Russia spends more on Propaganda than Unemployment

One of Russia Today's propaganda ads, this one comparing the president of Iran with the president of the USA. How would Russians react to a similar ad from Voice of America comparing Vladimir Putin and Shamil Basayev?

The Russians are coming! The always brilliant Luke Harding, reporting for the Guardian:

They are appearing in newspapers and on posters alongside major roads in Britain. There is Barack Obama’s head, on it superimposed the image of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s leader. The slogan reads: “Who poses the greatest nuclear threat?”

For many people the answer is clear – after all, Obama hasn’t so far called for Israel to “vanish from the page of time”. But for the Kremlin the Obama image is the latest step in an ambitious attempt to create a new post-Soviet global propaganda empire.

Two decades after the demise of Pravda, the Kremlin’s 24-hour English language TV channel, Russia Today (RT), is launching its first major advertising blitz across the UK. Dubbed North Korean TV by its detractors, the channel, available on satellite and cable TV, gives an unashamedly pro-Vladimir Putin view of the world, and says it seeks to correct the “biased” western view offered by the BBC and CNN.

“What we see as black and white might not be black and white. It’s making people question their own stereotypes,” Margarita Simonyan, RT’s 29-year-old editor-in-chief, explains. “We offer an alternative to the mainstream view.”

Certainly, RT’s advertising campaign is provocatively contrarian – casting doubt, for example, on climate change in the week of the Copenhagen summit, and comparing a British bobby to a tattooed football hooligan.

But is anyone actually going to watch it? “I don’t believe in unbiased views. Of course we take a pro-Russian position. The BBC says it openly promotes British values,” notes Simonyan.

Next year the Russian government will spend $1.4 billion (£866m) on international propaganda – more than on fighting unemployment. In January RT launches a Spanish service aimed at Latin America, a region of growing Kremlin geopolitical interest; RT already broadcasts in Arabic.

The Kremlin has trebled the budgets for its main state news agencies, Ria Novosti and ITAR-Tass, despite Russia’s deep economic crisis; there is a paid-for monthly supplement in the Daily Telegraph, Russia Now, and a revival of the Soviet-era radio station Voice of Russia.

The Kremlin employs two major PR agencies, Ketchum and GPlus, and in London uses Portland PR. And then there are the angry bloggers – a shadowy army of Russian nationalists who are active on western newspaper websites, including the Guardian’s Comment is free site. Anyone who dares to criticise Russia’s leaders, or point out some of the country’s deficiencies, is immediately branded a CIA spy or worse. “They [the Kremlin] are coming to realise that information matters and that control of information internationally matters even more,” says Evgeny Morozov, a Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University’s institute for the study of diplomacy.

Morozov, who is writing a book on how authoritarian regimes are exploiting the internet, said the Kremlin was taking a more “aggressive” approach following last year’s war in Georgia.

The Russian government lost the PR battle over the conflict, at least initially, and failed to get its message across to shivering European consumers during two recent gas wars with Ukraine. “They have realised it is only by controlling what gets printed in the international media they can advance their hard policy agenda items,” Morozov says. Current Russian aims, he says, include thwarting Nato expansion and winning recognition for Moscow’s puppet states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Morozov takes a dim view of RT – pointing out that it has a predilection for fringe guests and discredited conspiracy theorists. “For me it’s a comedy channel. You watch it to see how badly mangled Russia’s attempts at influencing foreign opinion are,” he suggests, adding that Russia has moved from Pravda to Pravda 2.0.

Insiders at RT praise the professionalism of the staff. It includes several British journalists and newsreaders. “Generally people there are pretty talented,” one former employee said. “But nobody is under any illusions as to what it’s all about. There is such a lack of objectivity. It’s like North Korea TV.”

RT enjoys more freedom than Russia’s domestic state-controlled channels. But while there is sometimes broad-based criticism of the regime, there is an unspoken understanding that you cannot criticise Putin, the ex-employee said.

Other sources familiar with the Kremlin’s PR strategy say that there is a lingering misunderstanding among top Russian officials as to how the western world works. “They think it’s enough to have good PR and that this is sufficient to act as a counterweight to the bad publicity caused by events in Russia,” one said. “Obviously it isn’t.”

