West v Russia: Propaganda war rages on

Are the old mouthpieces of the Cold War going through a renaissance these days?

The Cold War mentality never left the minds of people in the corridors of power, writes Nekrassov [Reuters]

Before we delve into some of the details of the ongoing propaganda war between the West and Russia, which has intensified since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine last September, let me give you an example of how propaganda can be spread at no cost at all.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last week that the G20 members are divided on whether Russian President Vladimir Putin should participate in the group’s summit that will be held in November in Brisbane. It appears Bishop has “taken soundings” and found that the members of that club of the most powerful countries “are determined to ensure that the G20 remains the premier economic forum for global issues and there is a view that president Putin should turn up”. She also said that Australia, as host nation, has no right to “rescind invitations that have been sent”.

“That would have to be a consensus view within the G20 and there isn’t that consensus,” she said.

Now, here’s the deal: No one has asked Bishop to come out with her assessments, especially as she concedes that there is no prevailing view that Putin shouldn’t be at Brisbane. But she did anyway. Did it cost the US anything to get out this piece of propaganda against Russia for its “aggression against Ukraine”? No, not a penny – just like it didn’t cost the Yanks and their allies anything for Canada to suddenly come out and announce a new set of sanctions against Russiaabout a week ago, as punishment for its “behaviour in Ukraine”.

The sad thing is that the Cold War mentality has never really left the minds of people in the corridors of power in the West, as otherwise, there would be no Nato in existence by now and it wouldn’t be amassing its troops on the borders with Russia.

But were these two examples beneficial to the overall efforts to undermine Russia’s standing on the world stage and domestically? Of course they were. Even though the joke among Russian hacks is that Canada has officially asked Moscow to treat its sanctions seriously.

‘Russian Aggression Prevention Bill’

Which brings me to the bill that was passed last week by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, the so-called “Russian Aggression Prevention Bill”, that authorises $10 million a year to be used to counter “Russian propaganda” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. It all has to do with financing broadcasts by the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to these fine destinations. It is no doubt a welcome boost for these mouthpieces of the Cold War that are going through a renaissance these days. Obviously, these amounts are totally separate from other branches of the US government spending on the propaganda war with Russia. It doesn’t, for example, include $100m provided by the US to NGOs in Russia and $25m to opposition bloggers, according to the respected Russian website, politonline.ru.

We already know that the US has spent a massive $5bn on “promoting democracy in Ukraine” alone, as revealed by Victoria Nuland of the US State Department. But every little helps, as they say, especially if we add all those freebies like I mentioned above. Not forgetting that the EU has its own programmes of “helping to promote democracy” in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova; so whatever the US spends, it triggers a chain reaction among its allies.

The Russian answer to that is not very impressive, if you consider that the TV channel Russia Today reportedly gets nearly $500m a year to run all of its services across the world and the Voice of Russia radio station that broadcasts in around 50 countries is said to have a modest $25m budget. Both of these services are not widely available in Georgia and Moldova and are banned in Ukraine. And if you consider that RT and VoR don’t have the same access to audiences in the West as the mighty US broadcasters, it really doesn’t look all that impressive.       

Facts are stacking up

On the face of it, if you listen to the western media, Russia has been winning the propaganda war with the West over Ukraine, even though in an amazing consensus most western media are highly critical of Russia and their broadcasts overwhelm that of RT and VoR in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. I suppose this fear of losing the propaganda war comes from the fact that events on the ground in Ukraine, for example, are not exactly confirming a lot of what US and western hacks are reporting, like it happened with the tragic flight MH17 by Malaysian Airlines in July, that we don’t hear much about any more in the western media, as the facts are starting to stack up against the Ukrainian troops and militias.

The sad thing is that the Cold War mentality has never really left the minds of people in the corridors of power in the West, as otherwise, there would be no Nato in existence by now and it wouldn’t be amassing its troops on the borders with Russia. So, is there any wonder that the Cold War rhetoric came back into the western media reports and statements by officials, basically without a hitch, as if they were ready for that all along?

And finally, how can we forget the propaganda that the US has been so good at in the past 50 years or so? Yes, I am talking about Hollywood and US TV belting out films and shows and programmes that promote US values, and the mighty internet engines providers that are strangely all American and even receive substantial funding from the US Big Brother.

Not forgetting the onslaught of computer games that carry messages of American greatness and make bad guys out of Russia and other nations that are seen as “unfriendly” to the US. If you add all this together, you would get an astronomical figure that dwarfs anything that Russia can cough up on its propaganda response.

It’s an uneven struggle, by any account.

Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.