(Translated from Russian by my Chrome browser. If you have a better translation, feel free to send it to me.)
“Trump cards” of Russian propaganda and disinformation operations
The beginning of the Ukrainian crisis at the end of 2013 not only demonstrated the depth of the gap between Russia and the West, there is another aspect: a quarter of a century since the collapse of the USSR did not lead to the democratization of Russia, and was not a witness of Moscow renouncing its neo-imperial ambitions Historical predecessor. Today, Russia and the West are almost exactly where they were before 1991 – in the opposite trenches, ready for a new round of confrontation. Unfortunately, the current situation may be even more difficult than in the days of the former Soviet Union. The level of anger, hatred and aggression, coupled with a lack of hope for a compromise and the absence of any desire for constructive dialogue, painfully resemble ideological conformation in the era of the Cold War. But we must admit,
Indeed, some may be tempted to explain Russia’s distrust of the West through its difficult history. For a considerable time, the country was haunted by a constant sense of fear and insecurity, which ultimately led to seclusion and distrust of everything “foreign” and thus unknown, and this played an important role in shaping Russia’s national identity. Of course, this strongly influenced the Russian position towards a cultural, economically and technologically superior Europe. Namely, it framed the Russian perception of Europe in a peculiar combination of the silent adoration of the Western way of life, culture and technology, mixed with a showy refusal to openly recognize this. Probably, that is why, despite some optimistic tones,
One such episode was a brief “honeymoon” between Russia and the West after the collapse of the USSR. Great hopes related to restructuring, the “new political thinking” and the “Common European Home” – ideas that were tempted by many Soviet citizens and the progressive intelligentsia, were not justified.
The economic difficulties that hit Russia hard in the 1990s and the painful transition to a new kind of economy led to growing discontent with the reforms and nostalgia for the Soviet period, when “everything” was planned for the people by the state without their direct participation. At the same time, the numerous social unrest (which existed and flourished at the end of the USSR and skillfully concealed by Soviet propaganda), which became especially visible after 1991, turned into a public threat against the “liberals” and those forces that allegedly supported them – “Jews and West”. These stereotypes and prejudices for decades (and even centuries) dominated the mass consciousness of Russian society in difficult times.
The “liberal experiment” was almost completed by 1996, when Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev (with a number of like-minded people) was replaced by a hard line supporter, Yevgeny Primakov. Kozyrev was blamed and accused of “surrendering to the West.” The next was a direct way to increase tensions and reproaches, which were destined to enter into an open confrontation.
Creating a new ideological basis
The changing vector of internal development, connected with the fall of the popularity of liberalism, required the development of a new ideological basis. March 15, 1999 was the first time the telecast “However.” This project, created by Mikhail Leontyev, was an outlet for xenophobia, malicious and anti-Western sentiments coming from Russian television screens. It should be emphasized, however, that an outbreak of anti-Western insanity in Russian society would be impossible without the following changes:
– The economic collapse of Russia (1998), which was widely associated not with the weakness of domestic economists, but was largely attributed to Western economic recommendations;
– NATO’s participation in the war in Yugoslavia (1999) without consultations with Moscow and its expansion to the east (1999-2004) as a “treacherous violation of the promise” given to Gorbachev in the late 1980s;
– A tough criticism of Russian policy in Chechnya on the part of Europeans. This “convinced” public opinion that the ultimate goal of the West is the fragmentation, weakening and humiliation of Russia in an even greater degree;
– “Color revolutions” (in particular, in Georgia and Ukraine), which were interpreted as a frankly anti-Russian move. Years later, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the “color revolutions” as “a new form of the Western war,” while President Putin called them “a warning to Russia”;
– The “huge enlargement” of the EU (2004), as a result of which the three Baltic countries and Poland are countries that (and still are) traditionally perceived as the main source of European Russophobia in the “European family” of nations.
However, the main activities in the period 2004-2008 There was a tendency to prepare “soil” in the domestic theater. Thus, Moscow has taken steps aimed at consolidating the internal anti-democratic forces. Among the most notable are:
– The creation of various “anti-fascist” and “patriotic” organizations (such as Nashi (2005), Young Russia and Young Guard of United Russia) is openly anti-Western;
– the emergence of two new pro-government ultra-conservative television channels – Spas (Orthodoxy) and Zvezda (military-oriented), as well as Russia Today (RT);
– the creation of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation (2007) with branches in New York and Paris led by the well-known Russian conservative nationalists Andranik Migranyan and Natalya Narotchnitskaya;
– The launch of the Russkiy Mir Foundation (2007), led by the ultra-conservative Vyacheslav Nikonov (grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov).
