The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Truth of Lies The Great Success of the Russian Propaganda Machine

Propaganda has always been an important tool of war—and its importance grew during the 20th century as Stalin and Goebbels took the dark art to new heights of sophistication and power. As Putin seeks to rebuild Russian power on the rubble of the Soviet Union, he is reaching out for the USSR’s most effective propaganda and espionage weapons.

Here’s the opening from a Spiegel article well worth your time:

Ivan Rodionov sits in his office at Berlin’s Postdamer Platz and seems to relish his role as the bad guy. He rails in almost accent-free German, with a quiet, but sharp voice, on the German media, which, he claims, have been walking in “lockstep” when it comes to their coverage of the Ukraine crisis. During recent appearances on two major German talk shows, Rodionov disputed allegations that Russian soldiers had infiltrated Crimea prior to the controversial referendum and its annexation by Russia. He says it’s the “radical right-wing views” of the Kiev government, and not Russia, that poses the threat. “Western politicians,” he says, “are either helping directly or are at least looking on.”

Rodionov defends President Vladimir Putin so vehemently that one could be forgiven for confusing him with a Kremlin spokesperson. But Rodionov views himself as a journalist. The 49-year-old is the head of the video news agency Ruptly, founded one year ago and financed by the Russian government. The eighth floor of the office building has a grand view of Germany’s house of parliament, the Reichstag. It’s a posh location and the Kremlin doesn’t seem to mind spending quite a bit of money to disseminate its view of the world from here. Around 110 people from Spain, Britain, Russia and Poland work day and night in the three-floor office space on videos that are then syndicated to the international media.

At first glance, it’s not obvious that Ruptly is actually Kremlin TV. In addition to Putin speeches, there are also numerous other video clips available in its archive, ranging from Pussy Riot to arrests of members of the Russian opposition. When it comes to eastern Ukraine, however, the agency offers almost exclusively videos that are favorable towards pro-Russian supporters of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” which was founded by separatists. You’ll also find right-wing radicals like Britain’s Nick Griffin or German far-right extremist Olaf Rose, an ideologist with the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), stirring up hatred towards the European Union and its Ukraine policies.

(Note the opportunistic use of far-right European political figures to further Russian talking points. This is a trend worth watching.)

The West needs to up its game. Cracking down on Russian espionage, both commercial and strategic, tracing and publicizing the flow of money and influence in the Kremlin’s propaganda enterprise, and countering Russian disinformation and attempts to shape world opinion must now become part of Western policy.

Published on June 2, 2014 9:06 am
  • ShadrachSmith

    As I read this and the Spiegel article I am struck with the similarities to MSM control of the western media. The Russians are playing the same game Obama does. Just today Susan Rice claimed that Bergdahl was captured on the battlefield, which is a lie on par with the video inspired spontaneous demonstration excuse for the Benghazi attack.

    Putin tells no bigger lies than Obama, and as Hillary put it so definitively: “What difference, at this point, does it [the truth] make?”

  • Boritz

    …countering Russian disinformation and attempts to shape world opinion must now become part of Western policy.”

    How feasible is it to implement a policy that attacks disinformation while making incredible use of it yourself? The reality is that the victory will go to the better liars.

  • http://blog.fluenthistorian.com/ Natalie

    Interesting article, thanks for posting it. I do think it was a tad unfair at certain points, though. Specifically this bit, at the bottom of the first page: “…right up to statements made by Estonia’s foreign minister that were
    apparently supposed to prove who was responsible for the deaths of
    protesters on Maidan Square.”

    The Estonian foreign minister admitted in a phone call that the EU, NOT Yanukovych’s forces, had hired snipers to kill protestors.

    (Also, “Maidan Square” is an atrociously bad translation. It’s called Майдан Незалежності in Ukrainian, which means “Independence Square.”)

  • JD777

    “Putin is thinking internationally as well, positioning Russia to lead an anti-Western coalition along moral as well as geopolitical lines. In a speech last December, he pledged to defend “family values” and reject moral relativism, pointedly observing that this message appeals to “more and more people across the world who support our position.” The message resonates. When it comes to culture, America and Western NGOs are global aggressors. For a long time, we’ve been promoting contraception and abortion throughout the world. More recently, we’ve promoted gay rights as well. The U.S. Department of State’s Global Equality Fund, dedicated to advancing LGBT rights, is one among many initiatives, some government sponsored, others carried forward by international organizations. In these and in other ways, progressives in the West are carrying the war on traditional culture to the rest of the world.”

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/04/global-culture-wars