Chatham House Rules

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.

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13 thoughts on “Chatham House Rules”

  1. “…as well as increased censorship of the internet…”

    Professor Robinson, did or did not Mastrykin used this term (“censorship”) in his article? Because you were quoting it for some lenght, but in this one instance decided to… “parapharase” it for your audience, which might well include the people who hadn’t yet read this article either in Russian or English.

    “Russia resists what it considers to be efforts by other sovereign states to reassess the events of the [Second World] war”

    I guess US of A also resists efforts of other sovereign states to reasses the events of the Second World War, when Yanks with Tanks saved EuroFags from Nazis and Commies, ’cause Murika – Firetrack Yeah!

    “I learn from Lutsevych, I was one of the Kremlin’s ‘useful idiots’”

    Yep, Paul, looks like that. Your most deranged svidomite commenters were right about it [nods]

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    1. Bastrykin said it was ‘expedient to define the limits of censoring the global Internet network in Russia’. He then described how China has introduced ‘a ban on electronic media fully or partly owned by foreign residents,’ and suggested that ‘this know-how could be employed in Russia to a reasonable extent.’ He added that, ‘In public places (libraries, schools, and other educational institutions) with access to the World Wide Web, filters restricting access to sites containing extremist content should be established’, and that ‘It is necessary to step up work on introducing modern technology for the effective monitoring of the radio waves and the Internet.’ All this is to combat ‘extremism’, but in the Russian context people have some concerns about how ‘extremism’ would be defined.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for providing quote on that. I remind, that you wrote: “Bastrykin called for… increased censorship of the internet”.

        1) “to define the limits of censoring the global Internet network in Russia”.

        In original: the complete quote is the following:

        “В предлагаемой концепции представляется целесообразным определиться и с пределами цензурирования в России глобальной сети интернет, так как эта проблема в настоящее время вызывает острые дискуссии в свете активизации защитников прав на свободу получения и распространения информации. Интересен в этом плане опыт зарубежных государств, противостоящих США и их союзникам. В связи с беспрецедентным информационным давлением они пошли на ограничения иностранных СМИ в целях защиты национального информационного пространства.

        That’s the only instance when the word “censurirovaniye” (which is similar, but not equal to the word “censorship”) is encountered in the entire article.

        2) “China has introduced ‘a ban on electronic media fully or partly owned by foreign residents”

        So? Employing such sensible (yes – sensible) measure only to a “reasonable extent” doesn’t mean that some sort of book-burning, Inquisition-style censorship are taking over Russian “information space”.

        3) “‘In public places (libraries, schools, and other educational institutions) with access to the World Wide Web, filters restricting access to sites containing extremist content should be established”

        Once again – this is not censorship. Or do you think that the people should be able to gain unrestricted access from the public areas to the Daesh propaganda sites, or to other sites, teaching how to make bombs at home and how to take the lives of this or that group of Undesirables/kaffirs? If you are against that, why are you not protesting similar measures taken (or widely suggested) by the Free West?

        4) “All this is to combat ‘extremism’, but in the Russian context people have some concerns about how ‘extremism’ would be defined.”

        What are those “people” who are “having some concerns” in the “Russian context”? Or is it because when the Bastion of Democracy ™ does anything in the name of Security and Universal Values – this is always kosher, but when Untermen Culturally Infe Un-Democratic Russian Regime tries to take some measures to combat extremis (“so-called extremism” in the textbooks of the so-called Russian liberals) this only leads of the suppressing of the Suppression of Civil Society ™ and Persecution of the Civil Rights Activists of Vilayat Kavkaz (Inshallah!)?

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  2. It’s all projection and camouflage. If the (official) West says Russia is doing something, it’s an admission that it actually is doing it. It’s also an indication that the West knows it’s losing the argument. Back in the day the Sovs jammed the West; the West didn’t worry about Radio Moscow. The fact that people are calling for the reverse today tells you all you need to know.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh no! I am married to an anti-democrat, a spreader of knowledge of the Russian language to unsuspecting U.S. university students. I thought she was just a professor of Russian language and literature, but now I know better.

    U.S. university students: important safety tip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no! Does this mean I must now turn against my Russian language professor as well? I always knew he was working for ‘them’ – ever since he made an offhand comment that suggested something Putin did was actually based on logic! Spreading knowledge of Russian language AND covertly supporting Putin…unacceptable!

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  4. To be fair, just because something may sound harmless it does not have to be.

    Here is one example.
    UK funds various projects in Ukraine: https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/uk-funded-projects-in-ukraine-2015-2016
    One of them is the Ukrainian peace-building school.
    Doesn’t sound to bad?
    That is how it looks in reality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-DwXyHrdXI
    It is an attempt to spread and whitewash the West Ukrainian nationalism in East Ukraine funded by people who are quite opposed to the less nasty nationalists in their own country.

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  5. Govt strategic communication,public diplomacy, PR, propaganda information war etc all refer to organized efforts by actors to promote particular interpretations, evaluations or solutions. However, it’s always interesting to watch how some terms come to be used but not others, and why. Some argue that ‘public diplomacy’ should be reserved for benign, two-way forms of communication aimed at supporters and neutral groups under a broader ‘soft power’ umbrella, while one-way public communication targeting opponents should be called ‘overt propaganda’ or ‘psychological warfare.’ Maybe. The way I see it, calling something propaganda or information war as opposed PR or public diplomacy is above all a power play–historical analogies do all the work for you. What we call something may well be the most political move all.

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