state dept spokesperson ned price
Heated exchange between State Dept official, veteran reporter
04:54 - Source: CNN
Moscow CNN  — 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has a knack for soundbites, and the allegation by US officials that Russia was cooking up a “graphic propaganda video” to create a pretext for invading Ukraine was no exception.

“This is delusional, in my opinion, this kind of fabrication,” he told a Russian reporter Friday. “And there are more and more of them every day, it is obvious to any more or less experienced political scientist.”

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) loves a fake news story – that is, they love to pounce on anything they can present as Western spin, dissembling or propaganda. The ministry even hosted a web page dedicated to outing what they branded as “false publications” – a page that, alas, appears to be dormant.

A US State Department briefing on Thursday further replenished Russia’s stockpiles of snark, after Associated Press reporter Matt Lee and State Department spokesman Ned Price sparred over the Biden administration’s reluctance to present the underlying evidence of the alleged plans for a “false flag” video. Russian Telegram channels were abuzz with video of the exchange, which was posted repeatedly by a popular reporter and shown on state TV.

But it’s worth remembering two things. When it comes to generating disinformation, the Russian government has a formidable track record. And the confrontation seen between Lee and Price, with a reporter holding a top official’s feet to the fire, is a relative rarity in Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on January 21, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland.

Disinformation and propaganda are not new. But the war in Donbas has taken the practice to new heights for Russia.

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 was the textbook case. Russian media spun out a range of conspiracy theories to explain the tragedy, from the somewhat-plausible to the absurd. The Dutch Joint Investigation Team, which conducted the criminal investigation into the crash, concluded that the aircraft was brought down by a Buk missile system that ultimately belonged to the Russian army.

And there was the smirking coverage of the 2018 nerve agent poisonings in the English city of Salisbury, by Russian state media, which aired a bizarre interview with the alleged Russian poisoners, who claimed to be humble salesmen of nutritional supplements with an interest in medieval architecture.

To be sure, the US national-security apparatus often has a dismal record of levelling with the public. But when it comes to waging information wars, Washington often seems outmatched by Moscow.

Take, for instance, the kerfuffle over the leak to Spanish newspaper El Pais of US and NATO responses to Russian demands for security guarantees. US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland blamed that particular leak story on Russia, and the Russian Foreign Ministry had a field day with that one.

A statement released by Russia’s embassy to the United States accused the Americans of trafficking in “conspiracy theories.” Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian MFA, took a swipe at Nuland as well, saying on her Telegram, “Victoria, judging by your statement, Russia plays [cards] openly, and American players deal marked cards.”

We may never know who leaked the documents. The archives or the memoirs may someday tell us, but it’s worth remembering the first person who publicly raised the possibility they might be made public: Sergey Lavrov.