Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 12.07.2018
Putin went to a lot of effort to make the FIFA World Cup 2018 a positive propaganda show for Russia. The key themes that Kremlin information warriors push relentlessly are that the tournament is “just about football” and that Russia is the perfect host. In 2014, it seemed to any reasonable person that Russia would be removed as host after Putin sent his army to invade neighbour Ukraine for no reason whatsoever. Inexplicably, FIFA retained Russia as host of the tournament for 2018. Putin kept his golden opportunity of a showcase for chauvinist pro-Russian propaganda, even while he continued to wage war against Ukraine in Donbas.
The tasks of the Russian propagandists were to keep hammering away at the “just about the football” and pro-Russia themes, while smothering any talk or consideration of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The Moscow-bureaux, Russo-centric Western press eagerly played along.
A diplomatic boycott of the World Cup was encouraged by the European Parliament and was joined by Iceland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and a few other countries. This occurred after Russia attacked with a nerve agent in Salisbury, England on March 4. The diplomatic boycott was so under-reported that most people were ignorant of why top UK politicians were not at the England matches played in Russia.
A “Show the Red Card to Putin” and “Boycott World Cup 2018” campaign was mounted, with attention focussed on the Ukrainian hostages of the Putin regime. There are over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners of war held in the Russian Federation and in Ukraine’s territory of Crimea that is illegally occupied by Russia. Perhaps the most prominent hostage, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, went on a hunger strike on May 14 to demand the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners. Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike coincided with the World Cup in Russia to get the most attention.
Russia succeeded in suppressing news of Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike and even of the existence of Ukrainian hostages of the Putin regime. Russia prevented Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman from seeing any of the hostages, and still their plight received no attention from the docile and compliant Western press.
A moving and effective series of posters are being made by Ukrainian artist Andriy Yermolenko to support the “Show the Red Card to Putin” campaign. They receive wide attention in Ukraine, but are largely unknown outside.
Matches are being played and the diplomatic boycott and the “Show the Red Card to Putin” campaign are being ignored. News about the Ukrainian political prisoners is being under-reported. Russia’s war against Ukraine in Donbas is under a news embargo by the Western press. Every day Russia launches dozens of attacks across the invasion battlefront that stretches across Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine. Most people are surprised to hear Putin’s War is still going on – if by some miracle they happen to catch word of the fighting.
Everything was going according to plan for Russia with the World Cup, until “Glory to Ukraine!” On July 7, Croatia eliminated Russia in a match at the World Cup. Afterwards, Croatian national team player Domagoj Vida thanked the many fans he has in Ukraine from his days as a player for Kyiv Dynamo FC. He said “Glory to Ukraine!” because that is a common and enthusiastic greeting in Ukraine. But for the Kremlin propagandists, Vida’s use of the slogan triggered a torrent of abuse and hatred directed against him and against Croatia and against Ukraine.
The Russians couldn’t help themselves. In 2014 Russia started an unjustified war against Ukraine, and since that time no reference to Ukraine is allowed to be a positive one. Information warfare operatives for Russia had a choice: stick to the positive propaganda about the World Cup in Russia, or switch to negative propaganda against the Ukrainian nation. The Kremlin propagandists went negative.
By giving in to their basest instincts, the Russians undid all the careful work they put in to presenting the World Cup as being “just about the football” and a positive showcase for Russia. Now, everyone is talking about “Glory to Ukraine!” People who were previously only talking about football are now talking about why Russians are giving in to hysteria over an innocuous expression of pride in Ukraine.
The Putin regime has lost control of the message. On July 11, Croatia played England in the World Cup, and ended up eliminating the English side. A sports story that would have benefitted the original, positive Kremlin narrative is that this is the best showing Croatia has ever had in a World Cup. But during the match, every time Domagoj Vida took possession of the ball for Croatia he got deafening boos from the Russian crowd. Why was he being booed? Because he had said “Glory to Ukraine!” Why does the Russian crowd hate him for saying something positive about Ukraine? Because Russia is waging war against Ukraine and killing “brother Slavs” in Donbas. Suddenly the world is talking about aggressor Russia, and has stopped talking about the World Cup as merely a sports tournament.
Russia has shot an own goal with it’s anti-Ukrainian hysteria. They can’t help themselves. Russians have been so poisoned by hate propaganda against Ukrainians that they couldn’t let one innocent utterance of “Glory to Ukraine!” pass by. Russia has ruined years of careful, positive propaganda surrounding the World Cup.
Yes, indeed: Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Ukrainian nation that is fighting in the trenches of Donbas, alone, and stopping Russia’s invasion army. Glory to the Ukrainian political prisoners of who will not submit to Russian occupation and tyranny. Glory to Ukraine, which although not a NATO member is the heroic vanguard and bulwark of North Atlantic collective security. Glory to Ukraine, which although not a European Union member epitomizes the ideals of Europe in the Revolution of Dignity, a people-power uprising against corruption and tyranny where the EU flag flew as proudly as the Ukrainian one. Glory to Ukraine – especially if it inspires victory over Russia, the liberation of Crimea and Donbas, and the restoration of peace in Europe.