RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War



The Kremlin has developed one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and it may be impossible to stop, notes Jim Rutenberg, The New York Times’s media columnist. Russia “has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics,” he writes in a must-read article for The NYT Magazine.

Kremlin TV outlet RT’s mission is to “break the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon global information streams,” Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, tells him:

The transformation and acceleration of information technology, Peskov said, had unmoored the global economy from real value. Perception alone could move markets or crash them. … The same free flow of information had produced “a new clash of interests,” and so began “an informational disaster — an informational war.”

Peskov argued that this was not an information war of Russia’s choosing; it was a “counteraction.” He brought up the “color revolutions” throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which led to the ousters of Russian-friendly governments in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in the mid-2000s. Russia blamed American nongovernmental organizations for fomenting the upheavals. But now, Peskov argued, all you might need to shake up the geopolitical order was a Twitter account. “Now you can reach hundreds of millions in a minute,” he said.

Euromaidan Press

This is how it works, Sarah Posner notes in The Washington Post:

Elevate the extremes to undermine the center. Kremlin-operated media outlets like television station RT and the website Sputnik broadcast “news,” which can be conspiracy theories, blatantly false stories, or even reporting intended to bolster a far-right or far left position. The common goal is to “put pressure on the political center,” Rutenberg writes, or, as an analytics expert who has studied RT’s social media networks told him, “to pump up the fringe at the expense of the middle.”

Aim to go viral. The audience reach of RT, which is broadcast on cable and satellite in the U.S., is not thought to be particularly large. But false reports, such as baseless or fabricated stories about violence committed by refugees, coup attempts, or riots, get amplified on social media, including by bots. RT’s small television audience therefore doesn’t matter, Rutenberg writes, as “the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media.”

Exploit American free press protections while subverting the American press. Even as Russian President Vladimir Putin suppresses a free press in Russia, his media arms Sputnik and RT claim First Amendment protections under the United States Constitution. In supporting RT, Putin has made his bias known: Its goal, he has said, is to “break the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon global information streams.” (These claims to First Amendment protections may eventually be undermined by U.S. law enforcement efforts to crack down on the outlets’ registration under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a law passed in 1938 to combat Nazi propaganda in the U.S.)

Foster Americans’ distrust in their own institutions. Sowing doubt and confusion among its Western viewers is not just RT’s mission, it’s the network’s stated goal. Its slogan: “Question more.”

Plenty of RT’s programming, to outward appearances, is not qualitatively different from conventional opinion-infused cable news, Rutenberg notes:

This makes RT and Sputnik harder for the West to combat than shadowy hackers. You can tighten your internet security protocols to protect against data breaches, run counterhacking operations to take out infiltrators, sanction countries with proven links to such activities. But RT and Sputnik operate on the stated terms of Western liberal democracy; they count themselves as news organizations, protected by the First Amendment and the libertarian ethos of the internet……. So over the past decade, even as the Putin government clamped down on its own free press — and as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, the U.S.-government-run broadcasting services, were largely squeezed off the Russian radio dial — RT easily acquired positions on the basic cable rosters of Comcast, Cox, Charter, DirecTV and Fios, among others.

RT, the Kremlin’s global disinformation network, will be required to register as a foreign agent, an act that essentially labels the station an official propaganda network of the Russian government, according to The Hill.

Cyberattacks from other countries is named as a major threats by global medians of 51% each, says a new Pew Center report:

Cyberattacks are the top concern in Japan and second-highest concern in places such as the U.S., Germany and the UK, where there have been a number of high-profile attacks of this type in recent months….While Russia’s power and influence are not named as the greatest threat in any of the countries polled in Europe or North America, there is particular concern in Poland (65%).

The U.S. Congress should maintain American support for democratic norms and institutions in response to Russian disinformation efforts, said Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper.

“Now more than ever, the United States needs to maintain the leadership role we have held since the last World War in supporting democratic norms and values,” she told the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the “Helsinki Commission”) during their hearing, “The Scourge of Russian Disinformation” this morning (above). …Human Rights First notes that over recent years Russia has exploited divisions in Europe by using social media and propaganda to spread disinformation and undermine public confidence in democratic governance.

A study by the Wilfried Martens Centre finds that a deliberate Russian disinformation campaign has already “effectively shaped Russian society’s perceptions of the EU”. The study’s author, Kristina Potapova, identifies three main myths being promulgated, The Irish Times reports:

The EU is aggressive and interventionist. It wages an “information war” against Russia and plans to seize Russia’s resources. The EU forces its member states to adopt Russophobic policies, and plans to use the Eastern Partnership countries for relocating refugees, or as a radioactive waste dump.

The EU has almost collapsed, as it is unable to face the challenges presented by the migration crisis. Minors are raped in Europe while the rapists are not even punished. Tolerance towards refugees caused terror attacks. Fascism and Nazism are on the rise.

The EU is decadent. The whole West denies moral principles, while only Russia defends traditional values. Europe also attempts to legalise paedophilia. Democratic values, freedom of speech and gender equality are portrayed as major attacks on Christianity, and also a western attempt to deny the existence of Russian civilisation.

But the EU’s diplomatic arm, the European External Action Service (EEAS), this week relaunched a counter fake-news website – euvsdisinfo.eu – to target and deconstruct the myths, the Times adds.

The Artikel 38 von Hamilton 68 dashboard (right), a project with the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, launched this week to expose online influence networks and the themes and content they are promoting to German-language audiences ahead of the German Federal election and beyond through a near real-time look at Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts on Twitter.

Facebook, which initially rejected claims that it enabled the spread of misinformation, is now a central focus of a Justice Department probe into Russian interference, according to reports.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email