Nevertheless, over time, the huge negative sentiments and propaganda escapades were leveled against the US and its European allies, while Germany, France and southern European countries were either very mildly criticized or portrayed as “victims of American domination.” This misunderstanding was inspired by Russian propaganda forces that tried to create an artificial gap between the EU members and undermine transatlantic solidarity. This was seen in 2003 (the beginning of the war in Iraq), 2005 (the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad / Koenigsberg) and 2005/07 (the first concrete steps related to the Nord Stream project), when pro-Kremlin propaganda launched a series of attacks on the part of the so-called “Old” Europe against the “new” members. However, this brought only limited success and caused disappointment and disappointment among the Russian elites. Consequently, Moscow preferred to move from the EU’s mostly soft criticism to the rhetoric of ultimatums and blackmail.
The main fact that convinced Moscow of the “legality” of this approach was the distorted view of the EU as an agglomeration of countries linked by economic ties that can not withstand Russia’s serious competition from the point of view of military power.
Russian confidence (along with a sense of impunity) became even stronger when the EU failed to adequately respond to a series of gas wars with Ukraine (2005/6) that violated the Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances (1994), cyber attacks against Estonia (2007) , Aggression against Georgia (2008) and the beginning of the remilitarization of the Kaliningrad region (2009). Feeling its military superiority, Moscow came up with the idea of “collective security” with Russia’s key role at the expense of NATO’s presence on the continent. Nevertheless, after the aggression against Georgia and the massive military construction in the Baltic, aimed at harassing and intimidating regional players, this project seemed more like a diplomatic distraction than a sincere tool for strengthening security.
The final break with the remnants of proximity to the West and Europe was completed in 2012. The events on Bolotnaya Square were interpreted by Moscow as the most despicable attempt of the West to kindle the process of regime change in Russia according to the pattern of “color revolutions”. In addition to strengthening anti-protest legal norms, Moscow consolidated anti-European and anti-Western forces under the auspices of the “Izborsk Club” (2012) – the agglomeration of the most famous Russian conservatives and reactionaries.
It seemed that by 2012 Russia was ready to challenge the West on the battlefield of information and propaganda. He just needed a spark to start the battle.
“Year of the Great Turn”: Russian anti-European propaganda after 2013
Evromaydan in Kiev (late autumn 2013) was a turning point, which dramatically changed both the course and the essence of Russian anti-Western and anti-European propaganda. A new era in the history of Russian misinformation was launched on December 9, 2013, when Vladimir Putin signed an order establishing a multilingual information agency “Russia Today”, which was to become the main source of Russian propaganda for the outside audience. In 2014, the Sputnik news agency (operating in more than 30 languages), consisting of news websites, broadcasting services and directly controlled by the agency “Russia Today”, appeared. In 2013, there was another Russian news site LifeNews (consisting of a news site and a 24-hour television channel). He was repeatedly accused not only of,
These three information centers, which appeared in a very short period, are a terrific example of a very clever, flexible and sophisticated misinformation that is oriented toward the outside audience. This predetermines both ways of delivery and further distribution (des) of information. Unlike those used for domestic consumption, this propaganda is widely based on quasi-argumentative discourse, refraining from direct distortion, struggling with rhetoric or threats to turn other countries into radioactive dust. Instead, the main idea is based on the “soft” discredit of both the US and the EU, providing an “alternative opinion” and the unofficial accusation of the “other side” that they do not disclose the whole truth. This naturally follows from the main slogans: “Speaking of the unspeakable” (“Sputnik”) and “News from the first mouth” (LifeNews).
In addition to using multilingual content (which often varies from country to country), the aura of “objectivity” is created by the appearance of foreign journalists and television viewers. This contrasts sharply with the European media, which, as a rule, rely on internal resources. In addition, these media do not shy away from quoting foreign politicians and experts. The obstacle, however, is that these “independent” opinions are gathered from open (or silent) supporters / fans of Vladimir Putin. Moreover, these media have repeatedly been convicted of cooperation with “experts” with a rather dubious reputation, many of which are not experts on the topics under discussion. Unfortunately, these are details that remain unknown to non-specialists and external viewers.
