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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 53 min 5 sec ago

To keep himself in power, Putin has created an off-putting ‘State of Fools,’ Yakovenko says

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 20:05

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

“By his planned cleansing of the political field of Russia” of anyone who might challenge him, Vladimir Putin has “liquidated any direct threat to the preservation of his power,” Igor Yakovenko says. But at the same time, he “has created a new albeit long-term threat” to him and Russia.

The essence of this threat, the Moscow commentator says, is that “in Russia today, there exists a critical mass of fools in power and fools with initiative,” a reality that Putin himself occasionally acknowledges as he did with regard to official attacks on artists and directors (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59719A83C5005).

“But the winner of the competition for the title ‘chief fool of the month’ undoubtedly is DNR head Aleksandr Zakharchenko who declared that he is replacing Ukraine and putting in its place Malorossiya with a capital in Donetsk.” Unlike most fools in Putin’s entourage, this wasn’t a personal evaluation or a prediction: this was a declaration.

Holding what he said was “’a constitutional act,’” Zakharchenko listed the 19 Ukrainian oblasts he said would be part of his new state. (Why he didn’t list the other four is uncertain. Perhaps he doesn’t know, Yakovenko says.) Worse yet, “it is obvious that the Kremlin wasn’t prepared to go so far in its own alternative reality.”

Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov didn’t quite know how to react at all, while Vladislav Surkov suggested that all the “hype” about Malorosia about “the imaginary state of Malorossiya on the whole is useful.” At least, it will have an impact on Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with Europe.

To the honor of Ukrainians, Yakovenko continues, “many of them still have” a positive attitude toward Russia and its leadership.” But “it is difficult to say how the further rapid growth in the number of fools in the Russian leadership and the appearance of ever new foolish initiatives on the relationship of citizens of Ukraine and Russia.”

“Especially,” he concludes, “if one considers that the author of this main and most foolish initiative on the occupation of Crimea intends to continue to rule Russia until the end of his life and Russians in the same way are prepared to put up with this.”

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Russian lawmakers adopt final drafts of legislation cracking down on Internet anonymity

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 19:25

By Meduza

Russia’s State Duma passed final versions of legislation that will impose new restrictions on instant messengers and prohibit the use of technologies that make it possible to circumvent Internet censorship. Both draft laws were adopted with overwhelming majorities.

The law on instant messengers requires service administrators to establish the identity of all users through their phone numbers, also establishing a system (to be determined by the government) to restrict communications by certain individuals. One of the bill’s co-authors has said these targeted restrictions on individuals’ access to instant messaging will be determined by court orders. If passed by the Federation Council and signed by the president (which is very likely), the law is designed to take effect on January 1, 2018.

The State Duma also adopted legislation that would tighten government control over the sale of SIM cards, making it more difficult to buy a SIM card without providing cellular operators with verified passport information.

The legislation against censorship-circumvention tools would ban the use of any software that grants users access to online content that’s been banned in Russia, including virtual private network (VPN) services and Internet anonymizers, like the Tor browser. The law would also ban any online resources that provide access to such software. Russia’s Federal Security Service and Interior Ministry would be responsible for identifying software that violates the law, which takes effect on November 1, 2017, if approved by the Federation Council and President Putin.

By Meduza

Categories: World News

Children’s toy part of conspiracy against the Kremlin

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 12:14

By East Stratcom

Have you tried the fidget spinner? The toy that enjoys a wave of global popularity has now also reached Russia – only to be blamed on national TV for being instrumental in a conspiracy to topple the Kremlin leaders.

Yes, you read that right. In a news broadcast aired by Russian state TV Rossiya-24, the audience was told that the spinner “has at several occasions been seen in the hands of members of the opposition”. The spinner is in fact closely tied to political activism both in Russia and abroad, if we are to believe Russia’s national broadcaster.

