News Brief

Sympathy and Suspicion from the Russian Media Towards French Protests

As France’s “yellow vests” protest movement against rising taxes and other economic issues has entered its fourth week, Russia’s pro-Kremlin media have been paying close attention.

“This looks like the agony of the fifth Republic,” said Dmitry Kiselyov on his widely-watched Sunday-night news roundup.

Often described as President Vladimir Putin’s “propagandist-in-chief,” he portrayed the protesters as righteous everymen responding to a European “leadership crisis,” but still implied that U.S. intelligence services “might be part of the game.”

State-aligned NTV’s “Mesto Vstrechi” talk show took a similar line, both sympathizing with the protests and peddling conspiracist innuendo.

On the one hand, host Andrey Norkin described them as “a new Arab spring,” with a guest predicting a “people’s revolution.”

But the Kremlin has a history of antipathy towards organic protest. When demonstrations erupted in Russia in 2011 against Putin’s rule, he accused former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of stoking them. And Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, helping to undermine her campaign, is widely seen to be the payback.

Echoing Kremlin thinking, Norkin then adopted a more cynical tone, saying: “I refuse to believe this is a spontaneous process that nobody is supervising. I think such a thing cannot exist.”

He mocked accusations, though, of Russian interference. “As for the Western press, we will now have a hearty laugh because they think we, Russia, are to blame,” he said.

Some Western observers have noted that Kremlin-connected Twitter accounts seem disproportionately interested in the French protests, and that Russian state-funded media are exaggerating the impact of the protests.

RT laughed this off. “Imagine!” said a piece on its website,“The audacity of RT to closely cover the worst civil unrest France has seen in years.”

Some, like Ukraine’s Security Service, have accused Russia of helping instigate the protests directly. Such claims rely on circumstantial evidence of the pro-Russian leanings of some activists. There is no doubt though that there is a certain glee in Russian media coverage of the unrest besetting one of Europe’s most important states.