Russian Propaganda: A Background31. 7. 2015
Since the August of 1999 Russia has been in the process of restoring the traditions of Soviet propaganda. Newly-appointed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin launched the second Chechen war and at the same time imposed legal restrictions on Russian journalists that directly violated the Constitution. For the first six months of the war in the North Caucasus more than 30 journalists were detained, most of them foreign. At the same time the intelligence agencies set up a number of information centres, emphasising that journalists are required to only use official information.
In September 2000, President Putin signed the doctrine of information security establishing new rules on information policy of the Russian Federation. The majority of provisions of the Doctrine contradict Russian legislation and obligations relevant in the Russian Federation to respect the freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The Information Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation determines the mechanism of strengthening the state propaganda and state control over independent media. It called for measures to prevent “information aggression” by the West. The doctrine never became law, but following the approval of President Putin it became the original concept for the creation a new state structure – the Department of Information Security, which was supposed to monitor the implementation of the provisions of the department.
In 2001, after the largest media-holding in Russia “the Bridge”, in operation since 1992 and owned by Vladimir Gusinsky, was shut down by the Prosecutor General. In the years that followed a number of media outlets were closed, and assets that remained were often taken over by the state-owned energy giant Gazprom. At the largest independent television channel NTV the management and staff of journalists were replaced. The channel became part of the of state propaganda machine.
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Having established control over the majority of the media in Moscow and the Russian regions, a new state controlled source of informa- tion was launched in 2005 to broadcast in a number of foreign languages: Russia Today. The TV channel renamed “RT” that today broadcasts in English, Arabic, German, Russian and Spanish is now part of the state holding company “Russia today”, uniting two agencies and the radio broadcasting company “Voice of Russia”. The company is financed by the state budget, and even during times of economic crisis its budget has been increasing every year. In 2015 the Russia Today’s budget will reach 13.85 billion rubles (about 235 million euros) (1).
An article of the Criminal code on extremism became very convenient to the authorities. In 2008, for example, criminal proceedings were initiated against Vladimir Efremov, a journalist from Tyumen, for criticising the local police. In 2014 the journalist Boris Stomakhin was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, after being an outspoken critic of Russian state policy in Chechnya for a number of years. After the adoption of laws restricting the activities of NGOs in Russia there are almost no organisations that can provide assistance or support to journalists.
The Russian propaganda machine has improved upon the propaganda of the Soviet Union by taking full advantage of contemporary technologies. Persistently lying on a daily basis manipulation of facts and production of “fakes” bring results, especially on peoples of the post-soviet republics, who lived for generations under propaganda.
There are several large and formally independent holdings which belong to businessmen close to Putin Yuriy Kovalchuk, Alisher Usmanov, Vladimir Potanin, Alexander Mamut as well as Gazprommedia, owned by “Gazprom”. Media positioning themselves as independent play only a minor part in the media landscape. They do not have a large influence on the creation of public opinion or in the struggle against state propaganda.
From the time Vladimir Putin has been in power journalists feel markedly less safe in their work. In the last 15 years a few dozen journalists (2) have been killed. To date investigations into these crimes are not fully solved. Significantly, the level of criminal prosecution against journalists has increased. Every year 60-80 criminal cases are opened against journalists on charges of libel or extremism. The most absurd reasons have often been used to violate the right to freedom of speech and expression. An article of the Criminal code on extremism became very convenient to the authorities. In 2008, for example, criminal proceedings were initiated against Vladimir Efremov, a journalist from Tyumen, for criticising the local police. In 2014 the journalist Boris Stomakhin was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, after being an outspoken critic of Russian state policy in Chechnya for a number of years. After the adoption of laws restricting the activities of NGOs in Russia there are almost no organisations that can provide assistance or support to journalists.
Russian propaganda is nowadays focused on internal and external audience. The “internal audience” is the population of Russia. In some understanding this category includes the population of other post-Soviet countries as well as inhabitants of the USSR that live in the EUUSA and others countries. For instance, approximately 5 million people live in Germany that understand and use Russian language in ordinary life.
The “external” audience is made up of the population of other countries that watch Russia Today. It`s very hard to measure the extent of Russian influence but anecdotally RT is beginning to become a force in changing public opinion.
Traditional media aside, Russian propaganda and those that practice “political technology” intensively use the internet. In 2000 the internet was used as a tool to influence Russian audiences whereas today many projects that are form part of the front of on the online information are sponsored by the federal budget. The internet could potentially be a much more potent tool of influence than television, especially as regards youth. One may say, for instance, that starting from the early years of Putin`s presidency youth “patriotic” organizations began to appear, — “Nashi”, “Iduschie vmeste”, “Rossiya molodaya” and others organisations were coordinated directly by governors appointed by the Administration of the President.
Putin’s youth supporters are known for their loud and controversial demonstrations, be it for the burning of the books by writers who criticise Putin`s policies or chasing foreign diplomats (3). Now these activists take part in the virtual informational war. One may talk about so called “Olga`s trolls”, the state project in Olgino, not far from Moscow. And in Saint-Petersburg such similar work is done by the “Internet investigations” organisation. Their main aim is to criticise or persuade Putin’s opponents in forums, chats and news sites (4).
The Russian propaganda machine has improved upon the propaganda of the Soviet Union by taking full advantage of contemporary technologies. Persistently lying on a daily basis manipulation of facts and production of “fakes” bring results, especially on peoples of the post-soviet republics, who lived for generations under propaganda. The influence of propaganda in the post-Soviet space depends on the development of journalism in these respective countries. Almost in all of these countries, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, journalism education is at the same low level as in the USSR.
For the last 15 years Putin has created so influential and so well-financed a structure of state propaganda and mechanism of information war that making statements, blaming and reminding Putin about the existence of laws and responsibilities before international organisations will not cause any positive effect. To- day it is important more than ever to identify mechanisms that could effectively neutralise Russian propaganda.
1 At the GDP $24805/per; for the comparison: the GDP in the UK – $39511, and the financing of corporation such as BBC in 2014 was $381.000.000.
2 Mainly the list of killed journalists is connected to the independent media “Novaya Gazeta” after 2000: Yuriy Schekochihin, Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, Igor Domnikov, Nataliya Estemirova.
3 For instance, the event against the ambassador of the UK Anthony Brenton, as well as an Embassy of Estonia in Moscow that was attacked in 2007