But that is not the end of the story. Russia’s consumer watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, followed up on Rossiya-24’s conspiracy theory by ordering a probe into the spinner’s possible negative effect on children’s health, as reported by CurrentTime TV.

Not the first game that was created by evil Western spies

The accusations against the fidget spinner do not stand alone: Supporters of opposition leader Alexey Navalny were recently accused of having ties to online suicide groups targeting Russian teenagers, and Navalny himself has been called a ”political pedophile” in Russian state media because of his success in mobilising young Russians to participate in protests. Clearly, recent “temnik” guidelines from the Kremlin have demanded that dominating Russian media follow a narrative about the opposition as physically dangerous for young Russians.

Previously, other elements of children’s culture coming from the West have been accused of being part of plots for regime change in Russia: Russian nationwide TV has for example explained that the Pokemon Go game was in fact created by foreign secret services as a tool for global espionage.

For more details on the accusations against the fidget spinner on Russian national TV, read the article by Meduza in English.

By East Stratcom

Categories: World News

Living the Russian dream

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 10:41

 

By Corina Rebegea, for CEPA

Classic Russian propaganda stories are a rare occurrence in Romania’s media space. Yet discreet attempts to win over the hearts and minds of Romanians are becoming more common. Sputnik recently posted an interview with a Romanian woman married to a Russian man and living in St. Petersburg who painted a rosy picture of life there. The interview is a real treat for its carefully selected words and praises of Russian culture, lifestyle and openness to foreigners in an obvious attempt to portray Russia as a sort of promised land. It is also unique because typically pro-Kremlin media outlets publish articles and commentaries criticizing the West and pointing to its decay and corruptive nature.

The interview received little social media attention—with 128 Facebook interactions including likes, comments and shares, and just over 900 views on the webpage—though it was much more popular than typical Sputnik news articles, which have very little following. But the reach is less important than the role these positive stories play in creating a balance between love and fear that makes Russia such a formidable information war machine. Romanians have a deeply rooted fear of Russian aggression that pro-Kremlin media trying to assert Russia’s military superiority over NATO—and thus Romania’s vulnerability—can easily exploit. However, it still must construct the love component. Russian propaganda is slowly trying to break through the collective dislike of Russia with narratives about the benefits of strengthening Romanian-Russian economic ties, and also through endearing snippets about life in Russia and personal accounts that connect with the reader at a more intimate level.

Instilling doubt about Romania’s NATO and EU choices or weakening pro-Western sentiment is potentially more lucrative for the Kremlin than trying to boost Russia’s approval rating among Romanians, who have no nostalgia for the USSR and perceive Russia as a historical enemy and a threat. It will take more than a few media campaigns to reverse those perceptions. On the other hand, playing the anti-West card fits better with conspiracy theorists and nationalists who already populate various corners of the internet.

But the love-fear continuum is an overarching element of online Russian propaganda everywhere and Moscow serves it in regular installments on various media. Articles like Sputnik’s interview form only one piece of the #SlavaPutin (glory to Putin) puzzle that pro-Kremlin trolls and their unsuspecting followers build every day on Facebook. In their world, pictures, anecdotes, memes and personal testimonies paint an appealing picture of Russia’s greatness. Facebook is a solid breeding ground for Putin’s adorers. His personality cult—along with news about Russia’s military might or sensible fair foreign policy decisions—aims to obliterate real news about Russia. With pro-Putin propaganda having carved a space on its own in international media, Romania’s pro-Kremlin trolls have a daily mission to share these narratives and slowly drill them into their followers’ minds.

Such social media behavior, including the replaying of older narratives (trolls often republish forgotten stories from months or years ago), is also part of a Russian propaganda water drop technique by which snippets of (dis)information either pro-Kremlin or anti-West are dripped into the media space every day with the deliberate aim to erode confidence and attachment to Western values and institutions. This is enough to suggest there is increased experimentation in how Kremlin propaganda targets Romanians and we need to pay attention to whether the efforts to edulcorate their view of Russia will continue and succeed.

