Russian disinformation has reached new levels of absurdity. According to the pro-Kremlin media, the UK is on the verge of cannibalism. The unlikely source of this terrifying rumour? None other than TV presenter, journalist and part-time farmer Jeremy Clarkson.
Over the past few weeks, the British media has been awash with reports on the spiralling cost of food, utilities and just about everything else. The government and commentators alike have drawn links between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis engulfing the country. You’d be hard pressed to miss it.
It seems the Russian media have also picked up on the notes of alarm coming from the UK and, in the process have stumbled across Clarkson’s musings. Writing for the Sunday Times on 15 May, Clarkson laments the war-triggered inflation, and expresses concerns over the inevitability of more people being left unable to afford rocketing food prices.
He writes: ‘Politicians say they are ‘monitoring the situation’, which means they aren’t doing anything at all, but one day they will have to because while people can live without heat or clothing or even sex, they cannot live without food. Hunger makes people eat their neighbours.’
Clarkson’s concerns are real and clear, but the fact much of his article is written in his classic tongue-in-cheek style is lost on the Russians. To them, this appears to have been a serious propaganda coup. Triumphantly, the Russian mainstream pro-Putin media have taken Clarkson’s words and run with them.
‘The (inflation) crisis has only been going on a few weeks,’ conservative Orthodox Church-supporting outlet Tsargrad screamed, ‘And the British are already being pushed towards…cannibalism!’
Popular broadsheet Izvestiya took a more measured approach: ‘Journalist and former presenter of the British show Top Gear Jeremy Clarkson has warned humanity of the inevitably of cannibalism because of the situation in Ukraine.’ Sombrely, it added that Clarkson believes the moment isn’t far off when the world’s food crisis will force ‘people to eat each other’.
The online newsite Pravda echoed this with their headline: ‘Former Top Gear presenter Clarkson: the world is at risk of cannibalism as a result of Ukraine’ it boomed. Sobering stuff.
The ability of the Russian media to twist, elaborate or simply make up information to suit the state’s agenda is nothing new. Just take the slew of disinformation churned out since the start of the war in Ukraine.
While few Western readers will believe these Russian headlines, and would recognise that Clarkson probably doesn’t mean that Britain is literally on the precipice of cannibalism, they are not the target readership.
In jumping on Clarkson’s words, the Russian media is looking for ammunition to justify their, and the State’s, rhetoric on Ukraine and the West to the home crowd. The outlets that have repackaged Clarkson’s words are some of the most popular, well-read publications in the country.
These articles make up part of a larger drip drip drip of reporting designed to keep Russians onside in the face of a war they’re losing and increasing geopolitical isolation. The aim is to convince Russians that it is the West, and not them, who is suffering most from this conflict.
That Britain and other parts of the world are facing serious issues over the cost of living and risk of food shortages is in no doubt. That those food shortages will push us to cannibalism is nothing but Kremlin propaganda.
This is part of a series of reports from The Spectator about what’s being said in Russian-language press and social media.
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