Russian Interventionism and the Art of Confusion

 

RT_Putin“When Putin came to power, the first thing he did was take control of state television. Not the secret service, not national intelligence, but the media.” Peter Pomerantsev, senior fellow at the Legatum Institute in London and expert on modern Russia, said this in an interview with Swedish national radio as they recently reported on a Swedish military official expressing concern over systematic Russian attempts to infiltrate and influence Swedish and European media.

The Russian interventionism was never more evident than during the aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 catastrophe, when a jet was shot down over Ukraine in 2014. As soon as the official Dutch crash report was published a year later, it was countered by an “alternative” report out of Russia, as well as an alternative press conference aired hours before the Dutch report came out, chronicling a reconstruction of the crash performed by Russian experts. These Russian experts, paid by the Kremlin, came to the conclusion that while it may have been Russian-made robots that shot down the aircraft and killed 300 people, these robots were no longer used by Russia but rather by the Ukrainian army, and that the Russian reconstruction had shown that the missiles probably were fired from Kiev. The findings lauded by the Russians had been investigated and debunked by the Dutch air crash investigators, but none of that information was deemed pertinent to what ended up making it on Russian TV.

What Russia and the Kremlin are doing is putting forth an image of controversy, as if the “alternative” theory regarding the crash is equally valid and probable as compared to the international consensus, and through these measures they appear to be making headway. We have seen the effects of Putin’s media strategy in the aftermath of flight MH17, with the swift dying down of outrage toward Russian annexation of Crimea and of course, the dilution and denigration of opposition forces in Syria.

RT Media, formerly known as Russia Today, is spearheading the effort to confuse and muddle the media landscape along with Sputnik News. Both outlets having strong ideological and financial ties to the Kremlin. RT Media is said to have an average of 700 million viewers around the world each week and they are also highly active and popular on social media, having published 164,000 politically charged tweets in five years to 2,5 million followers. In these tweets, as well as the RT and Sputnik broadcasts, ideas and facts coming out of the West are referred to as “mainstream media,” discarded as anti-Russian propaganda, and they are not shy about using opposing political forces in order to spread this message.

RT and Sputnik features many European journalists and commentators, predominantly from the very far right and the very far left, such as neo-Nazis and anti-European fringe groups from the Swedish National Democrats to the British BNP. Sputnik News publishes in several European languages, among them Swedish, and by positioning itself as a broad international news outlet, Sputnik’s journalists and contributors are often featured in traditional media outlets whenever Russia and Putin are debated. They win out on mere availability on subjects where native Russian voices are few and far between.

When Russian state-sponsored media reports on the EU, it focuses on European immigration-failures, crime stats, and the downfall of the European family, with every report concluding that a strong Russia represents the only hope of salvation for a spiraling European continent, replacing the hapless NATO and EU. Slowly but surely Russia is reshaping the political narrative, not only white-washing its own geopolitical aggression but perhaps more disturbingly making the truth out to be an opinion, like any other, thus being replaceable and interchangeable at any time.

Putin is widening his range and tightening his grip by military force as well as the more cunning PR machine that is a product and tool of the modern day. With many an aspiring journalist doing his bidding through paid tweets and blogs and seemingly spontaneous and unbridled shows of public support, he is rebuilding an empire that once again has come to conquer and degrade the Western world — unwittingly aided by the very media he is setting out to overturn.

The Russian propaganda machine has come a long way since the old Soviet era and the method has gone from violent persuasion to articulate confusion, the latter proving to be surprisingly effective. As the Kremlin-sponsored RT media broadcasted the “alternative” press conference on the Malaysian Airliner last year, Swedish, French, and German press was there to report on their findings; teaching the controversy that wasn’t one until the Kremlin said it was so.

Published in Foreign Policy
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  1. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Evil changes its shape and face, but its still evil.  It is sad (and scary) to see Russia going down the same hell hole, after attempts at trying to bring democracy and freedom to the Russian people and peace to its neighbors.  With all the modern toys, now it is  so much easier than the cold war to spread tentacles of misery, debauchery, dishonesty and despair, and it’s worse than ever.

    Past leadership that lead with with conviction and courage kept the bear in its cage at least for awhile, with the likes of Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, even George W. Bush. But every time we appease,  the bear gets strong again.  Is there an answer to this?

