Disinformation As a Weapon: IMR Presents Report on Russian Propaganda

November 14, 2014

During an event held on November 13, 2014 at the offices of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington DC, the Institute for Modern Russia and The Interpreter presented the launch of a new paper entitled, “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money.”

The panel was chaired by the President of Freedom House David Kramer, and featured Hannah Thoburn, Eurasia Analyst from the Foreign Policy Initiative, along with the authors of the report, Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss.

Writing in the introduction, Pomerantsev explains the purpose of the paper: “The challenges the Kremlin is posing are distinctly 21st-century ones. Feeling itself relatively weak, the Kremlin has systematically learnt to use the principles of liberal democracies against them in what we call here ‘the weaponization of information, culture and money,’ vital parts of the Kremlin’s concept of “non-linear” war. The danger is that these methods will be copied by other countries or strong, malevolent non-state actors. New ideas and tools are needed to deal with this.”

Speaking during the presentation, Michael Weiss emphasized that the most recent exercises of propaganda by the government of Vladimir Putin, especially in the wake of the war in Ukraine, emanate not from the public relations department of the government by rather from the intelligence and military wings.  The whole point, Weiss says, is to misdirect attention and create confusion – often using completely absurd and outright false claims, which when repeated over and over, have an impact on international attitudes toward the conflict. Weiss also called for the establishment of a “disinformation ombudsman” at every major news organization that could be responsible for determining which claims are outright false in order to make sure that readers and viewers are not outright duped.

Responding to questions about the success of Russian state media projects like Russia Today (RT), Thoburn argued that the creators of modern propaganda are exceedingly good at delivering entertainment along with their political messages. “If you don’t have something to hold on to, be that religion, be it values or politics, if you have nothing to fight for, when someone offers you another option – whether you agree with it or not – you take it,” she said.

Watch the full video of the event below, or download the report here.