Putin’s Useful Idiots: Russian Media and the European Far Right

October 6, 2015 • Articles • Views: 1532

useful idiots

Text and photo by Agne Dovydaityte

Edited by Darya Malyutina

One of the followers of the infamous Russian fascist intellectual and head of neo-Eurasianist movement Alexander Dugin raised an idea in one of his articles that in order to win the ongoing ideological war with the West, Russia had to support and unite all the destructive forces that were undermining the West from inside. It did not become a real policy, but it perfectly explains Putin’s relationships with his ‘useful idiots’ across Europe from both far right and far left ends of the political spectrum. According to Anton Shekhovtsov, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum, sometimes it is hard to say who is a real ‘useful idiot’ and who is paid to be one. In order to get a better understanding of these tricky issues, his paper ‘Bringing the Rebels: European Far Right Soldiers of Russia Propaganda’ examines the role of Western commentators in Russian state media, and explains the methods and impact of the Russian propaganda.

Sometimes it is hard to say who is a real ‘useful idiot’ and who is paid to be one.

On 24 September 2015, Shekhovtsov presented his paper and raised important issues concerning the 21st century’s information war at the Legatum Institute in a roundtable discussion moderated by Anne Applebaum, Director of Transitions Forum. Even though recently (to be more specific, since the Russian-Georgian war of 2008) TV viewers have witnessed an increase in the numbers of Russian-backed propaganda channels and the general amount of biased news, RT (former Russia Today) or Sputnik is far from being a modern invention. The idea of questioning official versions, broadcasting controversial commentaries and uncensored news, and ‘bringing the rebels’ was practised – with the use of the Russian media – more than twenty years ago by a German publisher Ernst Zündel known for promoting Holocaust denial and dissemination of Nazi and neo-Nazi material.

However, today’s propaganda becomes more complex as it encompasses much more than the Russians praising Russia. According to Shekhovtsov, what RT practices is getting ‘white Europeans to say that Russia is doing fine’, and that it is the West and the EU that are unstable and unreliable. Recognition from the West is very important in Russia’s domestic politics. Therefore, an army of ‘useful idiots’ such as Marine Le Pen and Front National, or Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor of the German magazine Zuerst!, more and more often appear on TV as ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’, the titles that would not be applied to them in their own countries. Eventually, if the common knowledge is that media should reflect both points of view, Russia’s one reflects just the second, noted Shekhovtsov.

Today’s propaganda becomes more complex as it encompasses much more than the Russians praising Russia. Recognition from the West is very important in Russia’s domestic politics.

Moreover, the Ukrainian-Russian conflict has become a revenge round in Russian-led information war. Even though in 2008 Russia easily defeated Georgia, the former managed to lose it on the media battlefield. Russia has failed to convince the audiences around the world that it was right in the conflict, and, consequently, could not legitimise its violence abroad. Following the war in Georgia, in 2008-2013 Russia’s English language media saw an increase in the numbers and screen time allocated to far right commentators. Currently, both far left and far right are enjoying the spotlight of RT, Sputnik and other propaganda channels.

This situation challenges the myth that Russia is an anti-fascist country. Since the Cold War, it saw the need to unite the forces to undermine Western liberal democracy, and therefore, to try to legitimise the authoritarian regime. Moreover, it is crucial to point out that RT or Sputnik would not say that the entire West is bad: anti-liberal, homophobic, and anti-capitalist Westerners can easily find a niche in the populist media.

In his paper, Shekhovtsov writes: ‘The implicit message was clear: the West is in decline and failing; traditionalist Russia is stable and safe.’ Furthermore, with the help of the media Putin is portrayed as a strong, confident leader defending both his brothers and sisters at home and compatriots in other countries. He is embraced as a leader. However, just the ones in the complete darkness can follow Putin’s light, which eventually will burn them all.

Other articles by the same author:

First Georgia, then Ukraine: The Eastern front can’t be abandoned

‘The Way to Ukraine’. From Russia to limbo – the story of modern refugees

Ukraine: The Broken Economic Model, Who Pays for It, and How to Fix It?

The Ukraine Crisis Cross Panel Debate – Assessing the Causes and Solutions

Platform Ukraine: conference review


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