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Controlling the narrative: Russia tightens grip on media amid war | Russia-Ukraine war News

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As Russia’s military campaign into Ukraine continues to fuel Western condemnation, a radically different portrait of the conflict is emerging in Russia.

Last week, the Russian Ministry of Defence acknowledged the loss of 498 soldiers.

While the Ukrainians claim thousands of Russian troops have died, US military analysts believe the true death toll to be somewhere between the Russian and Ukrainian figures.

But it is not just death tolls that appear out of step in Russia.

Russian media are only supposed to report on the war using official, government-approved sources.

In 2014, Alexander Kots, a war correspondent for the popular pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda who had been barred from entering the country by Ukrainian border guards, joked that he could only return to Kyiv in a tank.

Now, he’s doing just that – as he is embedded with the Russian army and pro-Russian rebels.

Government narrative

Kots’s coverage is consistent with the official position on the war – that Moscow is fighting rabid Ukrainian nationalists.

In one recent article, Kots writes that the “Russian military special operation would be better named ‘No to War’,” referring to a slogan chanted by peace protesters because “with this operation, we put an end to the war that is going on in the Donbas, and to the whole civil war that has been declared in Ukraine to everything Russian.”

In another, Kots writes that Ukrainian civilians want to cross the battle lines over to the Russian side but are stopped by Ukrainian forces, who want to use them as human shields.

A woman carries a bucket following a shelling in Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 7
A woman carries a bucket following shelling in Ukraine’s second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 7, 2022 [Sergey Bobok/AFP]

On Saturday, Kots wrote a glowing obituary of rebel commander Vladimir Zhoga, who died in the battle of Volnovakha, calling him a “Russian hero”.

Separately, Komsomolskaya Pravda has published a list of counterarguments to those who blame Russia for the ongoing conflict.

In that list, the paper highlighted Ukrainian policies that may be considered nationalistic or hostile to Russia – including the Kremlin’s long-held view that “Russian people are not allowed to speak their native language in public life” in Ukraine.

The piece also tackled Russia’s warnings against the word “war”. Media and schools have been banned from referring to the ongoing hostilities as an “invasion”, “attack”, or “declaration of war”.

The Pravda article said that the word “war” itself has been abandoned in describing military campaigns by Western countries, for example, Washington’s “Operation Desert Storm” in Iraq.

But in reality, whatever the official title, journalists continued to describe such events as wars.

Websites blocked

Media is tightly restricted in Russia, and on Friday, lawmakers voted to punish those spreading “fake news” about the conflict with up to 15 years in prison.

Foreign news networks such as Britain’s BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle have been blocked, and last week, radio station Echo of Moscow and TV channel Rain – two of the few remaining independent outlets – were taken off the air after being accused of spreading misinformation by the authorities.

On TV Rain’s final broadcast on Thursday, staff walked out of the newsroom. The last words of the presenters were, “no to war,” and, “no to war, indeed.”

After the walkout, the broadcast switched to a recording of the 1991 ballet production of Swan Lake, which was played in a loop during the attempted coup on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

Rain’s last broadcast is the only video left on their YouTube channel.

Just a handful of independent media organisations remain in Russia.

The best-known is the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose Nobel Prize-winning editor Dmitry Muratov refuses to trust official sources and relies only on his own correspondents to verify the facts. But even Muratov has had to make compromises.

In a recent dispatch from Odesa featuring interviews with Ukrainian fighters as well as civilians with a wide range of perspectives, any mention of the term “war” itself is replaced with “[special operation]”.

Anti-war, pro-war sentiments simmer

Despite the muzzling of critical voices in the media, anti-war demonstrations show no signs of stopping.

Answering a call from jailed Kremlin opponent Alexey Navalny to protest, 5,000 were detained in 69 cities on Sunday, more than twice the number arrested when the war broke out on February 24.

As the rallies intensify, so does the police response, with reports of batons and stun guns being used on demonstrators.

Russian policemen arrest a participant in an unauthorized rally against the Russian special operation in Ukraine, in Saint Petersburg
Russian police detain a participant in an unauthorised rally against the Russian ‘special operation’ in Ukraine, in Saint Petersburg, Russia on March 6, 2022 [Anatoly Maltsev/EPA]

Officers have also been reportedly stopping people and demanding to check the contents of their phones.

In the meantime, government supporters are using the letter Z as a pro-war symbol to show solidarity with the armed forces.

