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The Russians Have Weaponized Photoshop

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Breaking News, Citizen Media, Humor, Media & Journalism, Politics, War & Conflict, RuNet Echo
A Russian boot kicked out the US-Israeli war machine before it can reach Ukraine. Image anonymously circulated online.

A Russian boot kicks out the US-Israeli war machine before it can reach Ukraine. Image anonymously circulated online.

As a war looms between Russia and Ukraine, it's no surprise that Russian bloggers are now skirmishing in cyberspace, duking it out over the proper frame for the crisis. Armed conflict being what it is, these exchanges often become emotionally heated and even downright nasty. Indeed, the popular Russian news portal Lenta.ru officially suspended [1] [ru] all reader comments on its website, until tensions in the Crimea subside. In an explanation [2] [ru] posted to Facebook, Lenta.ru's chief editor, Galina Timchenko, said that she came to the decision on her own, not wishing to spend company money on financing “readers’ right to shit in our comments.”

As the Lenta.ru comments shutdown implies, Russian Internet users have blasted the Web with commentary relating to the conflict over Crimea. As Twitter feeds overflow and news changes too fast to accommodate longer-form blogging, one of the most successful ways to grab attention has been an old medium: political cartoons. If we're generous and include in our definition of political cartoons all the meme imagery traded online, then it seems safe to say that Russian bloggers have weaponized Photoshop in the debate about Ukraine.

One of the most amusing political cartoons to circulate online has been a drawing of Death going door-to-door with a bloody scythe. The Death cartoon appeared earlier today in a tweet by Ira Zak (an abbreviated name, presumably), when she sent it to popular pro-Kremlin blogger Anton Korobkov [3] [ru]. The anti-American cartoon is self-explanatory:

Korobkov: The Americans called us the “Evil Empire,” and now we're calling them the “Empire of Lies.”
Zak: There's also another way to go about this… I think it looks like this: [image]

When RuNet Echo's “RuNet Memes” Twitter account disseminated [7] this image, BuzzFeed's Miriam Elder picked it up, retweeting it with the caption, “Return of Soviet-era propaganda”:

As it turns out, the political cartoon may postdate the Soviet Union by two decades, apparently originating in the modern-day Middle East. David Guy, a pro-Israel blogger at “Five Minutes for Israel,” claims [11] that the cartoon was initially created as a criticism of the Wahhabi movement's role in the Arab Spring. In fact, several Twitter users noted [12] the Israeli flag painted on Death's scythe in the image tweeted at Korobkov. (While it's entirely possible that the author of this cartoon's Ukraine-focused iteration harbors anti-Israel sentiments, the Star of David does seem out of place with general Russian criticisms of US policy in Europe, which do not typically vilify the state of Israel, suggesting that it could be a remnant from an older template meant for the Arab world.)

While the image may lack the historical Russian roots that so endear Crimean soil to Moscow, the exploitability of the cartoon has already inspired several responses. Critics of Russian military intervention might enjoy this example, which recasts Death as Russia, and the opened doors as Russia's former war zones: (left to right) the Caucasus, Chechnya, Dagestan, Abkhazia, North Ossetia [sic], and Ukraine: