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.