By Corina Rebegea, for CEPA
Categories: World News

Nearly two-thirds of Russians now favor statues honoring Stalin and oppose memorials to his crimes

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 09:59

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Sixty-two percent of Russians say that statues and other memorials should be put up in Russian cities to remind about “the successes of Joseph Stalin,” a new VTsIOM poll says; but at the same time, 65 percent of them are opposed to any monuments that recall his crimes.

Young people under the age of 24 are somewhat more favorably inclined to the erection of Stalin memorials (77 percent) than the average for all Russians, with pensioners who may have lived under the Russian dictator also just above the average (63 percent). It is the middle-aged who oppose such moves (rbc.ru/rbcfreenews/597057059a79472210e669c9?from=main).

Both those who favor Stalin statues and those opposed say they are defending historical truth. Fifty seven percent of those favoring erecting statues in his honor say that “people must know the entire truth,” while 39 percent of those who want memorials to his victim make the same argument, VTsIOM reports.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

The Kremlin is planning its own version of Stone’s ‘Putin interviews’

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 09:18

Director Oliver Stone Gage Skidmore / Flickr

By The Moscow Times

A Russian film company will produce a feature-length documentary about President Vladimir Putin in the lead up to the March 2018 elections, the television channel Dozhd reported on Thursday, citing anonymous sources.

The RBC news outlet later confirmed the reports of the documentary, due to broadcast on a state-run television channel, citing a source close to the Kremlin.

The documentary, which will reportedly center around interviews with the president, follows the release in June of another documentary film, “The Putin Interviews,” produced by U.S. movie director Oliver Stone.

Filmed with Putin between July 2015 and February 2017, the eight-hour documentary broadcast in Russia on the state-run Channel One. The documentary drew heavy criticism from many Western media outlets who accused Stone of adopting an uncritical interviewing style towards the Russian president.

The Dozhd report said Channel One presenter Vladimir Solovyov would play the role of interviewer in the home-made film on Putin. Solovyov, however, denied the report in comments to RBC.

Russian director Saida Medvedeva, whose company is reportedly responsible for the new project, told Dozhd that the film is still “just an idea” and that filming had not started.

Medvedeva filmed a similar full-length documentary, “The President,” two years ago to mark 15 years of Putin’s years in power.

Unlike “The President” and Oliver Stone’s “The Putin Interviews,” however, the new documentary is expected to focus on Putin’s reelection campaign, the source close to the Kremlin told RBC.

By The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Russian state TV accuses anti-Kremlin opposition of diabolical new plot: profiteering off fidget spinners

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 00:14

By Meduza

The Russian state-owned television network Rossiya 24 aired a news segment last month about the supposed connection between the sudden popularity of “fidget spinners” and the actions of Russia’s anti-Kremlin political opposition. Titled “Spinners: Stress Relief, a Get-Rich Scheme, and an Oppositionist Toy,” the report aired on June 19, but it didn’t draw public attention until comments by journalist Alexey Kovalev.

Spinners: Stress Relief, a Get-Rich Scheme, and an Oppositionist Toy Rossiya 24

“These toys are popular not only among high school and college students. More than once, they’ve been spotted in the hands of representatives of the non-systemic opposition,” said Alexey Kazakov, the host of the news program “Vesti,” when introducing a report by Nikolai Sokolov.

In his segment, Sokolov reviewed the popularity of fidget spinners in the West, noting that they only arrived in Russia somewhat later. “Who is promoting this so actively to the masses?” the reporter asks, before revealing that the toys were sold at anti-corruption protests on June 12. “Videobloggers sold them right in the thick of events, and used the profits, they say, to film new videos,” Sokolov claimed.

