Russia's information war: Propaganda or counter-propaganda?

Briefing 03-10-2016

In the West, Russia is more often seen as an instigator than a target of propaganda. However, Kremlin documents and Russian media argue that Russia itself faces serious threats from external information activity. Allegedly, such threats could undermine political stability in the country, curtail its international influence, and jeopardise traditional values. Moscow therefore argues that it needs to take defensive measures. The Kremlin claims that the USA and its allies are waging an information war against Russia. ISIL/Da'esh, which produces an increasing amount of Russian-language material, is another major adversary. At home, the Kremlin has clamped down on media and civil society to exclude external influences. Internationally, it has launched media weapons such as news channel RT to compete with Western media, and bankrolled pro-Russian NGOs. Critics of the Kremlin dispute its claims of a Western-led information war against Russia, and accuse it of conducting disinformation campaigns to justify aggression in neighbouring countries such as Ukraine. In terms of meeting their declared goal of protecting Russia from information threats, Russian measures have succeeded in excluding most foreign influences from the country. The international impact is more questionable; Russia's image is still very poor, but that does not mean that the Kremlin cannot defend what it sees as the country's external interests.