Moscow’s efforts to spread disinformation in Western countries is well known. In response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election process, Washington has placed sanctions on a number of Russian officials and persons considered part of Putin’s inner circle. What is perhaps not as widely reported is the nature and extent of the disinformation and propaganda that the Russian government delivers to the Russian people via national television channels and online outlets that are directly or indirectly controlled by the Kremlin. The Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group (HWAG) in Kyiv has been monitoring and analyzing Russian media content and presented some of its findings at a recent discussion aptly titled “Poisoning Minds: How the Kremlin Portrays the United States, Europe and Ukraine to Russians.” The event was held at the German Marshall Fund (GMF) in Washington.
According to Oleksiy Makukhin and Liubov Tsybulska, the director and deputy director, respectively, of HWAG, Russia’s main TV channels (Russia 1, Channel One and NTV) have been engaged in large-scale dissemination to their Russian audience of a narrative mobilizing and militarizing Russian society against supposed Western encirclement and threat of war. Clearly the underlying mission is to alienate Russians from Europe, the United States and Ukraine.
The HWAG/GMF report titled “How Russian Media Foments Hostility Toward the West” notes that “Threat Narratives are the main tool of the Kremlin’s propaganda. The core worldview, imposed by Russian media, is fairly simple – Russia is stable and peaceful, while the West is unstable and aggressive. There is, however, a differentiation in describing the degree of instability of the [W]estern powers. Thus, the United States are depicted as the only equal foe of Russia (in relation to its geopolitical strength), so they are pictured as dangerous and insidious. Europeans are depicted as immoral, unstable, weaker than Russians, but also manipulated by the USA… to hate Russia. Hence, the threat coming from Europe is described more in terms of ‘toxic’ than existential. Such [a] worldview… was not a novel creation, but a deeply rooted phenomenon, based on Russian imperial history” and the image of an external enemy in Soviet totalitarian ideology.
According to the HWAG study of Russian TV and online coverage, the U.S. was mentioned negatively 94% of the time, Ukraine was mentioned negatively 91% of the time and the negative coverage ratio for Europe was 85%. The analysis encompasses the period from mid-2014 to the end of 2017.
To read the entire study click here.
To view a brief Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group video highlighting war narratives and the negative portrayal of the West on Russian TV click here.