Thursday, February 25, 2016

Russia's Social Media vs. the Kremlin's Domestic Information War

Andreas Umland, World Affairs

The West has only recently started to understand how deeply public opinion in the Russian Federation has become infected with rabidly anti-Western conspiratorial and Manichean worldviews. During the last fifteen years, Russia’s citizens have been exposed to relentless demonization of the Western world, purposeful instigation of hatred towards the United States, and heavily manipulated foreign affairs reporting in Kremlin-controlled mass media. Thousands of cynical politicians, corrupt journalists, irresponsible showmen, and bizarre pseudo-experts are telling the Russian people, day after day, how immoral, degraded and dangerous Western civilization and, above all, the United States are.

As a result, the majority of Russians now believe that the West is after them. Russia’s territory, natural resources, civilization and very existence are, according to a widespread belief, under deadly threat from Washington as well as its underlings in Europe and elsewhere. Given Russia’s large (and modernizing) nuclear arsenal, this phenomenon is perhaps the most dangerous development in world affairs in the post-Soviet era.

In the spring of 2014, one hundred countries condemned Russia’s de jure annexation of Crimea at the UN, with only 11 states—various small allies of the Kremlin—voting against the resolution. Yet, as a result of the daily brainwashing by Kremlin TV, the overwhelming majority of Russians believe that the annexation was historically, legally, and morally justified. A largely similar story goes for Russia’s de facto annexation of Moldova’s Transnistria, of Georgia’s Akhazia and South Ossetia, as well as its occupation of the eastern part of Ukraine’s Donbas. Equally, Moscow’s increasingly heavy military involvement in Syria and tense political confrontation with Turkey are, in most Russians’ view, mere reactions to ever more aggressive Western policies towards Russia and her few remaining allies.

No surprise then that the West’s responses to Russia’s foreign adventures, i.e. political and economic sanctions, have only further heightened the sense of encirclement and paranoia among Russians. Public opinion formation in Russia has entered a vicious circle within which foreign victories and international defeats of Moscow can both, when well spun, work to strengthen an already established fortress mentality. Indeed, Russia's spin-doctors have manipulated Russia's worsening economic situation to foster an image of the Kremlin as a chivalrous fighter against an imperial and russophobic Washington. As long as Russia’s citizens remain within this alien parallel world, the Kremlin will remain a deadly danger to world peace and humanity’s future—with or without Vladimir Putin.

(More here.)


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