A completely different turn is manifested in the propagation of “internal consumption.” The notorious pro-Kremlin journalist, a zealous anti-Semite, openly xenophobic and homophobic Dmitry Kiselev (head of the company “Russia Today” and deputy director of the Russian state television company VGTRK) became a living embodiment of anti-European propaganda. His weekly appearances on the Russia-1 television channel were filled with misanthropic ideas and hatred, permeated with anti-Ukrainian, anti-European, anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiments. In his statements Kiselev relied heavily on pseudo-historical and quasi-scientific facts and data. For example, his anti-European rhetorical escapades led to a wild revelation about the existing anti-Russian “alliance” between “European Russophobes”. According to Kiselyov, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden “are still dreaming of taking revenge on Russia for the Battle of Poltava in 1709”. This and other numerous absurd statements describe the general atmosphere of obscurantism and paranoia that the Russian audience is exposed to.
Anti-Western and anti-European sentiments among the Russian audience are also inflamed by pseudo historians and writers, such as the neo-Stalinist Nikolai Starikov and the ultra-conservative Alexander Prokhanov (the apologist of the Stalinist USSR and the North Korean model) who seem to have full and unconditional support from the Kremlin. On the same list, one could add the Russian neo-fascist thinker Alexander Dugin, one of whose main tasks was to establish close ties with European extreme right and neo-Nazi groups as the “European allies” of the Kremlin.
In her analysis, Russian journalist Ksenia Kirillova told about the following tasks of Russian propaganda:
1) weaken critical thinking;
2) create an image of the enemy;
3) link all internal problems to external factors;
4) emphasize the consolidation of society in the face of a military threat;
5) create the image of Vladimir Putin as the only leader capable of resisting a military threat;
6) prepare for the inevitable difficulties of “wartime”;
7) To create for the West the image of a united Russia, ready for war.
The most dangerous feature of the Russian propaganda course after 2013 is the cultivation of militarism and Stalinism among Russians, with a special emphasis on the younger generation. It is aimed at moral preparation of the Russian audience for a potential war with the West, which bitterly resembles the Soviet experience. To this end, the Russian authorities created two movements – “Anti-Maydan” and “Unarmia”. The former gathers people from all walks of life, including prominent public figures, athletes and intellectuals, as well as war veterans and Cossacks, the so-called patriotic core. The latter intends to acquaint the Russian youth with the armed forces and to promote militarism and “patriotic feelings”. By the way, this initiative was personally blessed by Sergei Shoigu.
Another phenomenon that should be associated with the beginning of political confrontation between Russia and the West from 2013 was the emergence of a pool of so-called “trolls” and “bots”. “Trolls” (online web pages operated by people) and “bots” (controlled by automatic processes) have become a powerful tool for forming opinions and creating anti-European and anti-American feelings among domestic and foreign audiences. Without going into details, it should be mentioned that the main task of both elements is to create a debate between readers of online publications that will degenerate into debates that usually end in a flood of denigration, as well as intimidation and harassment of foreign and domestic journalists and social activists who Do not agree with the position of the Kremlin and are trying to express an alternative opinion. As a result, In the context of the information war against the West, Moscow received an effective army of prepaid “virtual fighters”, which are not easily detected. Of the large number of platforms and social networks used by trolls, it is worth mentioning the following two – Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, which are the main sources of pro-Kremlin (and anti-Western) propaganda at the grassroots level. It would not be entirely correct to reduce the influence of these networks on the Russian internal audience. They became extremely popular throughout the post-Soviet territory, as well as among Russians living abroad. It is worth mentioning the following two – Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, which are the main sources of pro-Kremlin (and anti-Western) propaganda at the grassroots level. It would not be entirely correct to reduce the influence of these networks on the Russian internal audience. They became extremely popular throughout the post-Soviet territory, as well as among Russians living abroad. It is worth mentioning the following two – Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, which are the main sources of pro-Kremlin (and anti-Western) propaganda at the grassroots level. It would not be entirely correct to reduce the influence of these networks on the Russian internal audience. They became extremely popular throughout the post-Soviet territory, as well as among Russians living abroad.
In an article entitled “The Virtual Eye of the Big Brother,” the pillars of Russian trolling were defined as follows:
1) protection of Stalinism;
2) praising the personalities of Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu, as well as the Russian armed forces;
3) aggressive militarism;
4) anti-Semitism and xenophobia in the fascist style;
5) the sacred sanctity of the Chechen war;
6) loyalty to the KGB / FSB and hatred of the “fifth column”, “deserters” and independent journalists;
7) anti-Americanism and anti-Western sentiments;
8) Soviet nostalgia and the rejection of perestroika;
9) the accusation of dissidents and liberals in Russophobia.
