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Fake News/Europe

The "soft power" of the Kremlin: how Russian propaganda works in Europe


“And it was necessary to drown such people. To drown these children. This is not your method, intelligent people, science fiction writers, but this is our method. Said once that the Muscovites occupied (Ukraine), and immediately you throw him into a river with a turbulent current.”

“In general, if you think about it, what is happening is Satanism. Pure demons, you can’t say otherwise. If we are dealing with the servants of the prince of darkness, if we are dealing with a satanic principle, what kind of negotiations and with whom are we talking? What kind of negotiations can there be with Satan? They lied all the time, this is the basis of Western satanic civilization.”

These statements - the stars of the Kremlin propaganda Krasovsky and Solovyov, respectively - are rude, clumsy and, in fact, are the quintessence of domestic Russian propaganda. In the absence of an alternative, it is enough just to hammer the approved slogans into the viewer's brain - and at least they will leave some imprint there one way or another.

Nothing but perseverance and a regular increase in the degree of absurdity is required. The latter is an important element, because the more absurd the next statement, the more reasonable the previous one looks against its background.

And now the viewer, with righteous indignation, rejecting the assumption that children need to be drowned, looks more favorably at the previous sentence - that they need to be flogged. It is better to smack than to drown, which means that humanity wins.

Probably, the European layman could also be taken by such tactics, if not for the freedom of the press. Moreover, this stupid habit of the West is just about declaring a fight against Russian disinformation, and now it is openly banning glorious pro-Russian media like Russia Today or Sputnik. It is difficult to work in such conditions with familiar technologies. Fortunately, there are many other ways to convey "Pravda", "Izvestia", and any other Kremlin narratives to the Western layman.

FSB building on Lubyanskaya Square, Moscow
Photo: RIA Novosti / Vladimir Pesnya

The voice of the people

The first, most visible and most popular way is to form public opinion, or to be more precise, to use Kremlinbots on the Internet. Frankly, despite the ingrained name, the second part of it is incorrect. These are not bots at all - virtual programs that perform certain actions - but quite living people with varying degrees of intelligence development.

These can be both Russian emigrants and Europeans who have not found advantages for themselves in the democratic system of their own country. Such people work both for money and for an idea, including for the opportunity to belong to some powerful group, no matter with a plus or minus sign.

The main task of Kremlinbots is to massively broadcast the point of view that the customer needs.

Often from their use there are such curiosities as the repetition of the same message in one post or in different posts on the same topic.

The social networks of most popular European news resources are crammed with Kremlin bots that pop up not only to work on Russian news, but also to criticize Western politicians. Moreover, comments are written from “live” accounts and in the language of the country where this media is located.

Here is a typical example of the dialogue under the video from the news outlet about the discontent of Russian soldiers.

The first commenter doubts that the video was filmed by Russians and not Ukrainians. At the same time, he immediately emphasizes “And no, I am not for Russia or Ukraine, but against war anywhere. And now the war continues only because the war industry smells money. No attempt was even made to reach a peaceful solution.”

This may look like ordinary war weariness, but if you remember that the new propaganda trend is emphasized pacifism with an emphasis on peace negotiations and stopping the transfer of weapons to Ukraine, the comment ceases to look innocent.

And if we remember that there were peace negotiations - and they resembled a farce precisely from Russia - the picture becomes even clearer.

“The top army that failed to conquer the Donbass in a year. Then, as far as I understand, this best army will fall out of the top ten,” says a third. This seems to be a sound idea, but it could also be nothing more than a pretext for a fourth comment.

“Why did residential areas suffer in the first place? Because the shots were fired from residential areas. Is there a video. There were shots even from hospitals, usually hospitals are not touched. But the fire was retaliatory,” it would seem that there was no talk of shelling at all, but this is completely unimportant, because the task of the Kremlinbot is to throw information where it will be read, and not to support the logic of the conversation. At the same time, he fully explains comment No. 3 to himself, they say, they could not win, because they were shot from hospitals, do not forget.

Thus, from a safe environment of communication, the social networks of news publications turn into the mouthpiece of the Kremlin - and European admins do not know what to do with it, because the accounts look like real ones, different people write, and no one has canceled freedom of opinion, and even direct calls to rush into the arms The Kremlin are not here.

Authority opinion

Kremlinbots are still a faceless mass. A certain part of society with a special opinion, which no one knows by sight. They are free, they are cheap, but their strength is always in quantity.

Propaganda needs not only quantity, but also quality. To do this, there are public figures - expensive and ideological.

MEP Spaniard Manuel Pineda insists that the events in Ukraine are a provocation by the US and NATO. US Army Colonel Richard Black believes that Russia will win and that Ukraine does not need weapons. And French journalist Eric Zemmour, shortly before the war, said that talk of Russian aggression was just a pretext for deploying NATO equipment.

Eric Zemmour
Photo: picture-alliance / dpa

These are examples of outright propaganda to the face. Outright yes, but at the same time it is impossible to catch anyone by the hand.

A politician can always say that they made a mistake, underestimated the situation, or simply changed their mind. And whether they were paid for it or not - this still needs to be proven.

Another problem for the services that deal with the security of the information space in Europe is how to distinguish ideological left-wing politicians from the so-called "agents of influence of the Kremlin." Sometimes these two entities are merged together, and sometimes it is not at all clear whether a person acted on orders from outside or because of his own convictions and intellectual abilities.

