Russia’s ambitions clash with its capabilities


Speaking at the 13th Valdai Discussion Club near Sochi last week, Russian president Vladimir Putin again railed at the US for allegedly misusing its global hegemony of the past 25 years, shutting Russia out of creating the post-cold war world order, and even implicitly suggested Russia’s (heavily stage-managed) democracy  was superior to America’s, The Financial Times reports:

Yet the gap between the image Mr Putin portrayed at the 13th Valdai Discussion Club for invited foreign academics and journalists and the reality was exposed by a sobering assessment of Russia’s economy by another senior official who spoke there without attribution. It was further emphasised by a draft budget the government submitted to Russia’s parliament a day later — envisaging a 27 per cent cut in defence spending next year.

He “portrayed Russia as being surrounded by systems that are increasingly divided, increasingly weakened, increasingly chaotic,” said Piotr Dutkiewicz, a political scientist from Ottawa’s Carleton University.

Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy, noted that the Russian president was strangely quiet about the economy in Sochi this year.

“The loud silence by Putin on the [Kudrin plan],” he said, “during an event for foreigners when he could have trumpeted reforms, bolsters reason for scepticism.” RTWT

Why is Russian state media using such bellicose language of late? Anne Applebaum asks in The Washington Post:

The regime wants to scare Russians. The economy is much weaker than it was, living standards are dropping and with it support for President Vladimir Putin. A ruling clique that stays in power thanks to violence and corruption is by definition nervous, and so it is using its media monopoly to frighten people.

From personal experience, the “political technologists” who design the regime’s information campaign know that fear and hysteria can persuade people to vote for an authoritarian candidate, adds Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Russian propaganda is pervasive, and America is behind the power curve in countering it.”, the RAND Corporation’s Amb. William Courtney and Christopher Paul argue in “Firehose of Falsehoods.

Because Russian disinformation is a global threat, much of it targeted against democracies, the U.S. government should step up collaboration with other like-minded governments to counter the onslaught, adding several recommendations:

  • Forewarn audiences of misinformation, or merely reach them first with the truth, rather than retracting or refuting false “facts.”
  • Prioritize efforts to counter the effects of Russian propaganda, and focus on guiding the propaganda’s target audience in more productive directions.
  • Compete with Russian propaganda. Both the United States and NATO have the potential to prevent Russia from dominating the information environment.
  • Increase the flow of information that diminishes the effectiveness of propaganda, and, in the context of active hostilities, attack the means of dissemination.

Amb. Courtney and Dr. Paul will discuss the themes in their recent article, “Firehose of Falsehoods: Russian propaganda is pervasive, and America is behind the power curve in countering it.” They will refer to the RAND Corporation report on “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model: Why It Might Work and Options to Counter It.”

Putin’s Propaganda Machine and Possible U.S. Responses

with Amb. William Courtney Adjunct Senior Fellow, RAND Corporation; Executive Director of the RAND Business Leaders Forum

Christopher Paul, Ph.D. Senior Social Scientist, RAND Corporation

Thursday, November 10 4:00-5:30 PM

The Institute of World Politics 1521 16th Street NW Washington, D.C. Parking


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