Asked how the Kremlin could improve its image in the west, he replied: “They could stop beating up opposition demonstrators for a start.”

In the long run, however, the PR strategy may pay off. More and more newspapers are closing their bureaus in Moscow, and the number of foreign correspondents covering Russia is dwindling.

Some observers believe that over the next decade the Kremlin’s growing internet presence is likely to spill over into the western mainstream. Simonyan insists that RT is not mere government propaganda. Instead, she says, western reporters often have such “strong opinions” that they “fail to see the truth” about life in Russia. “We don’t believe we live in a country where everything is bad,” she says, speaking from RT’s gleaming offices in central Moscow. Wall screens broadcast RT, the BBC and CNN; clocks show the time in Moscow, New York and London; journalists sit in an open-plan office amid a soft hum of Russian and English.

“We live in a country where some things are getting better and some things are getting worse,” Simonyan suggests. She is unrepentant about RT’s relentlessly pro-Russian coverage of last year’s Georgian war – focusing on the suffering of the South Ossetians but completely ignoring the Russian bombing of Georgian civilians.

Given the bad blood between London and Moscow, and the unresolved feud over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, does she really think RT can find an audience in Britain? “People will be surprised at how much there is in the world that they haven’t been told before,” she says.

38 responses to “Russia spends more on Propaganda than Unemployment

  1. I am about to take a Russian history course with a russophile but another wise great teacher . Does anyone have like a top 10 of reasons Russia is in trouble. I know I know it lose 700,000 more people to death then are born. Chechnya and the “Mad Dog” of the Caucuses Ramzan Kadyrov have spread there problems and refugees to the rest of the “Muslim Caucuses”. Sovereign Democracy or Despot-Democracy. The “Near Abroad” countries who look “West” to NATO , the EU and the USA secure their democratic gains from being undermined by a expansionist despotic corrupt regime in Russia. What’s not to like about “Russia Today” it exposes how the US engineered H1N1 Flu caused the earthquake in Haiti and is behind crop circles! La Russophobe is one of my favorite site I thin I have Russophobia.

  2. I guess Russians disgree over Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and his (over)enthusiastic nuclear disarmamant efforts.

    Basayev vs Putin:

    Well, in my opinion Basayev was a better person than Putin. For starters, he was sincere (including about being terrorist or even a “bad guy”). He was also EXTREMELY brave (he lost his foot when he went to clear a minefield for his men to come behind him to the safety – and by “clear it” I mean walking on it and making a path with his own body, a suicide mission he had survived). I remember how early in the 2nd war, already a cripple, he offered Putin a chance to decide this war in a duel between them (like sometimes in the mediaval times)… of course, Putin declined. Basayev sacraficed just EVERYTHING for his nation – including his entire family. They killed his Abkhaz wife and their little daughter (and his sister and several others relatives) already early in the first war, then they just kept killing. And they even kidnapped and killed his last wife (Elina Ersenoyeva) already after he was dead, and then they also did the same to her mother.

    Six weeks before the Budennovsk raid, a large part of Basayev’s family had been wiped out in a Russian air-raid on Vedeno. In Basayev’s own words to me in December 1995: ‘You talk about terrorism forfeiting our moral superiority before world public opinion. Who cares about our moral position? Who from abroad has helped us, while Russia has brutally ignored every moral rule?

    Trivia: Basayev was a Chechen Avar (the main nation of Dagestan, the original Shamil was an Avar too), but he came from the family that was started by a Russian Army deserter in the Caucasian War (yes, Russian “Dances With Wolves” stuff – apparently there were very many such defectors back then, especially among Polish conscripts).

    • NY Times ? Leave it to the State Departmenents lapdog media to serve as apologists for terrorist scu m. I hope that next, the write an editiorial dedicated to the children of Beslan or those of NORD-OST.

      • What, you mean the children of Beslan who were murdered by Russian security forces so that Putina could look like a tough guy?