Polish MEP, former Foreign Minister, oppositionist Radosław Sikorski emotionally recklessly tweeted after discovering a gas leak from the Nord Stream gas pipeline: "Thank you, USA." He added a photo showing gas rising to the surface of the Baltic Sea.

"Whether he is a useful idiot or a Russian agent - I leave this question open," Joachim Brudzinski, a MEP and vice-president of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, reacted even more emotionally.

And the deputy head of the Polish Interior Ministry, Maciej Wonsik, stated about Sikorsky's message: "You can rest assured that this record will be distributed by all Russian media."

Not every European country can afford a systematic check of politicians, artists and scientists for being biased by the Kremlin without good reason. And given democratic values, no country can hold people accountable for their opinion unless it goes beyond the law.

But in order to help the Kremlin propaganda, it is not at all necessary to call for violence. It is enough to thoughtfully drop on the air: “Not everything is so univocal” - and give a couple of historical examples.

Graceful weapon

This is probably the most subtle and painful topic. Before that, we talked about visible and open propaganda. Even though it may be officially impossible to prove its direct connection with the Kremlin, you cannot confuse it with anything else - and in principle, it is no longer so important whether a person reproduces it sincerely or somewhere there is a list with their last name. In the end, if someone declares that they love to watch dismemberment, what difference does it make what motives drove them?

Another thing is the use of a harmless tool that you have known since childhood for propaganda purposes.

“When the robber has raised a knife over you, you can still be saved. The robber will be killed, or you will slip away from him ... Well, what if the robber's knife suddenly throws itself at you? And his rope will crawl towards you, like a snake, to tie you hand and foot? Even if the curtain from his window, a quiet curtain, suddenly also rushes at you to shut your mouth? What do you all say then?"

Eugene Schwartz. "Dragon", 1944

Of course, we are talking about Russian culture and art. Sports could be added to this. Seemingly harmless and even noble things that become a powerful propaganda weapon in the hands of the Kremlin.

World Cup 2018
Photo: Andrey Lubimov / RBC

You can put on a ballet in Paris to show people your skill and grace, or you can do the same to demonstrate to the whole world the greatness of the Russian Empire. You can create a designer collection for the sake of art, or you can unambiguously promote the idea of cooperation with the Russian Federation, despite the war in Ukraine. You can hold a spectacular match for the sake of pure sports passion, or you can - under ideological slogans.

Culture and art are defenseless against ideology, they can take any form and carry any meaning to the audience.

The term “soft power” was first used in a Russian official document in 2010 as an appendix to the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. In 2013, the term appeared in a new version already in the concept itself. The objectives of the use of "soft power", as stated in the document, are to create a positive image of the country and improve the information support of Russian foreign policy.

As a "soft power" it is recommended to use the existing institutions of "soft power":

  • compatriots living abroad;
  • Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo);
  • global media;
  • students of foreign countries studying at Moscow State University, Peoples' Friendship University of Russia and other universities;
  • Russian Orthodox Church;
  • other regional institutions, primarily Islamic ones.

 A direct quote from Putin in 2012: “The policy of “soft power” provides for the promotion of one’s interests and approaches by persuading and attracting sympathy for one’s country, based on its achievements not only in material, but also in spiritual culture, and in the intellectual sphere.”

Following this instruction, the same Rossotrudnichestvo opened “Centers for Science and Art” in many European countries (France, Spain, Austria, Germany, etc.), and where governments were more loyal to Russia - “Russian Houses” (Italy, Slovakia, Hungary and so on.).

These organizations held exhibitions, staged performances, promoted Russian culture - and all of them, of course, were directly subordinate to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Remember the sensational news of October 2022? Let me quote her.

"Russian houses and cultural centers in Europe have launched the campaign "From Russia with warmth" against the backdrop of a cold snap.

The temperature drops not only on the street, but also in residential buildings. As long as gas and electricity prices remain high, the centers will operate as heating points. Visitors will be able to charge their phones, watch movies and drink tea. Children will be shown cartoons, according to the Russian House Telegram channel.

“Heat in houses and human warmth from Russia is what freezing European families need. In the context of growing social tension in Europe, as well as Russophobia, the humanitarian action of the Russian Houses should demonstrate our traditional hospitality and warm the hearts of freezing European families,” the publication says.

Earlier it was reported that against the background of the energy crisis in Europe, the demand for warm clothes and heaters from China soared. At the same time, EU countries are predicted to have lower temperatures in the coming winter."

Well, just like in your mother's house! Tea, gingerbread, warmth and cartoons - and, of course, no propaganda.

Numerous “ksors” also appeared - the Coordinating Councils of Russian Compatriots, which closed both niches: they worked with Russian emigrants, not allowing them to break away from the Kremlin roots, and also arranged various cultural events for local residents, showing them Russian traditions from the best, glossy side.

However, the past tense should not be used here: work continues, events are being held, and no one thinks to stop there.

This in no way means that any concert, any performance, in any way connected with Russian culture, is necessarily propaganda.

But that is the difficulty at the present time, that it is not so easy to distinguish one from the other. In any case, it will never be superfluous to ask the question: “Who exactly is the organizer of this event?”.

The goals of Russian propaganda in Europe are very different, ranging from destabilizing the situation in the EU to ending military assistance to Ukraine. So far, there has been no noticeable effect from the swarm of Russian disinformation institutions in Europe. But do not forget that “soft power” is a long-distance race, so the longer the war in Ukraine drags on, the more chances propagandists have to win over the European man in the street one way or another.

By Irina Iakovleva

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