These are the key goals adopted by the Russian anti-European (and generally anti-Western) propaganda, as Cyrus Giles defined:
– a direct lie with the aim of misinformation of both the domestic population and foreign societies;
– hiding critical information;
– burial of valuable information in the mass of information slag;
– Simplification, confirmation and repetition (incubation);
– terminological substitution: the use of concepts and terms, the meanings of which are unclear or have undergone qualitative changes;
– the introduction of taboos on specific forms of information or news categories;
– Pattern recognition: famous politicians or celebrities can take part in political actions in order, thus influencing the outlook of their followers;
– the provision of negative information, which is more easily perceived by the audience than positive.
“Trump cards” of Russian propaganda
In general, Russian propaganda is a complex, multifaceted and skillfully processed phenomenon. Its strengths can be represented as a deck of cards, each of which plays its unique role and has a specific purpose attributed to it.
Map number 1. Anti-fascism. The victory in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), which took the lives of millions of Soviet citizens, still remains one of the main sources of national pride and sadness. The legacy of this event was invested in the celebrations on May 9 and reached additional symbolism during the Brezhnev period, but quickly lost popularity in the early 1990s. Everything changed in the second half of the 2000s. As the legitimate heir to the USSR, the Russian Federation monopolized the triumph of the Soviet people in this war, assuming the referee, referring to the countries as “fascists”. “The Orange Revolution in Ukraine” and “The Case of the Bronze Soldier” in Estonia will be the first attempts to play the “fascist card” and mobilize the internal public opinion against Ukraine and Estonia, respectively, which were carried out on a limited scale. The decisive moment occurred in 2013 with events in the southeast of Ukraine, when the topics related to “fascist Ukraine ruled by a crowd of Nazi criminals” began to dominate the Russian propaganda discourse that is used both domestically and internationally. These groundless accusations (especially given the role of the USSR at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939) find overwhelming support among the Russian domestic public. Moreover, it proves to be very effective for external purposes, especially among the southern European countries. These groundless accusations (especially given the role of the USSR at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939) find overwhelming support among the Russian domestic public. Moreover, it proves to be very effective for external purposes, especially among the southern European countries. These groundless accusations (especially given the role of the USSR at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939) find overwhelming support among the Russian domestic public. Moreover, it proves to be very effective for external purposes, especially among the southern European countries.
Map number 2. Conservatism. Russia is a country that, due to history, is predisposed to political conservatism. Modern Russian conservative discourse is based on a combination of religion, political will (combined with military power) and traditionalism in social relations. This often represents the Russian authorities as a viable alternative to the “morally stagnant” Europe, which quickly departs from traditional Christian values. Russian propaganda depicts Europeans as a drowning in hedonism, sexual perversion, pedophilia and immorality. This creates the image of Europe as “Sodom and Gomorrah of the XXI century” – something that repels the Russian national spirit, culture and traditions. In this regard, it would be interesting to recall,
At this point, it would be worthwhile to emphasize the idea expressed by Russian Patriarch Kirill during his visit to Kaliningrad in 2015, when he demanded that the Russian enclave become a Russian beacon of morality for the whole of Europe, which is getting out of the way. Given the level of euroscepticism in the EU and the glittering facade that Moscow was able to erect in the Putin era, this image can be dangerously attractive, especially for those who are not familiar with the actual state of Russia’s internal affairs.
Card number 3. Diaspora. The collapse of the USSR, known as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”, witnessed 25 million ethnic Russians remaining in the new sovereign countries. Initially, this issue was humiliation and was rarely discussed by the Russian authorities. But over time, Moscow was able to turn it into one of the most powerful instruments of influence on the internal affairs of other countries and propaganda purposes. Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine saw the pretext for “discrimination” of ethnic Russians could lead to direct participation of Russia. Using the Russophobia map, Russian propaganda has two goals: undermines internal cohesion in the EU, promotes separatist movements and cultivates the conflict within these countries, deliberately undermining the endogenous population and the Russian minority against each other. One of the best examples is the “Latgalian People’s Republic” (October 2012), which should be regarded as a severe warning not only for the government of Latvia, but also for the EU as a whole, especially taking into account the Ukrainian scenario. In fact, Russian propaganda has created a map of separatist movements in Europe that can be used by Moscow to undermine internal stability and cohesion among European countries.