In one video being shared on social media, former spy Maria Butina, convicted of espionage in the United States, can be seen drawing a Z on her jacket.

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak wore the Z symbol on his shirt during an event in Doha, and now faces disciplinary proceedings. In the city of Kazan, a group of terminally ill children in a cancer hospice were lined up to form the letter Z in the snow.

And Russia’s internet censor board, Roskomandzor, changed its Telegram channel handle to emphasise the Latin letter Z.

The Z symbol has been spotted painted on the side of Russian tanks and military vehicles in Ukraine. An Instagram post by the Ministry of Defence suggested the Z symbol stands for “za pobedu”, or “for victory”.





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Europe faces gas supply disruption after Russia imposes sanctions | Oil and Gas News

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Moscow’s measures and Ukraine’s halting of a major supply route to Europe have sent prices on the continent soaring.

Europe is facing increased pressure to secure alternative gas supplies after Moscow imposed sanctions on European subsidiaries of Russia’s state-owned Gazprom energy giant and Ukraine shuttered a major gas transit route, pushing prices higher.

Dutch gas prices at the TTF hub, the European benchmark, rose by about 20 percent on Thursday morning.

The uptick came after Russia rolled out its sanctions late on Wednesday, mainly on Gazprom’s European subsidiaries including Gazprom Germania, an energy trading, storage and transmission business that Germany placed under trusteeship last month to secure supplies.

Moscow also targeted the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal-Europe pipeline that carries Russian gas to Europe, EuRoPol Gaz. The pipeline is jointly owned by Gazprom.

“A ban on transactions and payments to entities under sanctions has been implemented,” Gazprom said in a statement. “For Gazprom, this means a ban on the use of a gas pipeline owned by EuRoPol GAZ to transport Russian gas through Poland.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said there can be no relations with the companies affected nor can they take part in supplying Russian gas.

The entities on a list of affected firms on a Russian government website were largely based in countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, most of them members of the European Union. Last year, EU countries got about 155 billion cubic metres of gas from Russia.

Germany, Russia’s top client in Europe, said some subsidiaries of Gazprom Germania were receiving no gas because of the sanctions, but are seeking alternatives.

“Gazprom and its subsidiaries are affected,” Habeck told the Bundestag lower house. “This means some of the subsidiaries are getting no more gas from Russia. But the market is offering alternatives.”

INTERACTIVE - Russian gas imports into the EU - Europe's reliance on Russian gas

Ukraine shuts major transit route

Russia’s sanctions came a day after Kyiv shut a major gas transit route to Europe, blaming interference by occupying Russian forces, the first time exports via Ukraine have been disrupted since Moscow launched its invasion in late February.

The transit point Ukraine shut usually handles about 8 percent of Russian gas flows to Europe, and Kyiv proposed that flows could be re-directed to an alternative transit point, Sudzha.

On Thursday morning, flows through Sudzha had fallen to 53 million cubic metres (mcm) per day, from approximately 70 mcm the day before, Ukraine gas transmission operator data showed.

However, the Ukrainian suspension does not present an immediate gas supply issue, the European Commission said.

Meanwhile, there is still confusion among EU gas companies about a payment scheme decreed by Moscow in March that the European Commission has said would breach EU sanctions.

Russia’s demand that future payments for gas be made in roubles has been rejected by most European buyers over the details of the process, which requires opening accounts with Gazprombank.

That has generated fears about potential supply disruptions should buyers refuse to meet the guidelines to avoid breaching sanctions.

The concerns came against the backdrop of a major increase in European wholesale gas prices during the past year, adding to burdens on households and businesses as they seek to rebound from the economic disruption unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.



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‘Must be credible’: Energy giants challenged over climate action | Climate Crisis News

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Countries have less than three years to reduce the rise of planet-heating carbon emissions and less than a decade to cut them almost in half to ensure a ‘liveable future’.

The climate commitments of global energy giants lack credibility as they rely on costly technologies that have yet to be proven at scale, according to a report published by Carbon Tracker.

The non-profit think tank that researches the effect of climate change on financial markets noted on Thursday that despite a spate of new targets set by the top 15 global energy firms, most are still not pledging an absolute cut in emissions.

It found so far that only four of the firms have made pledges that include a reduction in the emissions generated by the use of their products, such as burning gasoline in cars.

And just four have set 2030 reduction targets, which are important in driving quick progress and evaluating developments.