Continuing his segment, Sokolov said YouTube channels that collect videos about fidget spinners are often highly political. This, the “Vesti” reporter theorized, is how opposition channels seduce their “potential protest audience.” The segment concludes with comments that Catherine Hettinger, the creator of the fidget spinner, has apparently criticized the U.S. government. She has also supposedly recommended a “Facebook page” that has been blocked by Russia’s federal censor. Meduza was unable, however, to determine which Facebook group this is.

By Meduza

Categories: World News

Russia leading ‘assault’ on freedom of expression — HRW

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 00:06

Pixabay / modified by MT

By The Moscow Times

Russian authorities have clamped down on Internet freedoms and introduced “invasive surveillance” online, under the pretext of fighting extremism, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published today.

The report criticizes Russia for unjustly imprisoning dozens of people based on their activity online and for introducing new laws that give the government tools to “restrict access to information, carry out unchecked surveillance and sensor information the government designates as ‘extremist.’”

“Russia’s authorities are leading an assault on free expression,” HRW researcher Yulia Gorbunova said. “These laws aren’t just about introducing tough policies, but also about blatant violation of human rights.”

In its report titled “Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression,” HRW advised the Russian government “to repeal the repressive legislation, stop prosecuting critics under the guise of fighting extremism, and uphold its international obligations to safeguard free expression.”

By The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Putin feels a kinship with Stalin and Ivan the Terrible, Eidman says

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 23:58

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Vladimir Putin “defends Ivan the Terrible and Stalin ‘from excessive demonization’ because unconsciously he feels himself” to share with them a common approach, Igor Eidman says, and views criticism of them like criticism of himself as “the slander of hatred foreigners.”

Stalin defended Ivan for the same reason, the Russian commentator says; but unlike Putin, Stalin viewed the tsar as “an insufficiently decisive murderer,” who should have killed more people. Putin for part isn’t disturbed by the actions of Stalin and their continuing impact on Russia (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=596CCC1269450).

“Ivan the Terrible was rehabilitated under Stalin, but under Putin a creeping rehabilitation of not only Ivan but of Stalin himself is going on,” Eidman continues, a reflection of the fact that other paranoids don’t appear to have a problem to those who are paranoid themselves. He then quotes Stalin on Ivan and Putin on both Ivan and Stalin to make his point.

Stalin said that “the wisdom of Ivan the Terrible consisted in the fact that he stood on a national point of view and did not allow foreigners into his country, thus defending it from the penetration of foreign influence. [He] was very harsh [but] it was necessary to show” that in his times.

“One of the mistakes of Ivan the Terrible consisted in that he did not cut down the five major feudal families. If he had destroyed these five boyar families, then there wouldn’t have been a time of troubles. But Ivan the Terrible executed some and then for a long time repented and brayed … He needed to be more decisive.”

Putin said of Ivan the Terrible that it is “unknown whether he killed his son or not” and that the legend that he did was the work of the papal nuncio “who came to him for negotiations and tried to transform Orthodox Rus into Catholic Rus.” The nuncio then portrayed Ivan as something extraordinary, but exactly the same thing was occurring elsewhere at that time.

And finally, Putin said of Stalin: “Stalin was a product of his times … It seems to me that excessive demonization of Stalin is one of the means, one of the lines of attack on the Soviet Union and Russia. in order to show that today’s Russia bears some birthmarks of Stalin. So what? – We all bear some birthmarks of some kind or another.”

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Dependent media – Russia’s military TV Zvezda

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 10:05

By East Stratcom

“The chemical attack in Idlib in Syria on 7 April this year was a piece of “fake news” and a staged operation from the side of the rebels, which aimed at discrediting Syria’s government forces”. So was the message in a seven minutes long report broadcast last week in Russia by the TV channel and online outlet Zvezda. In order to assess the relevance of Zvezda’s production as a contribution to throwing light on the Idlib attack, it makes sense to ask what kind of outlet Zvezda is and what interest it would have in making this sensational claim.