    • #1
  2. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein:

    “The Russian propaganda machine has come a long way since the old Soviet era and the method has gone from violent persuasion to articulate confusion, the latter proving to be surprisingly effective…”

    The Russian comic Yakov Smirnoff use to tell a joke about this:

    “In Russia, we have two television stations. One is all propaganda.
    The other is a KGB agent screaming ‘Turn it back to channel one!!!”

    It appears Vladimir Putin has replaced the screaming KGB agent with yet more propaganda.

    • #2
  3. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein:Slowly but surely Russia is reshaping the political narrative… perhaps more disturbingly making the truth out to be an opinion, like any other, thus being replaceable and interchangeable at any time.

    Just like any university campus in the good ol’ U.S.A. Perhaps when Putin retires he can emigrate to the U.S. and become a college dean.

    • #3
  4. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    This is an important point to remember when we Americans read European news. Claire has similarly warned against ubiquitous Putin propaganda.

    I fell for some myself recently, assuming it had at least some truth since it was shared by US veterans. It didn’t.

    Thanks.

    • #4
  5. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    RT Media, formerly known as Russia Today, is spearheading the effort to confuse and muddle the media landscape . . .

    No, I’m not drawing (entirely) a moral equivalence.  But in its essential purposes, this is exactly what the Clinton noise factory has been doing for decades.  Breitbart called it the “Democrat Media Complex.” Leftists and other authoritarians never forget that controlling information is always the first strategic imperative.

    • #5
  6. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Aaron Miller:This is an important point to remember when we Americans read European news. Claire has similarly warned against ubiquitous Putin propaganda.

    I fell for some myself recently, assuming it had at least some truth since it was shared by US veterans. It didn’t.

    Thanks.

    And the Republican Party will soon nominate a candidate that himself has the support of RT, and I am sure will unconsciously parrot their  line.

    • #6
  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Aaron Miller:I fell for some myself recently, assuming it had at least some truth since it was shared by US veterans. It didn’t.

    Thanks.

    They target US veterans very deliberately. Both with the propaganda and by getting them to write for them. It’s obvious why they’d do this.

    • #7
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Thanks for this post, Annika. I’m working this year on a book about the changes in Europe, and I’d love to meet you at some point to talk about them. One of the chapters will certainly be about the way Russia is shaping Europe — and American attitudes toward Europe — through a propaganda campaign that seems to me light-years ahead of the old KGB stuff, in sophistication. Often people reply to things I’ve written on social media with words that come straight from the Kremlin and are now believed as fact.

    One psychological effect of this, on journalists who are aware of it, is that it makes them hesitant to report critically on things taking place in their own countries, since you know that if you report on, say, failures of Belgian security or Muslim integration in France, it will show up in some wildly exaggerated form in Sputnik–“Europe Ungovernable! Overrun by Hordes! All America’s fault! I suspect that this leads to some self-censorship by journalists who don’t enjoy doing the Kremlin’s work for it.

    • #8
  9. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Thanks for this post, Annika. I’m working this year on a book about the changes in Europe, and I’d love to meet you at some point to talk about them. One of the chapters will certainly be about the way Russia is shaping Europe — and American attitudes toward Europe — through a propaganda campaign that seems to me light-years ahead of the old KGB stuff, in sophistication. Often people reply to things I’ve written on social media with words that come straight from the Kremlin and are now believed as fact.

    One psychological effect of this, on journalists who are aware of it, is that it makes them hesitant to report critically on things taking place in their own countries, since you know that if you report on, say, failures of Belgian security or Muslim integration in France, it will show up in some wildly exaggerated form in Sputnik–“Europe Ungovernable! Overrun by Hordes! All America’s fault! I suspect that this leads to some self-censorship by journalists who don’t enjoy doing the Kremlin’s work for it.

    Would that be reverse-censorship? Then he wins! Ugh!

    • #9
  10. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    … Russia is … making the truth out to be an opinion, like any other, thus being replaceable and interchangeable at any time.

    I certainly hope you’ll collaborate with Claire . . . we’ve much to learn from you two, especially about the modalities of Russia’s information warfare operations and their successes in Europe.

    I can’t quite fathom any reasonably educated person taking seriously an official Russian report on the murder of Malaysia Air’s passengers.  It’s such a grim reality that it’s horrible to use the word “laughable,” but how else can one describe Russian propaganda?  You have to be suffering from some form of diminished capacity to take seriously anything coming from the Kremlin’s mouthpieces.  Are the inhabitants of a continent so dramatically bounded by history already so far removed from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact that they do not implicitly understand Russian perfidy?