“Setting appropriate targets is just the first step,” said Carbon Tracker in its 2022 report on the energy industry.

“The approach to achieving emissions reductions must be credible to ensure that both stated reductions occur and that shareholders’ exposure to transition risks are not increased,” it added.

Countries at COP26 that pledged to net zero

The think tank developed a set of criteria based on how energy firms intend to achieve reductions with the group finding that winding down existing assets is the best way to reduce the climate impact as well as risks to investors.

The report criticised using asset divestment as a method as the carbon footprint of the selling firm is reduced, but in reality, the pollution is usually just shifted to the new owner who may even operate them in a less responsible manner.

Countries have less than three years to reduce the rise of planet-heating carbon emissions, and less than a decade to cut them almost in half to ensure a “liveable future”, according to a recently published UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Nearly 200 nations agreed to adopt the Glasgow Climate Pact at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Scotland last November. Countries committed to a climate deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to stop planetary warming from exceeding 1.5C (2.7F).

The agreement received criticism as it failed to set tougher goals to battle the rising temperatures. Increased temperature beyond 1.5C (2.7F) would create climate catastrophes ranging from extreme high sea levels to wildfires that have been on the rise in the past years.

Current emissions set humanity on track to reach some 3.2C (5.8F) increased temperature by the end of the century, scientists say.

Carbon Tracker also noted energy firms reinvest some of the funds from asset sales into new oil and gas production, thus creating more emissions.

The report criticised undue reliance on emissions mitigation technologies (EMTs) to reduce emissions while continuing to invest in new production.

“The level of achievable emissions reductions from such technologies remains uncertain, their deployment should be reserved for the hardest to abate sectors rather than being squandered on ‘creating space’ for oil and gas production that can be readily substituted by renewables,” it said.

All but one of the 15 firms plans to use EMTs.

Meanwhile, third-party offsets do not always result in net reductions as some projects to plant or replant forests might have happened anyway, it added.

Moreover, vast amounts of land would be needed to offset energy emissions, which could displace other land use.

At the top of Carbon Tracker’s ranking is Italian firm Eni, which targets a 35-percent reduction by 2030, taking into account all of its production as well as downstream use of third-party crude.

At the bottom is United States giant ExxonMobil, which has set a 2050 net-zero goal but only for its operations and not the products it sells.



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Some truths about Shireen Abu Akleh’s murder | Freedom of the Press

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Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered.

She was not “killed”. She was murdered.

She was shot in the face. Not in the arm or a leg. In the face. That is not a “kill” shot. That is a murder shot.

Abu Akleh was shot in the face, on purpose, while doing what she has been doing since 1997 for Al Jazeera: telling the truth.

She was murdered for telling, yet again, the truth about how Israel has corralled, bludgeoned, “raided”, evicted, jailed, traumatised, tortured, murdered, and terrorised Palestinian after Palestinian, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade.

Abu Akleh did her job well. She did it with grace, patience and resilience despite the indignities, horrors and dangers. It was her duty, obligation, and responsibility to bear witness.

Every day, Palestinians risk being murdered because they are Palestinian.

It does not matter where they live – in Gaza, Jerusalem or the West Bank – every day, Palestinians risk being murdered because they are Palestinian.

It does not matter what they do for a living – if they can find work at all – every day, Palestinians risk being murdered because they are Palestinian.

It does not matter whether they are young or old, a man or a woman, Muslim or Christian – every day, Palestinians risk being murdered because they are Palestinian.

As it happens, Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian, was in Jenin yesterday morning when she was murdered.

She was there to do her job: reporting on how more Israeli soldiers were “raiding” – a euphemism for terrorising – more Palestinians.

She was wearing a helmet and body armour marked “Press”.

She was standing at a roundabout with other Palestinian journalists when she was shot in the face. An Al Jazeera producer, who survived, was shot in the back.

Abu Akleh’s body lay on the side of a road, next to a wall. Her colleagues screamed for help as they pulled her away from a sniper’s crosshairs. Later, an ambulance arrived. She died in hospital. Alone.

Another day, another murdered Palestinian.

But, unlike so many other murdered Palestinians, including four boys who were dismembered by an Israeli missile while playing football on a beach, Abu Akleh was well-known. She was on TV. She was popular. She was admired and respected because she told the truth about the cruelty Palestinians suffer and endure every day.

