Sunday, March 6, 2016

Quotable: Andreas Umland explains why Russians think “the West is after them”

Saturday, March 5th 2016
“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.”  Andreas Umland, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, thus opened an online feature, “Russia's Social Media vs. the Kremlin's Domestic Information War,” on the World Affairs website.  He acknowledges the role of international broadcasters in providing alternate views, and he explores the key role of the social media.  Here are a few additional details:

  • 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.

  • . . . as a result of the daily brainwashing by Kremlin TV, the overwhelming majority of Russians believe that the annexation [of Crimea] 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.

  • 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.

  • How to deal with such an intractable situation? After years of neglect, denial, and dithering, Western countries and organizations have begun to study and discuss this complex challenge.

  • The EU has established a so-called Taskforce Stratcom East and started to publish a weeklyDisinformation Review, which lists most of the Russian mass media lies, mystifications and half-truths about Western policies, Ukrainian affairs, the civil war in Syria etc.

  • To counter Kremlin propaganda, a number of new East European web projects, such as the Russian sections of StopFake in Kyiv, Intersection in Warsaw, and Meduza in Riga, are targeting Russian speakers around the globe.

  • A number of major international media companies, like the BBC in London, Radio Liberty in Prague, or Germany’s DW in Bonn produce Russian-language content aimed to balance the information war that the Kremlin is conducting on a world-wide scale.

  • There is, however, a readily available channel through which accurate information, balanced journalistic reporting, alternative view points, and revealing artistic interpretation can be and, to some degree, already is being communicated throughout Russia—social media.

  • Every day, more and more ordinary citizens are joining Russian social networks that are now playing almost as large a role in urban Russian life as they do in Western daily affairs. Thus millions of Russians have become members of major Western networks like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

  • . . . most Russian speakers are registered with Russia-based and predominantly Russian-language social networks. The three largest are VKontakte (In Contact) with over 50 million users, Odnoklassniki (Class Mates) with over 40 million users, and Moi mir (My World) with over 30 million users. . . . these networks—especially VKontakte, as Europe’s largest social network—also share political content, and thus represent an opportunity to engage the Russian people that has, until now, been used to only limited extent, by the West.

  • The Kremlin is waging nothing less than an information war internationally and domestically. Its well-funded, highly professional and multidimensional propaganda campaign is, above all, designed to keep a kleptocratic regime in power, to diminish Western values as threats to its existence, as well as to expand its influence and reach.

  • The current Russian ruling elite’s enormous prosperity is dependent on blind support of a brainwashed citizenry afraid of a Western invasion of Russia. It is time for the West to reach more actively out to ordinary Russians.

Hat tip:  To Inform is to Influence

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