Opinion: The TASS Theory

I have a theory when it comes to Russia and the way it sees the world, or rather how it wants the world to see itself. I call it the TASS theory, named after the famous Russian state news outlet, born of Soviet times but which thrives into the fourth Putin term. The theory is rather simple and goes something like this — if you want to know what Russia is trying to cover up, look at the narrative the state-controlled media is pushing.

This week the TASS website was replete with angry denials that Russia was involved in the Skripal chemical weapons attack executed inside the United Kingdom. The site promoted “alternative” facts about where the nerve gas used in the attempted assassination could have come from. To the casual observer, the response was not one of sympathy for Britain, the way a friend would act if a colleague had been in an accident. No, it looked like just derision, aggression and snark. As Boris Johnson said, “Russia’s response is not the actions of an innocent country.”

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There was also coverage of the death of Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov, where TASS stated the London police found no evidence of forced entry. Initial reports stated Glushkov’s body was found with “strangulation marks” on his neck. I did not see any coverage from TASS of the fact that the London police are investigating the incident as a homicide. Omission of important facts is just as bad as spinning a false story.

Of course, it is entirely possible that Russia was not involved in this attack. And most rational people would probably give Russia the benefit of the doubt if the past decade had been any different. But, we’ve had a litany of incidents related to Moscow, including the poisoning of a KGB spy in London with radioactive material, the downing of a civilian airliner over Donbass, the annexation of territory from a neighboring country, et cetera, et cetera.

Sergey Skripal and his daughter were not killed, although they remain hospitalized in critical condition. However, this fact does not diminish the absolute seriousness of the attempted murder. Spraying nerve gas all over a British city is serious stuff. More than 20 people were hospitalized, and the incident disrupted the lives of thousands of residents of Salisbury. This was the use of weapons of mass destruction on the civilian populace of a foreign, Western country, one where hundreds of Russian oligarchs have stashed their money and moved their children, in an attempt to get out and away from Vladimir Putin’s Russia with their security and livelihood intact.

Most likely there was a message sent with the Skripal and Glushkov dirty deeds. We may never know what that message really was. We may never know if it was approved by the Kremlin, or if the incidents were the result of rogue elements emanating from the Russian Federation. But most likely the message went something like this:Putin is going no where and we want you and your money back in Russia. You can run but you can’t hide.

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When you talk to a Russian born in Soviet times, and the subject of defectors comes up, they usually reply with a standard, “Yes, we kill them when we can.” Perhaps that was another message the Kremlin sent, one that says, yes, Mr. Putin still takes care of traitors to the motherland. Deep down, that will give many Russians smug satisfaction, even if they won’t say it. Mr. Putin has always been a master at understanding the people he leads and giving them what they want, even if the Russian economy can’t give them what they need at the moment, especially outside of Moscow.

Originally posted at The Washington Times

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