        “Pravda-Beslana” Editor in Chief Marina Litvinovich explained the main findings in an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

        “The main conclusion of Savelyev’s report concerns the first explosions in the gymnasium on September 3, which set off of the storming of the school,” Litvinovich said. “In his report, Yury Petrovich Savelyev [says he] found out that the first shots against the gymnasium were made from a certain weapon — the first shot was made from an RPO-A thermobaric flame-thrower, or a similar weapon, and the second shot was made from an RShG-1 rocket-propelled grenade.”

        Investigation Turns

        Savelyev told Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station that his investigation was initially based on the premise that the first two explosions resulted from the hostage takers’ homemade explosives. However, he said the scientific evidence simply did not support that scenario.

        He said that in conducting his investigation he found that surviving hostages were talking about explosions in parts of the school other than those referred to by officials.

        Savelyev concluded that the authorities decided to storm the school building, but wanted to create the impression they were acting in response to actions taken by the hostage takers. Thus, Savelyev believes, the military may have initiated the bloody conclusion to the siege.

        “It is known where the shots were fired from,” Litvinovich said. “The first shot was fired from a five-story building at 37 Shkolny Pereulok, the second shot was fired from 41 Shkolny Pereulok. Those buildings are adjacent to the school. Accordingly, it is also known where the shots were fired at. The first shot was fired at the gymnasium’s attic above the hostages, and the second shot was fired under a gymnasium window. However, it remains unclear who exactly fired the shots, but this question is less important. The more important question is who ordered it.”

        Numerous Questions Raised

        Savelyev’s report also claims that police in Chechnya learned of the attacks three hours ahead of time but failed to alert law-enforcement officials in North Ossetia.”

      • GAHAHAHA!

        The NY Times the State Dep’s Lapdog!

        If that were the case, how do you explain its tendency to leak like a sieve during the Bush years?

  3. Shamil Basayev? Well besides being a radical, the guy had some balls. Vova – got none.

    • Pity you weren’t among the patients of the Budyonnovsk hospital/maternity home taken hostages by that “guy with balls”.

      • And then shot by the “heroes of Russia”.

        I mean regular ones, from the FSB (shooting at the ethnic Russian women that were waving bedsheets and screaming to cease fire).

        Kadyrov, Delimkhanov or the Yamadayevs were not the “Heroes of Russia” yet, they were still “bandits and terrorists” and at the time they were only the “Russia’s heroes” in the making (and btw, Sulim Yamadayev saved Basayev’s life once, well at least according to his own story).

        • Do you mean that shielding oneself with pregnant women is a “brave act”? Well, knowing that you’re an American I’m not surprised.

          • Do you think shooting and killing the said woman without any reason at all is a “brave act”? And again, what about the occupation of Hospital 9 in Grozny in August 1996? Or the women and children on the tanks in Samashki in March 1996? ( ) The other side did not shoot at them – THIS is a normal response.

            @Well, knowing that you’re an America

            Tell your source they’re wrong. I’m not an American.

          • Eugene,

            Von Ras is a German. Exterminating millions of children is his German heritage.

            • It’s in his blood. Them Germans exterminate millions of children before breakfast every day.

              And then after supper they burn down a full school using Shmel flamethrowers.

            • Basayev exterminated millions of children, too. He is the real reason behind the Russian demographic disaster.

              Even now, every time it appears a child is aborted in Russia, it’s really his vengenful spirit at work.

              The rascal even killed his own little daughter to blame the peace-loving Russian bomber pilots.

              Such a shaitan.

      • Also, rate the balls of the Russian soldiers who took shelter in Grozny’s Hospital Number Nine in August 1996?

        And no, this hospital was then not stormed nor fired on (just some mysterious sniper fire and a stray mortar round), and only less than 10 people died there (mostly from their ilnesses and wounds they have been already suffering from and only aggrevated by the Russian seizure). There were negotiations and the Russians were let go with minimal bloodshed, which was their goal anyway (get out of the city, go home). Basayev’s goal was even better – stopping to the killing (of thousands) entirely. But no, the Russian “heroes” just HAD to try and storm the hospital, no matter human shields. And not just once, but they did this twice. And so it was something more than the usual Stockholm Syndrome to the fact that so many hostages chose to go along with Basayev to Chechnya.