Patriotic and tabloid
Zvezda means “The Star” in Russian, hinting at the outlet’s role as successor to the official newspaper of the Soviet armed forces, Krasnaya Zvezda, “Red Star”. Owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defence, Zvezda broadcasts television, produces online stories and radio programmes related to military, but also, more broadly, political and social affairs. Zvezda describes itself as “patriotic”, which in Russia translates as loyal to the government line. Zvezda is also known for a style bordering on tabloid journalism – and for spreading outright disinformation. See at the bottom a list of disinformation examples from Zvezda’s output, collected by the Disinformation Review.

Weaponised and dependent
When experts make the point that Russia’s authorities “weaponise” media, Zvezda is one of the first examples that come to mind: The outlet is used by the military branch of the government for the purpose of spreading its narratives, including disinformation, so Zvezda is about as far as one can get from the notion of independent media. Not only is it dependent by being owned and controlled by the government; it is controlled by the part of the government whose leadership has gone on the record as saying that “false data” and “destabilising propaganda” are legitimate tools and that they view media as “another type of armed forces”.

Drowning out the truth with disinformation
Independent media can be overwhelmingly successful in removing the smokescreens of disinformation and getting the truth out of war zones, as we have for example seen after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine. But how trustworthy is the dependent outlet of Zvezda as a source of investigative journalism? Given the outlet’s background and track record, it is more reasonable to assume that Zvezda’s new story about alleged “fake news” production in Idlib is a sign that the Kremlin and its armed forces, which support President Assad, feel uncomfortable about the facts on the ground and want to create a smokescreen. The tactic of spreading confusion and sowing doubt by disseminating many different stories about the same event is similar to what pro-Kremlin media have done with regards to Flight MH17. The strategic aim of this kind of information operation is not to make us believe in a particular story, but rather to make us believe that we will never learn the truth, thereby creating a form of noise, which would drown out the findings of independent investigative journalism.

Examples from Zvezda’s output, collected by the Disinformation Review (subscribe here) over the past 18 months:

· Nine nuns in a Milano monastery became pregnant after hosting five migrants: https://euvsdisinfo.eu/the-pro-kremlin-narrative-about-migrants/

· Ukrainians steal food from pigeons in order to survive: https://tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201703140921-kyq9.htm

· There are Nazi zombies fighting in the Ukrainian army: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJqtXkvwu2U

· Zvezda was among the pro-Kremlin outlets that reported the fake story about the rape of 13 year old “Lisa” in Germany in 2016: https://tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201601162224-awu5.htm

· The Ukrainian secret service is planning to smuggle over 200 kg of cocaine into Donbas in order to destroy and “narcotise” its nation: https://euvsdisinfo.eu/the-world-in-black-and-white/

· US Vice President Joe Biden proposed to break up Ukraine into a bunch of independent states: http://bit.ly/1TD3kLv

· The West has blamed Ukraine for a serious crime regarding the MH17 investigation: https://tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201601300911-trmt.htm

· Hundreds of well-trained and armed Turkish fascists and mercenaries operate on the Crimean-Ukrainian border: http://bit.ly/1Yga3x4

· The war in Ukraine is favourable for Europe, as Europe intends to clean Ukraine of its population and send refugees there instead: http://bit.ly/2mm6sEH

· The US were targeting the Russian space industry when they organised Maidan in Ukraine: http://bit.ly/2o0jvgt

· The visa-free regime with the EU will turn Ukraine into an unspiritual gay-colony of the West (later removed, but see the print screen here: https://images.unian.net/photos/2017_04/1491588448-8402.jpg)

· Ukraine is delivering weapons to the terrorists the Middle East via Mariupol. There are chemical weapons in Mariupol as well. In the past, Ukraine used chemical weapons in Donbass: http://bit.ly/2oxyiMM

· Aided by a 500 member strong Islamic battalion, Ukraine delivers chemical weapons to the Middle East: http://bit.ly/2nNXIUH

By East Stratcom

Categories: World News

Fake: Scores of Ukrainian Stars Perform in Russia

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 01:45

Russian fakes about Ukraine are not only focused on Ukrainian politics, but also on its culture and pop stars. Last week Russia’s first channel program Vremya Pokazhet announced that many Ukrainian pop stars were giving concerts in Russia, with the popular Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy leading,  having performed in Russia 35 times in 2016-17.

