The Kremlin’s New Propaganda of Schadenfreude
08 January, 2015
In addition to its other goals of destabilizing, occupying and invading its neighbors, distributing cash from oil, gas and corruption, managing overall economic decline and suppressing alternative voices within Russia, the Kremlin has a new and active international propaganda campaign, or as they call it, “news”. News in the world is changing and Kremlin propaganda is as well. This is a guide to the new Kremlin propaganda, how it works, how it is different from the press in the West
and from the old Kremlin propaganda. We will by listing its methods.

The Kremlin’s new propaganda lies. And that fits with the way they look at the world. They think everybody is like them and that everybody lies. If they are accused of lying they can always point out another lie by somebody else to justify it

1) Talk about them, not us.

The old Kremlin would spend most of its time talking about domestic news. There was some international news, mainly about Daniel Ortega, Fidel Castro, and that sort of thing, but in general it was domestic. There were English language short wave Radio Moscow broadcasts but they were remarkably similar to their domestic counterparts: Ortega, Castro, and the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Hydro Electric station number 457. Yawn. Nobody within Russia believes them about Russian domestic events because they get their news from the birja or kitchen, and nobody outside cared or cares about Russia’s domestic situation that much. Sure they spend some time on charming human interest stories in Russia but most of it is about the West, so people are shown what is going on there is the same as what is going on in Russia. It says that without saying that.

2) “They do the same”

When something like the invasion of Crimea happens, they immediately create false equivalency. In some cases, it’s just bundling: Russia invaded Crimea and Sputnki immediately had a report on independence movements around the world: Venice, Scotland, Crimea, Catalonia, Miami. There are many people in Scotland and Catalonia that of course aspire to be independent and slowly they may become new states; slowly and according to the wishes of the people. Venice? No. And the idea that Miami or south Florida correlates in any way to places with real national aspirations is silly. But many people don’t know that the idea is ridiculous and the Kremlin knows they don’t know that.
The Kremlin talks about the West according to a simple formula. When Russia does something that is unethical or goes against international law, then the Kremlin propagandists find cases in the West that may seem correlative and report on them. Putin is like an old Shevardnadze era traffic cop in that way. They loved it when you broke a law, because it made them feel better asking for money. The message is that we are all of us in the gutter. We are like them, they are like us. There is no real truth, only versions.

3) Barrage or the Noise Machine

Among the saddest stories during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the downing of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. What happened is well known; Russia gave some sophisticated missiles to some people they have fighting their proxy war, those people aren’t very smart and shot down a very large civilian airline by mistake, They realized they had screwed up, and the missile battery quickly goes back to Russia. So Sputnik and RT send out a barrage of information about how the Ukrainian air force was doing this or that, there are this or that theories, it’s all very complicated. By sending out tons of irrelevant or inaccurate information they hoped to simply bury the truth even when it is known and also to prevent consensus, by having immediately a giant volume of contradictory analysis masquerading as news.

4) Use the freedom of the West against it

The mass media in Russia is now completely government controlled. Putin and the leadership don’t really understand the idea of independent media. They believe that the American media is controlled by the state. Because in their mind, that’s what states do, control things. In fact the American media is very independent of the government. It may or may not be good or bad but it is independent of the government and it is free. Anybody can say what they want. But not in Russia. CNN was forced off of Russian television a few months back. Alexander Plyushchev was from Ekho Moskvy, one of the last independent high quality hold-outs. Now the Moscow Times to Vedomosti are in trouble. Those in the West assume a standard that Sputnik or RT do not meet. And in Russia all the media outlets that meet international standards of truth and impartiality, are closed by the government.

5) The real story is secret

There is a common attitude in the Kremlin’s new media that what an individual can know is limited, that there is always a back story, a secret group behind actions, a secret history. They seem to ask, “Do you REALLY think it could be so simple?” In Putin’s Russia, the intelligence and security services run the government on behalf of the president and he thinks other countries are like that. He thinks the CIA creates demonstrations in Russia and Kiev and Tbilisi because the KGB used to do that, and because if they don’t then it means that the demonstrations against him in 2011-12 where real and have something important to say. And he badly doesn’t want that to be the case. 

6) Talk about a unipolar world

Sputnik and RT say they want to provide an alternative view. That they are against a unipolar world. Al Jazeera does that. They provide high quality news in several languages, notably English and many would argue that Al Jazeera English is higher quality news than CNN or BBC. But the Kremlin doesn’t provide another view, they simply point out and mock Western moralism and hypocrisy. There is nothing wrong with that, and the West, particularly America can be very moralistic and very hypocritical. But the Kremlin stations don’t provide any real analysis. They just try to take down the beast, rather than compete in the arena of information or ideas. 

7) Stay young.

They have realized that people will listen to their message simply because young attractive people say it. This is something that CNN discovered some time ago. It was perhaps the beginning of their decline.

8) Use locals to drive divide

There is an active policy to try to create an idea of Georgia, Russia and the other Orthodox post-Soviet countries on the one hand the West on the other. And they now artfully use locals to do that. At this point, twenty five years after independence, Georgia has less and less in common with Russia. So they show Georgians and Russians as in the same boat but somehow different from or culturally distinct from the West. 

9) Lie. Just lie

Western publications don’t lie. And if they do and they get caught, they apologize. For that reason they are careful not to. People can argue that the stories they report on are not as interesting or important as they could be. But they don’t lie. The Kremlin’s new propaganda lies. And that fits with the way they look at the world. They think everybody is like them and that everybody lies. If they are accused of lying they can always point out another lie by somebody else to justify it.
So what to do with all of this? Be careful, Sputnik and RT will show up more and more. First people post on Facebook some story that is interesting but doesn’t seem important, but then these outlets start appearing more and more all with the same message. That is how propaganda works now so keep your eyes and ears open.