        Anyway, Sulim’s claim:

        That the Yamadayev brothers used to be close allies and personal friends of Basayev is characteristic of Chechnya’s treacherously shifting allegiances. Although they became successful businessmen in the post-communist Moscow in the early 1990s, they returned home at the start of the first war of independence against the Russians. During that conflict, Yamadayev mounted a daring raid to rescue Basayev when he was surrounded by Russian forces in Grozny.

        “successful businessmen” – the brothers were mobsters, of course. Some more early heroics of the three Heroes of Russia.

  4. Just British propaganda about Russian propaganda

    PS. author Luke Harding is a plagiarist.

  5. haha of course the head of Russia Today has to be an Armenian

  6. Russia Today is a absurd TV channel, they pump anti British sentiment into our living rooms and expect us to swallow it, they interview some of the most despised people to back up their opinions for example they interview the BNP a racist party with only 5% of the popular vote, funny thing is the policies of the BNP and united Russia are very similar so RT must feel comfortable interviewing these people. Only problem is they turn the stomach of 95% of the British public so RT isn’t winning hearts and minds with this tactic.

    RT’s biased coverage of the 2008 conflict forced Neeve Barker RT’s then Georgian correspondent to resign when they refused to show his reports of Russian troops entering Gori,
    On day one of the conflict RT claimed that 1500 citizens had been killed by Georgian troops it later turned out to be 130 mostly combatants, During august 2008 RT told lie after lie, They are not a credible source of news, they are just a propaganda vehicle formed to serve the Russian state.

    • @RT claimed that 1500 citizens had been killed by Georgian troops

      No, they said 2,000 were killed in the “GENOCIDE”:

    • You’ve got freedom of speech, don’t you?

    • Yep, RT interviewed the BNP, right after the BBC was done interviewing them. No that I have anything against the BBC. They are one of the few remaining respectable, objective news media outlets left in the Western world. As for the remainder of the western press, they are just as absurd as you claim RT to be. The pump anti -Russian sentiment into living rooms the world over and expect that people who watch will just eat up whatever is shoved down their throats and that none will ask questions about their cloak and dagger stories of closeted kremlin neo-stalinists. They interview some the the most despised people ? CNN once interviewed Shamil Basaev. If there’s one thing that RT hasn’t done, it hasn’t yet interviewed terrorist warlords.

      • Well, they have done a lot of interviews with the Taleban…….

      • And the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah……

      • And Hugo Chavez, chief supplier of weapons and trianing to FARC, the biggest bunch of murderers in South America….

        • @FARC

          More like NARC. They’re basically a drug cartel, just like their former right-wing counterparts (“paramilitaries”).

          Anyway there’s nothing wrong with interviewing anyone, RT is “North Korea TV” rather because of their “reporting”, the ham-fisted, typically Russian propaganda, not adjusted for the sophisticated western audience (maybe they have some more success with their Arabic language version, althrough Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya etc set some pretty high standards even there).

          Also Kadyrov’s Chechnya Today spinoff is even worse, if you can believe this. Well, just take a look:

  7. As for the question of who poses a greater nuclear threat ? Well, let’s see, could it be the Iranian who is not even the official leader of his country or that other guy, the one that can push the button on a few thousand nuclear weapons. Could it be the guy whose coutntry was said by an official CIA intellcigence report to have ceased its military nuclear program in the early 200o’s, or the other guy, whose country has a history of impulsive aggression and neo-colonialism ?

    So, who does pose a greater nuclear threat to the free world ? It’s only a very relevant question.

    • Reading this non-sense reminds me of the Soviet propaganda. “Neo-colonialism” is a particularly hilarious expression. I am not going to argue with you because you are obviously quite immature. Those of us who are old enough do remember, however, how Iran seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which was an overt act of war. So, we have a right to remain suspicious of its nuclear ambitions. We also know that the first intended victim is Israel, but I guess Iranian anti-Semitism is of no concern to you. Well, birds of feather…

      But maybe this will sober you up. If Iran starts a nuclear war (or even a regular war), it will disrupt the world commerce tremendously, and your beloved Motherland would have nobody to sell its oil to. You will have to drink it. Since Russia does not produce anything else to speak of, except also gas, how is it going to function? Think about it.