Responding to this patently fake claim, Okean Elzy front man Sviatoslav Vakarchuk tweeted that the band has not performed in Russia since 2013.

In December of 2013 when the Maydan Revolution was already underway in Kyiv, Okean Elzy were on tour in Russia. Having an influential Ukrainian group touring at that time was deemed to be inconvenient and the band was subjected to all sorts of bureaucratic and administrative problems:   they had the wrong kind of documentation for working or performing in Russia (despite the fact they’d done so many times before). Once that problem was resolved, suddenly the venues of the ten remaining gigs began reporting mysterious but unspecified “technical problems”. The remaining shows were cancelled and Okean Elzy hasn’t performed in Russia since.

 

Artists who continue to perform in Russia have been subjected to scathing criticism from the Ukrainian public who consider such behavior appalling and in poor taste in the face Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Categories: World News

Kremlin TV: Singing from the same hymn sheet

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 21:37

By East Stratcom

“The West is the cause of all problems in the world, whereas Russia is invariably the only source of positive hope”. This is the conclusion of a recent study on the messages from Russian TV channels in Moldova, published by the Association of independent press (API).

In spring 2017, API monitored for one month the newscasts, analytical programmes and talk shows of five Russian TV networks that are directly relayed into Moldovan homes: State channels Pervy Kanal and RTR, the Gazprom-owned station NTV as well as private networks REN TV and STS.

West equals terror and fear, Putin equals peace and freedom

The study found that Pervy Kanal, RTR, NTV and REN TV cover international news in a strikingly similar way (no newscasts from STS were part of the monitoring). These outlets portray political events to demonstrate the West’s responsibility “for all negative things happening in the region and worldwide”. At the same time, Russia and its President Vladimir Putin are presented as the “only true fighters for peace and for the self-determination of the peoples in the world, as fighting terrorism, loyal defender of democratic values and Christianity”.

Other main narratives include:

• Ukraine is a failed state governed by corrupt fascists
• Ukraine is responsible for the conflict in its eastern territories
• The EU is morally degrading and about to collapse
• The EU is preparing for war with Russia
• The political leaders of certain EU member states are behaving ridiculously, cannot solve crises and depend on the US
• Marine Le Pen would be best suited for the office of French president
• There is an international conspiracy against Russia
• The Eurasian Economic Union brings real benefits to former Soviet Republics, unlike the European Union
• The USA is an aggressive country that creates conflict in the Middle East, in Syria and with North Korea

At the same time, the authors say that REN TV’s programmes generally “promote Russian lifestyle and culture, glorify the Russian army, and acclaim the President Vladimir Putin”. The study notes that RTR advertised the “greatness of Russia and President Vladimir Putin”, “guarantor of prosperity for the peoples of the former USSR”.

Propaganda gets included in entertainment shows

The propaganda techniques employed also frequently overlap between the stations: As a rule, the study highlights, news broadcasts were one-sided and the right to response and pluralism of opinions were not ensured. News anchors used derogatory terms and showed their opinions. In Pervy Kanal and other networks, caricatures and collages were used to show Ukrainian leaders and the country’s Western partners in a negative light.

Talk shows only “mimicked” debate and guests who are deviating from official lines get “often ridiculed and even verbally abused”. The study notes that talk-show hosts on Pervy Kanal “demonstrate that they realize a well-thought and well-planned scenario seeking to promote messages, most often, denigrating the opponents of the Russian Federation. The hosts do not only moderate the show but also intervene in the guests’ messages, they contradict them, they quarrel when they want to impose certain messages.”

