewers’ blood boiling, but they brought to mind a sly Soviet-era trick, in which a less-than-enthusiastic propagandist would ostensibly denounce an enemy or renegade by quoting him at length and laying out all of his arguments — leaving the audience to read between the lines.

The U.S. aim for more than 60 years, Syomin argued, has been to destroy first the Soviet Union and then Russia by stirring up ethnic hatreds. He blamed Radio Liberty, financed by Congress, for creating animosity between Armenians and Azerbaijanis before they fought a war two decades ago. The same technique is evident today with U.S. support for Ukrainians protesting their country’s pro-Russian government, he said.

Syomin concluded by saying that Russia needs heroes. “The war for memory continues all the time,” he said. “History is one of the fronts of the war.”

A memory Russian viewers won’t have is that of watching the short program in Olympic ice dancing live, because it was preempted by the film. Just as well — an American couple, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, took the gold.

How underhanded were they? The music they danced to, in a nod to their hosts of the evening, was by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

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