Saturday, November 28, 2015

Quotable: Anne Applebaum on Russia’s state-run media machine

Friday, November 27th 2015
Anne Applebaum’s article, “Russia and the Great Forgetting,” in the December, 2015, issue of Commentary magazine looked back at the Cold War, assayed how the end of the Soviet Union affected the former KGB personnel who are now Russia’s leaders, and described the new Russian “state-run media machine far more sophisticated than anything the USSR ever invented.”

In the past decade . . . the Russian regime has reconstructed a state-run media machine far more sophisticated than anything the USSR ever invented and yet similarly blinkered. Although there are dozens of domestic news outlets, entertainment channels, and magazines, they all toe the same political line, with only a tiny number of exceptions. There is an appearance of variety but a unity of messages. Among them: The United States is a threat; Europe is degenerate; Ukraine is run by Nazis; Russia, unfairly deprived of its role in the world, is finally becoming a superpower again. To anyone who remembers how Communist ideology once sought to express all of history and all of contemporary politics through the lens of one giant conspiracy theory, this is nothing new. But who genuinely remembers?

Abroad, Russian-funded television, websites, and Internet troll factories make similar points in multiple languages. Russia also backs—in some cases financially, in other cases ideologically—politicians, businessmen, journalists, and “experts” who give out similar messages. They include Marine le Pen, the leader of the far right in France; Gerhard Schroeder, the former chancellor of Germany; Vaclav Klaus, the former Czech president, who is now associated with a think tank created by a sanctioned Russian oligarch. Members of the Hungarian and Austrian far-right parties have traveled to Crimea to support the Russian occupation. Syriza, the far-left party in Greece, has deep links to Russia, too.

Fake research institutions, “peace movements,” fictitious political groupings, useful idiots, and agents of influence, both paid and unpaid…We’ve been here before, too. True, the ideology has changed. These days Russia supports whoever is willing to promote its interests, whether far-left or far-right, and whoever can help undermine the established European order. Instead of attempting to foster an international Communist revolution, the primary goal is to keep Vladimir Putin in power and make the world safe for Russian corruption, Russian oligarchs, and Russian money. Which might, in fact, prove a lot more appealing than the dictatorship of the proletariat. * * * * *

Russia is run by men who are deeply attached to the Soviet system, the collapse of which was the most shattering and disorienting experience of their lives. Most Western countries, by contrast, are run by men and women who thought that the collapse of the USSR meant that they could finally move on and think about something else.

Perhaps this is why we in the West haven’t leapt on some of the obvious solutions. . . . . We could fund organizations that debunk Russian disinformation, support credible Russian journalism, and undermine their vast efforts in social media and political patronage. We could worry a lot more about Russian spies and hackers.

We’ve done some of these things, it is true, but without much conviction. And that, I am guessing, is because we just don’t remember how they worked in the past.

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