Russia’s massive and increasingly complex sprawling propaganda network didn’t persuade the world that Ukraine is run by Nazis, that Crimea was annexed in a “popular uprising” or that Germany is a failed state but the barrage of misinformation has convinced American politicians that the propaganda network is a significant threat to U.S. security in Europe.
Leading members of Congress are pushing for the U.S. to revive its cold war era propaganda machine in eastern Europe to counter the rapidly multiplying Russian media barrage.
TV channels, news websites, internet trolls and thinktanks pushing the Kremlin line are seemingly everywhere. “Russia has deployed an information army inside television, radio and newspapers throughout Europe,” congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, told a senate hearing on Russian propaganda. “Russia’s propaganda machine is in overdrive, working to subvert democratic stability and foment violence.”
Senator Royce has warned that the Russian propaganda “may be more dangerous than any military, because no artillery can stop their lies from spreading and undermining US security interests in Europe”.
Congressman Eliot Engel said the situation needed “a robust response from us”. Reports have drifted in that the state department has become so alarmed by the rise in Russian media that it appealed to major media companies, including Sony Pictures, for help in combating the Kremlin’s “skewed version of reality”.
But, politicians being politicians, there division over a push by Royce and others in Congress for Voice of America to play a more overtly propagandist role.
In western countries the Kremlin’s most visible mouthpiece is RT television, formerly known as Russia Today. While the station’s motto is “question more” – the broadcaster works to discredit critics of the Russian government and justify Moscow’s actions in ways that may be familiar to viewers of Fox News.
“Russian propaganda is sometimes so crazy, it says such impossible things, it doesn’t have the effect of making people believe them but it breaks down people’s defences,” said Kadri Liik, a Russia and eastern Europe expert on the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. “It’s not just lies, in the way of Soviet propaganda. It’s more sophisticated. A kind of violence against the mind.”