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“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