Russian Propaganda Machine: Much Ado About Little as Compared with Western Stratcomm

by Gordon M. Hahn
Much is being made about the ostensibly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Russian propaganda machine. In the Western view, it decides Western elections and threatens the ‘global liberal order’. In fact, an anti-Putin media organ has published a comparison of the resources devoted to propaganda or ‘strategic communications (stratcomm) by Russian and just the US (excluding European) governments. It demonstrates that the American propaganda machine alone is approximately 3-4 times more robust than Moscow’s (https://meduza.io/en/short/2017/09/14/comparing-russian-and-american-government-propaganda).
Moreover, the US stratcomm macine is growing in leaps and bounds ever since the Ukraine crisis provoked by endless NATO expansion. Just one example, is a NATO-tied American think tank, the Central European Policy Center, funded by US tax payer dollars, is like many other such institutes springing up in the US and Europe specializing in strategic communications to advance the mission of NATO expansion. For the last quarter of a century that expansion eastward to Russia’s borders has undermined Western-Russian relations and Russia’s early post-Cold War Western trajectory, alienated Russia from democracy and the free market, and ushered in the poorly labeled ‘New Cold War.’ CEPA’s stratcomm is representative of a general deficient US stratcomm deployed by a series of old and new ‘research institutes’ and media spread across the frontier between Russia and Eastern/Central Europe.
A recent CEPA stratcomm piece demonstrates the irony that while Washington and Brusslels decry Moscow’s propaganda on RT, by trolls, and other media, they lag behind in such activity only by the quality of their own strategic communications. Titled “Liar’s Paradox: The Kremlin’s Master Narrative, CEPA condemns false Russian stratcomm by issuing its own.
For example, the article notes:
“Do Kremlin or pro-Kremlin media actually believe their own claims that NATO’s commanders are testing new hybrid warfare techniques on Russian-speakers in Latvia to alter their behavior, or that an American B-52 plane accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb in Lithuania? It is hard to believe that they do. 
“Do they consider NATO a threat to Russia, and that it is preparing to attack? Probably. If so, why are NATO’s counter-disinformation efforts not more effective?” (http://infowar.cepa.org/Briefs/Est/the-Kremlins-master-narrative).
The problem with the CEPA piece is that one of the sources linked in the story are Kremlin media. In fact, the sources are obscure websites with little to no readership and no demonstrated ties to the Kremlin. Thus, in its own attempt to unmask ‘Kremlin lies’, the NATO think tank itself has lied in a clever slight of hand. The reader is induced through a false inference to proceed in his/her reading equating ‘Kremlin’ and ‘pro-Kremlin’ media.
CEPA continues:
“The answer may lie in the so-called master narrative which forms the basis for other Russian narratives.
If the master narrative is that NATO threatens Russia and that Western media aims to diminish this threat perception, then Moscow is simply doing what everyone else, in their view, is guilty of: producing propaganda. Even if the stories pro-Kremlin media tell are not completely true, they justify their lies with the belief that the United States is lying as well. In effect, everything is propaganda” (http://infowar.cepa.org/Briefs/Est/the-Kremlins-master-narrative).
In this claim–to the extent it has veracity–the Russians are right. Everything is becoming propaganda in both domestic and foreign policy and politics the world over. Of course, one strain of anti-Russian Western propaganda is to exaggerate real Russian cynicism to the point where the Russians have no real or legitimate beliefs, interests, or national security concerns; Russia is simply attacking the West with propaganda to soften it up for future Russian expansion. There is irony inside the irony here, since it is declared US and NATO policy to expand NATO, and there is no perceivable endpoint. Moreover, since a legitimate definition of a security threat is defined in terms of both other actors’ intent and capability and since NATO is world history’s most powerful military alliance–one still intent on expanding further along Russia’s borders–then Russian policymakers and strategists have reason to think “that NATO threatens Russia and that Western media aims to diminish this threat perception” (http://infowar.cepa.org/Briefs/Est/the-Kremlins-master-narrative).
While disingenuous, this example of Western stratcomm of this sort pales in its lack of veracity to other examples I have researched. CITE Putin Is Sick and Crazy and Imminent Coup Myth
CEPA is essentially a US stratcomm media organ and even has a special “Strategic Communications Program. It operates under US tax law as an IRS 501(c)3 and is funded largely by the US government and US government-tied foundations and individuals. CEPA describes its funding as follows:
“CEPA is funded through the support of donors who share our mission of promoting an economically vibrant, geopolitically secure and politically free Central and Eastern Europe with close and enduring ties to the United States. Our funding comes from a diverse mixture of private and public sources, including foundations, individuals, the U.S. government and corporations.

“In addition to being compliant with all public rules governing non-profits, CEPA abides by additional internal standards when considering funding sources. All support benefits programs and analysis with a broad public/educational component, including the annual CEPA Forum. Unlike other U.S. think-tanks, CEPA does not accept foreign government funding. The majority of CEPA funding (more than 50 percent in recent years) comes from U.S. foundations. Past donors include:

“The Hirsch Family Foundation

National Endowment for Democracy

The International Visegrad Fund

The Smith Richardson Foundation

The East Tennessee Foundation

The Poses Family Foundation

The Baltic American Freedom Foundation

U.S. Mission to NATO

NATO Public Diplomacy Division

U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering WMD

U.S. Department of Defense

U.S. Department of State

American Friends of the Czech Republic

FireEye

Lockheed Martin Corporation

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation

Raytheon Company

New Vista Partners

European Defense Agency/ Systems Consultants Services Limited

Chevron Corporation

Bell Helicopter

Textron Systems

Cheniere

BAE Systems

The Hungary Initiatives Foundation

United States Institute of Peace

Friends of Slovakia (http://cepa.org/How-We-Are-Funded).”

From 2013-2016 the share of direct US government funding grew from 2 percent to 8 percent of CEPA’s support (http://cepa.org/How-We-Are-Funded).

So as Americans are indoctrinated to fret over Russians being force-fed Kremlin propaganda and Americans’ alleged vulnerability to its stratcomm, they themselves are simultaneously financing stratcomm targeting themselves, Central Europeans, and Russians. Welcome to the disinformation age, where stratcomm is met with stratcomm, propaganda by propaganda, and the search for truth and reality slips through your fingers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California; an expert analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com; a member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles), http://www.aigeo.org; and an analyst at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago), www.geostrategicforecasting.com.

Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. Previously, he has authored three well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution. Dr Hahn has also been a Contributir to Russia-Direct (www.russia-direct.com) and an analyst and consultant for Russia – Other Points of View (San Mateo, California), www.russiaotherpointsofview.com.

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About Gordon M. Hahn