Russia, under the iron rule of Vladimir Putin, has become the victim of incomparably efficient state propaganda. This is conducted according to tried and trusted methods: first, casting doubt on the facts, and second, presenting the most vulgar conspiracy theory as the sole reality, which only analysts “paid by Washington” or naïve idealists cannot see.
The goal of this is to create doubt and confusion in Russian and international public opinion while at the same time generating strong emotions which ultimately distort, overshadow and finally push aside the reality. These emotions can be manipulated at will by the authorities.
To serve this purpose, the Maidan revolution in Kiev in 2014 is not presented in the Russian media as a broad popular uprising of Ukrainians dissatisfied with the policies of President Yanukovych but as a fascist coup d’état instigated, financed and perpetrated by the CIA, the responsibility for which falls on none other than U.S. President Barack Obama himself. The coarseness of this explanation does not take away from its effectiveness, as the vast majority of Russians are now convinced that the European Union and the United States are now working together to destroy their country by supporting a fascist regime in Kiev.
The Kremlin’s propaganda uses another grotesque but formidable tool: It equates binding international agreements, signed by Russia, with the most insignificant rumors. For example, it compares the vague promise that NATO would not expand to East Germany, allegedly whispered to Gorbachev by the U.S. Secretary of State in 1990 (to this day there are no documents certifying that “promise”), with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (the memorandum in which the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Kingdom guarantee the non-use of force against Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan) which has been signed by the Russian government and ratified by the Duma, the Russian parliament. This agreement makes Moscow a guarantor of Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Kiev’s surrender to Russia of all its nuclear weapons and accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In another example, the quick and unilateral annexation of Crimea by Moscow is compared to the long diplomatic process – conducted under the auspices of the United Nations over a period of eight years – which led to the independence of Kosovo, a small territory in the Balkans.
A third component of the Russian propaganda is to utterly disregard the will of East European nations. Putin has repeatedly declared that Ukraine does not exist as a state and that the Kiev authorities are mere puppets of the West. Following this logic, EU and NATO enlargement towards the East is obviously not the result of sovereign decisions taken by East European nations to free themselves from Soviet and now Russian domination, but of an American plan to encircle Russia. Ultimately, the Russian propaganda is designed to make East European states forget that they are sovereign nations and that they can decide their own futures for themselves without being subject to pressure direct or indirect from any quarter.
The last element of the Russian propaganda is to depict Russia as the “Third Rome”, the last bastion of Christianity, the heart of the reactionary right in a Western world riddled with homosexuals and pedophiles. There is no evidence to support any of these preposterous ideas but even Muscovites who dance their nights away in the numerous rowdy and sex-charged bars and wild clubs of the capital swallow these most outrageous claims with a straight face.
In the West, some journalists and politicians find this propaganda attractive. In Germany, in particular, some journalists can be quite incisive and rigorous in their analyses of Angela Merkel’s or Jean-Claude Juncker’s policies but also accomplish the remarkable feat of interviewing Vladimir Putin without asking him any embarrassing questions… These “Russlandversteher”, as they are dubbed in Germany because they connive with the “ideas” of the Kremlin’s boss, play their own part in covering up the reality, contribute to distorting it, and thus become a powerful instrument in the information warfare the Kremlin is waging.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is acting as the spearhead of the Russian government’s misinformation campaign in Germany and the whole world.Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has taken on the same role in his country when he began repeating Moscow’s arguments in mid-February. He has likewise compared the unilateral annexation of Crimea with the independence of Kosovo and claimed that waging a “new Cold War” in Europe has been a longstanding U.S. desire (Le Monde, 09/02/2015). This intellectual cowardice from the man who fully and full-heartedly reintegrated France into NATO’s military structures raises many questions.
Did Sarkozy read Putin’s speech to the Russian Federal Assembly on March 18, 2014 on the occasion of the annexation of the Crimea? How is it that he did not discern in Putin’s view of a “Russian world” a serious challenge to the accepted borders and political stability of a dozen states neighboring Russia? How come he did not see in Putin’s outlook many similarities with Slobodan Milosevic’s speech at Kosovo Polje in 1987, which was a prelude to the Balkan wars?
In Russia itself the courageous dissident voices speaking on Echo of Moscow radio and the few remaining critical newspapers, which have a limited readership, are under no illusions about what the future holds. Grigory Yavlinsky, the former leader of the Yabloko opposition party and still a member of its Political Committee, has painted a bleak yet realistic portrait of the future isolation of Russia in Novaya Gazeta, one of the last newspapers not subservient to the Kremlin. Russia, he wrote, will lose the confidence of the most progressive countries and is heading towards a provincialization of its elite, science and economy. It will be less and less listened to in international arenas as a result of its ideologized and vehement anti-Western stand. A bitter and aggressive Russian leadership, argues Yavlinski, will strive to further restrain its neighbors’ sovereignty, a reaction that does not bode well for the cause of peace and security in Russia’s “near abroad”.
It will not be easy for Americans and Europeans to deal with a revanchist and irritated Russia. A policy of both strategic patience and firmness on principles is now an essential component to hold Russia in check in the eastern fringes of Europe. Russia’s recent behavior has left many disheartened and ready to abandon their dream of a Russian polity committed to strengthening respect for human rights, the rule of law and civil society. Now it runs the risk of finding itself in the unenviable position of meeting the challenges of the 21st century all by itself, unless Russians soon wake from their authoritarian dream.
This article appeared at Germany G7 Leaders Summit, Jabir Publication and is reprinted with permission.