Analyzing Moscow’s efforts to undermine Western democracies, we can identify its several main channels of influence. Among them are propaganda (both broadcasting their own media to foreign audiences and bribing the local media), bribing officials and politicians, building corrupt ties through business lobbies, and working with various segments of the population to exacerbate friction, dissatisfaction and conflicts, which exist in any society.
Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, continues to stubbornly ensure that Russian propaganda broadcasts two mutually exclusive theses: “It’s not us” and “We are just defending ourselves.” Russian authorities, and after them the media, have for several years successfully proven to the population that any meanness and crime are justified by the unprecedented state of “external threat”. They assure that the United States is to blame for all that Russia does today because they “organized” orange revolution at the Russian border, supported and continue to support the opposition, cultivate a “fifth column”, “lobby their interests in Russia” and so on. Thus, Russia is trying to prove that its actions are only a “mirror image” of Western foreign policy. However, this statement is absolutely untrue.
The Russian threat is incalculably more destructive and terrible than the activities of the United States. Apart from espionage which all great states conduct, I shall attempt to concentrate on the differences in so-called “soft power.” These differences manifest themselves as follows:
- Different goals. The “soft power” used by the USA in Eastern Europe and Russia throughout the period following the fall of the USSR did not have as its goal the destruction of these countries. Quite the opposite: the democratic institutions the United States tried to introduce into the post-Soviet space, had they been fully enacted, would have led to notable improvements in the development of the country and the standard of living. This includes anti-corruption initiatives and attempts to create a transparent and independent judiciary, as well as procedures to insure the fairness of elections, etc.
Throughout my last years in Russia I maintained close ties to supporters of human rights in my native Urals, and I can confirm that the grant projects implemented by local human rights defenders and supported by foreign funds were in accordance with their officially announced goals. Moreover, if the USA really wanted to “destroy Russia” as averred by Kremlin propaganda, it would have been fully possible to do so in the 90’s. However, rather than this, America provided colossal assistance to Russia, both material and institutional.
In contrast, Moscow does not conceal its view of the USA as its main, deadly and irreconcilable enemy, the essence of evil, the creator of international terrorism, and the primary threat to the very existence of Russia. Therefore, the Russian authorities set as their task to weaken the USA and Europe to the greatest possible extent, to undermine Western democracy, to destroy existing institutions with one overriding goal – to render these countries one way or another dependent on the Kremlin and incapable of resisting Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
Russia has no interest in introducing any constructive institutions or positive changes in the West; she wants to convert the mass media into a source of propaganda and fake news and convert business into a criminally corrupt mechanism to spread its influence and self-serving lobbying. Even the supposedly positive goals announced by Moscow turn out to be lies inasmuch as not a single positive program exists in today’s Russia. This is why the Kremlin supports any, often mutually exclusive, ideologies and trends that could lead to the collapse of the “enemy” country.
For example, by wholly supporting Trump and his battle against key American institutions, Moscow also supports the man who claims to be Trump’s irreconcilable enemy who calls for the secession of California from the USA – Louis Marinelli. Clearly, the goal of Russian influence is the absolute destruction of the West.
- Difference in methods. Given the goals of US activities, the way they use “soft power” is completely transparent and consistent with stated goals. America attempts to translate American values via mass media, the activities of NGO’s (including grants for foreign organizations), the possibility of foreign internships, educational programs, etc. Russian political scientists use almost the same channels of influence over Western societies with the difference that Russia does not create values for those it takes under its wing, but rather fear – and false fear, at that. Fear, hatred, and lies such as “Ukrainian fascism” or “American aggression” – these are the basic products of Russian propaganda.
The basic methodology of Kremlin propagandists is not to introduce positive examples and concrete models for development as is the practice of Western countries, but rather to take advantage of any compromising material, disagreement, human fallibility, hatred, prejudice or fear, etc. They use stereotypes, name calling, the demonization of certain groups of people, the destruction of identities, the creation of false templates and clichés that make it difficult for people to regard one another objectively. As a result, even the most insignificant contradictions are taken as insurmountable, and completely natural difficulties are presented as catastrophes. The distortion of reality and drawing various political and social forces into a war of everybody against everybody else – this has always been the favorite method for destabilization used by Russian special services.
One should not discard from consideration the criminally corrupt contacts developed by Russian business, hacker attacks and false information intended to destroy the very concept of truth itself. And possibly the most important difference from the USA is the use by Russia of criminals and terrorists for military purposes, especially in Europe. Even without taking into account the unproven suspicion of many experts concerning possible contacts with ISIS by Russian intelligence, it is sufficient to cite the example of the annexation of the Crimea, the war in Donbass, and preparations for the unsuccessful coup in Montenegro to confirm that international terrorism in Europe has become the norm for today’s Russia.
- A tendency toward conspiracy: It is important to remember that Russia is a totalitarian state headed by former special service operatives, above all the KGB. It is the FSB that controls the majority of social organizations, mass media, all big business, expatriate organizations abroad, many cultural programs, funds, etc. So, the suspicion that this or that Russian structure serves as a conduit for Kremlin policy and has no independence is completely justifiable no less so than suspicions of conspiracy, recruitment, and the like that always have been used by Russian special services in relations with their “partners.”
This is why the Russians very often judge western countries according to their own example. Former KGB officers simply are incapable of imagining the existence of independent mass media, a strong civil society with a plethora of social organizations free from government interference, uncensored creative arts, an independent judiciary, etc. Therefore, the spread of Russian propaganda and western adherents of conspiracy theories about a “world government” or a “deep state” in the USA are laughable lies or conscious projections by Moscow of its own operating style in quite a different society and state that exists according to its own laws.
From the above it is obvious that the Russian threat demands a serious response from western society because, using all the advantages of the free world, Moscow resorts to methods that are unacceptable for western governments. And such a threat merits an adequate response.