Card number 4. Flexibility. Russian propaganda proved to be outstanding in terms of flexibility. Paradoxically, it was able to fascinate forces from different sides of the spectrum of European forces, ranging from distant leftists and anarchists (based on antifascism) to various types of populist and even extreme right-wing radicals (militarism, conservatism and anti-Islamic sentiment are the driving force). In addition, Russian propaganda is very effective in using the feelings and hopes of some newly admitted EU members whose expectations do not fully correspond to the expected results. Referring to the Soviet period, pro-Kremlin propagandists maintain that membership in the EU did not bring anything better to the former members of the socialist camp and instead turned them into a source of cheap labor for the more developed member states.
Map 5. Effective construction of myths. Unlike the “decadent West”, Russia proved to be an extremely effective creator of myths. One such myth about “subordinating Chechnya” with the iron hand of Vladimir Putin, is admired by many European (and domestic) conservatives and even ordinary people who tend to blame domestic politicians for indecision. Another myth is “a prosperous Russia and a poor Europe”. The outbreak of the “war of sanctions” between Russia and the West has witnessed a certain transformation of the campaign against the EU, which relies on myths associated with Europe, allegedly “choking” as a result of counter-sanctions imposed by Moscow. Russian media are filled with stories about “poor Polish farmers” and “old Finnish agricultural sector”, which can no longer find new markets. The same way, Russian discourse also adopted a thesis that reduces to the following formula: “because Europe has deteriorated economically, the way of life and the economic model no longer seem attractive to most Russians,” while Russia presents a much more flexible and thus attractive economic model that is invincible From the external pressure side. Given the scale of Russian poverty, these arguments seem rather ridiculous, but they remain unknown among those Europeans who can not see the difference and therefore can not draw the right conclusions. An attractive economic model that is invincible from outside pressure. Given the scale of Russian poverty, these arguments seem rather ridiculous, but they remain unknown among those Europeans who can not see the difference and therefore can not draw the right conclusions. An attractive economic model that is invincible from outside pressure. Given the scale of Russian poverty, these arguments seem rather ridiculous, but they remain unknown among those Europeans who can not see the difference and therefore can not draw the right conclusions.
Map 6. Aggressive style. At the end of 2016, the Russian embassy in Vilnius began distributing provocative leaflets that encouraged Lithuanians to move from their homeland to the Kaliningrad region, a neighboring Russian enclave entirely dependent on financial support from the Kremlin, in search of better living conditions. Despite the fact that it was a myth that was immediately ridiculed by Lithuanian economists, the goal was indicated in any case. The main strategy of Russian propaganda is to present as much misinformation as possible, since it is practically impossible and senseless to confront each part of it. Russian propagandists do not really think about the potential for international reaction or counterarguments, their main goal is to spread doubts by spreading lies. In this respect, this behavior pattern resembles the methods of trolling. Furthermore,
Unlike Europeans, Russians are willing to spend huge financial resources on projects that are considered to be strategically important regardless of the well-being of the population. The notorious phrase written by Ivan Vyshnegradsky among the terrible famine that struck Russia in 1891, which took the lives of millions of Russian peasants (“we must starve, but export”), should not be regarded as a relic of the past. Thanks to powerful propagandistic and historical reasons, the Russian internal audience is convinced that the economic and political sanctions of the West (including the EU) are a punishment for an aggressive foreign policy. This makes it easy for Russians to cope with difficulties that are interpreted as the price necessary for Russia to “get up off its knees.”
At this stage, one of the most distinctive features and undoubted strengths of undemocratic regimes is their ability to mobilize resources (both human and material) for a specific task in a very short period of time. Russian history boasts a large number of such examples, and the field of propaganda is no exception. This, however, is only one side of the coin. History has witnessed many cases of undemocratic regimes that were defeated by the inability to transform after achieving their original goals.
As powerful and omnipotent as Russian propaganda may seem on the surface, it has many flaws and limitations. In this regard, Europe should not forget the words of Otto von Bismarck who pointed out that “Russia is not as strong as weak as it appears”.
Powerful and all-powerful Russian propaganda, as it may seem at first glance, has many shortcomings and limitations. Therefore, Europe should not forget the words of Otto von Bismarck, who said that “Russia is not strong and not weak as it seems.”
Sergei Sukhankin, historian, Baltic Federal University. Emmanuel Kant, Kaliningrad; Associate expert of the International Center for Policy Studies, Kiev; A researcher at the Center for International Relations (Barcelona), co-author of publications in the Jamesstone Foundation (Washington, DC)