    To me that’s the story.  Russians being Russian—it was ever thus.  The real story is embedded in the underlined portion of your quote above: the only reason Putin’s clever thugs can be effective is because the ground was prepared by the assault—systematically undertaken principally by European intellectuals—on (1) the concept of “truth”; (2) the distinctiveness and unrivaled world-historical significance of European culture and civilization.

    I’ll confess a bit of guilty (and self-defeating) pleasure in witnessing this comeuppance.

    • #10
  11. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    HVTs: I’ll confess a bit of guilty (and self-defeating) pleasure in witnessing this comeuppance.

    What comeuppance? The GOP frontrunner thinks reports of Putin killing journalists are “unproven.”

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    HVTs: To me that’s the story. Russians being Russian—it was ever thus.

    I wish you’d rethink this.  Not all Russians have been ever thus, but it is useful to the Putin cause to have Westerners react like this.

    • #12
  13. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    The GOP frontrunner thinks reports of Putin killing journalists are “unproven.”

    Hence my acknowledgement it’s self-defeating. Would that we could contain such idiocy to that continent!

    But let’s not pretend that Putin is unique in using information warfare techniques to herd the gullible and mobilize public opinion.  That’s not to draw a moral equivalence; we’re talking tactics right now.

    Euro-elites have benefited from biased reporting about Europe’s socio-cultural conditions for decades.  (BTW – the analog here is biased reporting on immigrant crime — see Ann Coulter, Adios America.)  They’ve ignored dangerously low rates of Muslim cultural assimilation, for instance, contributing to popular acceptance of unsustainable immigration levels and abject unpreparedness for such things as the Paris and Brussels atrocities.  I mean, goodness, Paris occurred after the clear warning sent by the Charlie Hebdo slaughter. (Not to mention Theo Van Gogh’s ritualistic murder, and other less well known events. If memory serves you admirably addressed many in Menace in Europe).  Annika lives in Sweden; what’s it like on the assimilation front there?  Any Muslim rapes and assaults go unremarked in the press?  How about the suppression of New Year’s assaults in Germany and elsewhere in Europe?  Claire, you argued—based upon press reporting—that the Paris atrocities didn’t involve faux Syrian refugees . . . eventually the EU admitted that it did.

    Putin is a big problem, but the EU-afflicted get it from all sides.  As do we here.

    • #13
  14. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    The Reticulator:

    HVTs: To me that’s the story. Russians being Russian—it was ever thus.

    I wish you’d rethink this. Not all Russians have been ever thus, but it is useful to the Putin cause to have Westerners react like this.

    I’m not clear on how it’s useful to Putin if one reacts with historical perspective on Russian tactics.  Be that as it may, why is the fact ‘not all Russians’ do this important?  We’re talking about the actions of the Russian government, aren’t we?  One hardly needs reminding that governments don’t always behave in a manner that reflects its citizens’ interests or ethos . . . especially not if the government is Russia’s!

    • #14
  15. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    HVTs:

    The Reticulator:

    HVTs: To me that’s the story. Russians being Russian—it was ever thus.

    I wish you’d rethink this. Not all Russians have been ever thus, but it is useful to the Putin cause to have Westerners react like this.

    I’m not clear on how it’s useful to Putin if one reacts with historical perspective on Russian tactics. Be that as it may, why is the fact ‘not all Russians’ do this important? We’re talking about the actions of the Russian government, aren’t we? One hardly needs reminding that governments don’t always behave in a manner that reflects its citizens’ interests or ethos . . . especially not if the government is Russia’s!

    It is useful to help drive a wedge between the concepts of 1) Putin’s government and 2) the Russian people.  Some Russians would appreciate it and would thank you for your assistance.

    Not all Russian governments have waged the same disinformation campaign that Putin’s is doing, btw.  And as you rightly point out, a lot of it is going on in our own country.  But to wash our hands of it and say it’s all the same is laziness and defeatism.

    • #15
  16. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    The Reticulator:It is useful to help drive a wedge between the concepts of 1) Putin’s government and 2) the Russian people. Some Russians would appreciate it and would thank you for your assistance.

    Not all Russian governments have waged the same disinformation campaign that Putin’s is doing, btw. And as you rightly point out, a lot of it is going on in our own country. But to wash our hands of it and say it’s all the same is laziness and defeatism.

    Please, go drive that wedge . . . I’ll salute you.  It’s just not what I’m trying to do right now, here on Ricochet of all places.  I thought it should be clear to this audience from the context of the thread that “Russians being Russian” referred to the actions of Putin’s government.  I hope that now, at least, it is.

