Erik C. Lisbet and Elizabeth Stoycheff, "Russia's aggressive foreign policy has everything to do with public opinion," businessinsider.com
Image from article, with caption: Protesters link arms and shout slogans outside a courthouse in Moscow February 24, 2014.
What are the public diplomacy implications for countering Russian disinformation for the United States, European Union, and NATO? Psychology literature and our findings suggest two message strategies for correcting Russian beliefs.
One approach would be to promote messages designed to affirm Russian nationalist identity while also providing information about the costs of Russia’s aggressive intervention in the region. For instance, a Russian version of Donald Trump’s nationalist “Make America Great Again” campaign that critiques the costs of foreign military involvement while arguing for allocating resources domestically instead.
A second strategy would be to counter hawkish Russian messages with new information that’s not closely tied to national identity or political attachment. Research shows that individuals are more likely to change their beliefs if they can do so without rejecting core values. However, this strategy may hard to put into place considering that Russia’s foreign policy is increasingly framed in ethno-nationalist terms by the government and Russian media.
One strategy to avoid is encouraging nationalistic Russian audiences to reflect about the benefits and costs of Russian foreign policy. Ironically, research indicates that such deliberation leads to more motivated reasoning, not less. In fact, this type of strategy may lead to a “boomerang effect,” creating even more public support for Russia’s hawkish agenda.
Promoting public buy-in to a democratic peace in authoritarian countries may be difficult, but not impossible. Public diplomacy efforts based on sound social science can have an impact on Russian public opinion and increase its resilience to manipulation by the Putin government. Even in an autocracy like Russia, public opinion has the potential to temper aggressive foreign policy agendas. Shaping public opinion through messages that highlight the costs of conflict is an important first step.