The head of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation recently caused something of a scandal by writing an article suggesting that Western powers were waging an ‘information war’ against Russia. This, wrote Bastrykin:
is evidenced by the increase in US government spending on programs for the so-called development of democratic institutions in countries bordering on Russia and in the Central Asian states. … About 4.3 billion dollars have been allocated under this item in 2017, and around a billion dollars will go to programs for the so-called fight against corruption and supporting democracy in countries neighbouring Russia. Funds already received under this program have been spent by various non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes. The outcome has been the incitement of anti-Russian moods in neighboring countries, the shaping of the pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism within our country.
To counter this alleged information war, Bastrykin called for ‘a wide-ranging and detailed verification of the compliance with federal legislation of all religious, ethnocultural, and youth organizations’, as well as increased censorship of the internet and the criminalization of ‘the denial or falsification of historical events of particular importance to a state and society.’
Virtually simultaneously, the Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House) published a report by Ukrainian analyst Orysia Lutsevych saying almost exactly the same thing, but the other way around – Russia is waging an information war in the countries adjacent to it; it is using the media and non-governmental organizations under the guise of promoting education, developing civil society, and other seemingly useful purposes.
The Chatham House report, entitled ‘Agents of the Russian World: Proxy Groups in the Contested Neighbourhood’, maintains that:
Russia employs a vocabulary of ‘soft power’ to disguise its ‘soft coercion’ efforts aimed at retaining regional supremacy. Russian pseudo-NGOs undermine the social cohesion of neighbouring states through the consolidation of pro-Russian forces and ethno-geopolitics; the denigration of national identities; and the promotion of anti-US, conservative Orthodox and Eurasianist values. They can also establish alternative discourses to confuse decision-making.
And how does Russia do this deadly deed of confusing democracies with ‘alternative discourses’? According to Lutsevych, through such dastardly techniques as ‘working with universities and schools globally’ to promote the Russian language. (How dare they!) Russia also ‘imposes its own version of history’ (‘imposes’, mark you!). Lutsevych writes that, ‘Although the Soviet historical narrative is recognized in the West as highly politicized and biased, Russia resists what it considers to be efforts by other sovereign states to reassess the events of the [Second World] war’.
Lutsevych complains that the former head of the Russian railways Vladimir Yakunin ‘has established the St Andrew’s Foundation and the affiliated Centre for National Glory. Both have the objective of promoting the Russian national heritage and peaceful coexistence of various nations and religions’. ‘Peaceful coexistence’ – shocking! We cannot have any of that. Organizations like these are ‘proxy groups’ actually working to destabilize neighbouring states, claims Lutsevych. Leading them is the Russian international development agency Rossotrudnichestvo. This operates a sinister ‘network of 60 Russian centres of Science and Culture’ around the world. I was at a meeting at one of these recently. I thought I was there to discuss academic exchanges. In reality, I learn from Lutsevych, I was one of the Kremlin’s ‘useful idiots’, for Rossutrudnichestvo is actually a political organization ‘consolidating the activities of pro-Russian players … and disseminating the Kremlin’s narrative’.
‘Russian state media operating abroad’, Lutsevych says, ‘must be closely monitored for compliance with the broadcasting regulations of their host countries and, where necessary, sanctioned for violations’, and ‘the activities of proxy groups in host countries should be closely monitored, and groups should even be closed down.’ It’s great to see that we in the West occupy the high moral ground.