    As an aside, most Russians are perfectly fine with what Putin is doing in Europe, Ukraine, Crimea (especially!), Syria, to journalists, etc.  Sad, but true.

    As far as your “not all Russian governments” comment . . . how about we just take the last 100ish years?  During the the vast majority of it, Russia has been ruled by leaders implacably anti-U.S. and, indeed, engaged in an information war against us.  You disagree?

    BTW – I didn’t point out what you say I did.  That’s your interpretation.

    • #16
  17. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Incidentally, this is the propaganda piece that snagged me. Most of the article is ridiculous and didn’t interest me. But the early bits about China joining Russia in Syria raised an eyebrow and prompted me to share and ask if anyone knew more about the claim. I suspect (I hope) that the veteran group I follow on Facebook shared it for similar reasons.

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    HVTs:Please, go drive that wedge . . . I’ll salute you. It’s just not what I’m trying to do right now, here on Ricochet of all places.

    It’s what we all should be doing, here on Ricochet of all places.

    I thought it should be clear to this audience from the context of the thread that “Russians being Russian” referred to the actions of Putin’s government. I hope that now, at least, it is.

    As an aside, most Russians are perfectly fine with what Putin is doing in Europe, Ukraine, Crimea (especially!), Syria, to journalists, etc. Sad, but true.

    Which is why that wedge needs to be driven. Putin is working 24/7 to try to unite the concept of Putin with that of the Russian people, whether or not he is on Ricochet.

    As far as your “not all Russian governments” comment . . . how about we just take the last 100ish years? During the the vast majority of it, Russia has been ruled by leaders implacably anti-U.S. and, indeed, engaged in an information war against us. You disagree?

    I said it’s not all the same. It wasn’t all the same during the Gorbachev years, for example. During that time the main information war against us came from the Western media.

    • #18
  19. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    The Reticulator: It’s what we all should be doing, here on Ricochet of all places.

    Allow me to suggest that if your goal is, as you say, driving a wedge between Putin and his people, there are fora more suited to that than Ricochet.  I’m only using an educated guess here, but I suspect the number of Russian citizens monitoring Ricochet is unlikely to exceed single digits . . . double digits max!  But good luck, Comrade.  I wish you well!

    • #19
  20. HVTs Inactive
    HVTs
    @HVTs

    The Reticulator: It wasn’t all the same during the Gorbachev years, for example. During that time the main information war against us came from the Western media.

    I think the media parroted academia, making the latter the main source of pro-Soviet info war themes and activities in the 1980s.

    • #20
  21. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    HVTs:

    The Reticulator: It’s what we all should be doing, here on Ricochet of all places.

    Allow me to suggest that if your goal is, as you say, driving a wedge between Putin and his people, there are fora more suited to that than Ricochet. I’m only using an educated guess here, but I suspect the number of Russian citizens monitoring Ricochet is unlikely to exceed single digits . . . double digits max! But good luck, Comrade. I wish you well!

    It has to be done consistently, everywhere, and not just for show.  If a few Russian citizens are listening in, so much the better.

    • #21
  22. Ray Kujawa Coolidge
    Ray Kujawa
    @RayKujawa

    How’s that Russian commercial aviation industry doing these days? Going like gangbusters? Do they have any actual aviation experts who still work for a viable Russia based commercial aviation enterprise?

    The answer is always that bad people did these things. We already know that. The question is, which bad people?

    • #22
  23. Annika Hernroth-Rothstein Contributor
    Annika Hernroth-Rothstein
    @AnnikaHernrothRothstein

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Thanks for this post, Annika. I’m working this year on a book about the changes in Europe, and I’d love to meet you at some point to talk about them. One of the chapters will certainly be about the way Russia is shaping Europe — and American attitudes toward Europe — through a propaganda campaign that seems to me light-years ahead of the old KGB stuff, in sophistication. Often people reply to things I’ve written on social media with words that come straight from the Kremlin and are now believed as fact.

    One psychological effect of this, on journalists who are aware of it, is that it makes them hesitant to report critically on things taking place in their own countries, since you know that if you report on, say, failures of Belgian security or Muslim integration in France, it will show up in some wildly exaggerated form in Sputnik–“Europe Ungovernable! Overrun by Hordes! All America’s fault! I suspect that this leads to some self-censorship by journalists who don’t enjoy doing the Kremlin’s work for it.

    I’d love to get together next time I’m in Paris in a few months and talk about this, your book and other things :)

    • #23
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