Cathy Young has an interesting post describing a recent "documentary" aired on Russian state television promoting claims that the US government itself orchestrated the 9/11 attack against the World Trade Center. Obviously, under Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule, state television would not air such a program if it didn't suit the government's purposes for them to do so. That the Russian government now seeks to promote such extreme anti-Americanism among its people is disturbing to say the least.
At the same time, a measure of perspective is in order. A recent World Public Opinion survey shows that 57% of Russians know that Al Qaeda perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, while 15% believe that it was the US government and 2% cite Israel (a lower figure than I would have expected in light of Russia's history of anti-Semitism). These numbers are similar to results from Western European nations such as France (63% blaming Al Qaeda, 8% the US), Germany (64% and 23%), Italy (56% and 15%), and Britain (57% and 5%). Thus, 9/11 denialism is not (yet) significantly more common in Russia than in Western Europe. For my earlier analysis of this survey and its implications, see here.
If I had to guess, I would say that the Russian government's decision to air the denialist film has more to do with shoring up public support for the regime by directing public ire at an external enemy than with an active desire to provoke a confrontation with the US. With oil prices falling, the Russian economy is likely to suffer and the regime's grip on power become less firm. Putin and his henchmen may believe they need to ramp up their propaganda efforts by appealing to Russian nationalism even more than before. It is notable that, in a segment appearing right after the film, at the end of the movie, state network commentators claimed Russia was the world's only hope to resist America's "predatory" power, a message calculated to warm the hearts of Russian nationalists.
Unfortunately, history shows that such cynical stoking of the fires of extreme nationalism and anti-Americanism can easily get out of control. Most likely, Putin's objective in spreading this disinformation is merely to strengthen domestic support for his regime. But some of the millions of viewers will actually believe the claptrap on the show and possibly act on it when and if extreme nationalists get their hands on power in the future.
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