      I understand your country’s desire to be the best friend of every enemy of America, but this particular “friend” will cost you. Radical Shiite fanatics are no friends of Russia, I am convinced of that. This is not the same as befriending that clownish Chavez or thuggish Castro or the murderous Daniel Ortega. But Russia is ready to have this terrible threat so close to its borders, just because Iran is the mortal enemy of the United Stated. Think of this too.

  8. The problem is RT interviews the BNP to give a British “perspective” they ignore the main stream parties, they like to show a distorted image,Theres no balanced reporting.
    Plus if you watch this garbage 70% of its coverage is aimed at attacking the USA.
    They tell us almost nothing about Russia.

    • And you wouldn’t know “Theres no balanced reporting” if not these interviews? Come on.

      Also, I dare you to try and watch Kadyrov TV (Chechnya Today/Chechen Republic Today/Grozny TV). This surreal experience of Islamic Stalinism is even more of “North Korea TV” and even more unsophisticated in its propaganda methods. There’s “almost nothing about Russia” too, because everything is about The President.

      • ..or maybe rather pseudo-Islamic. The “traditional Islam”according to Ramzan:

        At the same time, Kadyrov has issued a series of decrees imposing prohibitions common to many Islamic societies, for example on gambling and the consumption of alcohol, and requiring that all women employed in the state sector, and all female school and university students, wear the hijab. Female students who ignore that requirement are no longer permitted to attend university classes.

        Kadyrov has described both the head-scarf requirement and his recent edict forbidding brides to wear low-cut wedding dresses as part of a program of “moral education.” Other aspects of that program, however, have no clear basis in Islamic belief, and are apparently geared to redefining what is aesthetically and culturally acceptable under Chechen tradition.

        The new requirement that all theater performances and songs performed publicly should “conform to Chechen mentality and education” is just one step away from the ban imposed by the late Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on performances of European opera and ballet.

        The practice of divorcing religious belief from religious ritual, and promoting the latter while cracking down on the former, was one of the hallmarks of the Soviet approach to controlling and manipulating all faiths. Kadyrov appears to be reverting to that approach with the aim of reducing “Chechen Islam” to a lowest common denominator — an Islam that is “easy to understand,” in contrast to much of the theological debate on Chechen resistance websites, and that imposes a minimum of requirements on its practitioners.

        Central to Kadyrov’s religious revival is the public performance of the zikr, the mystic Sufi prayer-cum-dance ritual through which adepts seek to escape the existential illusions of the world and remind themselves of God.

        Kadyrov’s apparent lack of either understanding or respect for Chechen Sufi tradition is evident from clandestine video footage showing him repeatedly firing a pistol into the air as elderly Chechen men perform the zikr. A true Sufi would no more fire a gun during the zikr than a devout Catholic would during the celebration of High Mass.

  9. RT lets no US bashing opportunity slip by, today one of their so called reporters returned from Haiti. He was reporting on the devastation and the work of the worlds’ aid agencies. He praised the work of the French, Germans and others. He then said he noticed the American aid workers were all very clean unlike the others, and it appeared to him that the US aid workers, rescuers doctors and so on were not helping anyone.

    Come on you Russian scum bag the US are making the biggest contribution of any nation. What a cheap shot especially under such tragic circumstances. But that’s typical RT anti American bias for you, this trash is dished out on a daily bases.

  10. RT is hilarious…Check this out…

    Black Lung Mutant Swine Jurassic Conspiracy Presidential Flu in Ukraine!

    And you don’t think Putin has any influence at RT? You must be kidding!

  11. Few independent news sources remain in Chechnya following the murder of the renowned Chechen human rights activist and journalist Natalya Estemirova in July 2009.

    On January 25, in a lengthy interview with the Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today television channel, the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov accused the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky of involvement in Estemirova’s murder and repeated his traditional accusations that Western countries are meddling in the North Caucasus, this time supplementing his claims with the assertion that the US itself founded al-Qaeda. Kadyrov quite openly indicated his irritation with Estemirova’s work: “She started receiving a little money from the West,” he said, adding, “Their aim was to speak more about us and receive more money. They were paid for speaking about our problems. We asked them, why scream about our problems as long we are taking care of everything? That is why we exist, and why we are paid. If we have some failures, why tell the whole world about it?”

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