Wall Street Journal on December 3, 2014, published an article by Jeffrey Gedmin on how to counter Russian propaganda. Excerpts below:
Mr. Putin is a master of propaganda. He understands he must confuse and divide to achieve his strategic aims. At home, he must protect power. In Europe, he wants to divide the Continent. And around the world, he seeks to diminish American influence.
Understanding how modern Russian propaganda works is the key to countering it. An important component of Kremlin strategy is to shift attention away from the Motherland. The best example is Mr. Putin’s world-wide television network RT, formerly Russia Today. Broadcasting in English, Spanish and Arabic—with French and German in the works for 2015—RT offers little programming about Russia. Rather, RT programs advance three narratives: American and Western leaders are hypocrites; the American and Western military-industrial complex seeks to dominate the world; and America and the West are in decline.
Those sound like the themes of Soviet-era propaganda.
It’s time that US draws from our Cold War lessons to fashion a reply. We have instruments at our disposal, including Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Network. But we need to better deploy these resources.
VOA and RFE/RL are doing good work, but suffer from the Obama administration’s lack of vision and strategy. They also are hindered by U.S. public diplomacy’s fixation on new media without proper consideration of content and what our larger aims should be. We need to stop playing defense and go on the offense as we did during the Cold War.
We should talk about Russia. We should talk about how Mr. Putin and his cronies have enriched themselves, all the while doing little to improve the lives of ordinary Russians. We should shine a bright spotlight on the plundering that Mr. Putin and his gang have been committing against Russia, materially, spiritually and intellectually.
In Mr. Putin’s Russia, infant mortality is up and life expectancy is down. Creativity is mocked and debased…Such totalitarian notions are hardly consistent with Russia’s rich pre-Leninist tradition in art, music and literature.
In a sign of its attack on Russians’ intellects, the Kremlin will issue a new history textbook next year that will supposedly eliminate what Mr. Putin calls previous “internal contradictions and ambiguities.” The new textbook is expected to emphasize the Soviet Union’s liberation of Central and Eastern Europe from fascism, and minimize the U.S.S.R.’s Cold War occupation of the region. Mr. Putin is expected to be lauded as a modern stabilizing figure, while opposition figures such as Garry Kasparov (a frequent contributor to these pages) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, according to some sources, are expected to be airbrushed out.
“We need to talk honestly about history, and speak with Russians in the language of values,” says Russia expert David Satter of the Hudson Institute in Washington. Up to now we’ve allowed Mr. Putin to monopolize the values debate.
Second, we need to advance our own narrative about who we are, what we believe in and what we’re willing to fight for. Whether Iraq, the 2008 financial crisis or the racial turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., America continues to be a country of conscience, vigorous debate and self-correction.
A bill that passed the U.S. House this summer and awaits Senate approval would overhaul U.S. broadcasting to make it more effective than ever before. The bill would allow for a more intelligent and efficient allocation of resources. VOA would assume primary responsibility for explaining U.S. policy and reporting on U.S. politics and culture. To be effective, this must be done honestly, not as propaganda. The other broadcast networks would be merged into a single entity with the primary mission of providing independent news and information to closed societies and “managed democracies” such as Mr. Putin’s Russia.
U.S. foreign policy needs its own strategic goals. Ending Putinism must be our ultimate aim. It may be a long-term goal, but let’s also be prepared for short-term opportunities. If oil prices remain low, if sanctions can be sustained and if we would finally provide Ukrainians with the means to resist Russian aggression, the Kremlin might well find itself in a difficult and vulnerable position. To capitalize, we must unmask Putinism for what it is and show Russians that brighter alternatives exist.
Mr. Gedmin, a former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is chairman of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service