So, her murder, unlike the murders of so many other Palestinians made news in Europe and North America.

I doubt her murder would have made much news in Europe and North America save for one inconvenient fact: Abu Akleh was also an American.

I doubt her murderer knew she was an American when they shot her, on purpose, in the face. Now they know. Damn. That meant powerful people and institutions who normally do not give a damn when Palestinians are murdered had to say something since Abu Akleh was an American.

I do not remember the US ambassadors to Israel or the United Nations, the State Department or the White House acknowledging, let alone condemning, any one of the slayings, since 2000, of 46 Palestinian journalists or saying anything about the 144 Palestinian journalists who have, since 2018, been shot with rubber or steel bullets, tear-gassed or had stun grenades fired at them.

Do you?

Of course not. They were not American. That meant they were nobodies. Inconsequential. Forgettable. Worse, they were Palestinians. They were nothing. Probably tools of Hamas. Anyway, like every other Palestinian living, working and going to school every day in imprisoned Palestine, those make-believe Palestinian journalists asked for it and they got it – good.

Nothing to see here. Move on.

This time, some US politicians and diplomats said they were “very sad” that Abu Akleh had been shot in the face. They said that there needed to be a “thorough investigation” into who, precisely, shot Abu Akleh in the face.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

They had to say it. They did not mean it. But they had to say it. Otherwise, it might look like they did not give a damn that a celebrated American journalist had been shot in the face by – several witnesses say – an Israeli sniper.

Come on, you and I know that they do not really give a damn. Abu Akleh may have carried an American passport, but she was not a real American or even a real journalist like the late Daniel Pearl. He worked for the Wall Street Journal. He mattered. The manner of his murder mattered.

Abu Akleh was a Palestinian. She worked for Al Jazeera. You and I know that most American politicians and media agree with Donald Rumsfeld who once said that Al Jazeera’s reporting is “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable”.

The US politicians and diplomats pretending to care about Abu Akleh’s murder could have told America’s dearest friend and client state in the Middle East a long time ago to stop shooting and murdering journalists and blowing up buildings where they work.

They have not and they will not.

Instead, they do what they always do when Israel murders Palestinians – American or not. Nothing.

Israel is obliged to play along to relieve the phantom pressure.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett played his part in the pantomime. On cue, he muddied the bloody waters by trotting out the tired and absurd line that the “most moral army in the world” does not murder Palestinians on purpose.

Abu Akleh’s “unfortunate death,” he suggested on Twitter, was a case of Palestinian on Palestinian violence.

“According to the data, we currently have, there is a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, are what led to the unfortunate death of the journalist,” Israel’s foreign ministry tweeted on his behalf.

Most American politicians – Republicans and Democrats – and much of the establishment media will believe Bennett. He is Israel’s prime minister. Israeli prime ministers never lie. They, unlike Hamas, tell the truth. Always. They are America’s pal. Trusted. America never doubts the word of its Israeli pals.

America does not need to see, let alone question, Bennett’s so-called “data”. If the Israeli prime minister says he has it, then, there is a “considerable chance” that is what happened. That is good enough for America and the chattering class.

Doubt sown. Mission accomplished. Quick, back to Ukraine.

Sure, US speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote: “The killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is an (sic) horrific tragedy.”

Newsflash, Speaker Pelosi, shooting a Palestinian-American journalist in the face on purpose is not a “tragedy”. It is a crime. We know, we know, Israeli soldiers never commit crimes.

Quick, back to the baby formula shortage.

Oh, wait. Bennett’s once iron-clad “data” has gone poof – if it ever existed. Late Wednesday, an Israeli general said, well, maybe Abu Akleh was not the victim of Palestinian on Palestinian violence. Maybe an armed Israeli soldier, not an “armed” Palestinian – are there any other kind? – shot her in the face. Maybe.

It does not matter. The “narrative”, like cement, has already been cast.

It goes like this: We will never know who shot Abu Akleh in the face. Israel wants an “inquiry” to find out who shot Abu Akleh. It does. Honest. The Palestinians will not cooperate. Fanatics.

Still, if an Israeli sniper shot a journalist in the face, that is the terrible cost of war. That sniper was doing their duty, too, protecting Israel from terrorists. She knew the risks. She got in the way. Tough luck.

The truth is that it will work because it has worked every other time Israel has murdered a Palestinian.

Shireen Abu Akleh knew that, I suspect, better than anyone.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 





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