STS was not covered in the news monitoring. As it is an entertainment channel, the API study found numerous examples of sketches subtly mocking the US and conveying “anti-European, anti-German and anti-Ukrainian messages”. For example, an entertainment show at the end of March conveyed the message that young people studying in Europe will change their sexual orientation, a “stereotype widely held within the Russian society”. Other sketches demonstrate that Germany continues to be Russia’s enemy and “Russians could easily defeat them”.

By East Stratcom

Categories: World News

Jim Kovpak: Double Feature. Potential Russia grifter foiled

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 21:10

By Jim Kovpak, Russia Without BS

How tragic it is when a young, budding Russia grifter attempts to leave the nest an falls like a stone. Jared Yates Sexton, a creative writing assistant professor with some work published in a handful of major publications, recently attempted his takeoff on the premier venue for instant-Russia experts, Twitter. Some of you may remember this tweet:

Like. I spent hours and days and weeks and months. And his son just, hit tweet.

— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) July 11, 2017


Oh the poor muckraker- all that work and then The Donald’s dumbass spawn scoops him by just tweeting out his emails. The life of an investigative journalist, am I right, folks?

Oh wait…No.

Turns out he’s just a fraud with a book to sell. Well that still managed to get him a mention on the Stephen Colbert show, which I’m sure is truly praise from Caesar for American liberals these days.

Well I guess Jared deserves at least a B+ for effort. Keep trying and don’t forget to spice up your Trump/Russia commentary with words like maskirovka and kompromat.

Russia Without Bullshido

As long-time readers might have guessed, I’m pretty much tired of Putin articles. Hell, I was tired of Putin articles in 2013 when I started this blog. But today I saw an article about the little man which piqued my interest as it concerns one of my hobbies. Apparently there’s a guy claiming that Putin may be a martial arts fraud. Sadly, the article fails to deliver on several counts.

Questioning Putin’s black belt credentials certainly has merit. Putin’s black belt is in judo, which is not only the origin of the belt-ranking system in modern martial arts but is also governed by highly centralized bodies. It did not take too long for me to find this article from 2012 about Putin receiving 8th dan level from the International Judo Federation. Reading the article, one gets the idea that this move was kind of political, but it’s an 8th dan, in other words- 8th degree black belt. This means he would have earned his actual black belt many years ago. I’ve also read that he has won competitions in the past, so there would be official records. The bottom line is that this is a very verifiable claim.

Rather than researching records and using the time-tested journalism technique of googling “judo,” the article relies on the blogger Benjamin Wittes, a martial arts practitioner himself who has apparently actually challenged Vladimir Putin to a fight. One would think Wittes would know what I already mentioned about judo and its regulating bodies, but rather than investigate that he seems to rely primarily on video evidence, or lack thereof.

According to Wittes, in every video of Putin doing judo, his opponents go down too easily. This is a bit ironic because one of Wittes’ martial arts is aikido, a very deadly art so long as your opponent is kind enough to give you their wrist and allow you to throw them. Perhaps Wittes has watched more Putin judo videos than I have, but in all the ones I’ve seen it appears that Putin is demonstrating some kind of technique. In other words, it is not randori, or free practice, where the opponent is actually resisting 100% and trying to win. When someone is just demonstrating or practice a technique, the opponent (uke is the Japanese term for the person being demonstrated on) should not resist at all. Sometimes, a person practicing or demonstrating may have the opponent give a certain amount of resistance to show the technique in a more realistic way, but they will still be compliant.

Is it possible that Russian media has produced videos of Putin supposedly doing real randori, and winning effortlessly? I can believe it. He certainly does this in his staged hockey matches. This does not mean he’s a complete martial arts fraud, however. Some of the techniques I’ve seen him demonstrate are rather advanced, requiring a good sense of timing and a feel for when the opponent is off balance. Such techniques would be hard to pull off even against a compliant opponent.

So is Wittes totally off the mark when he calls Putin a martial arts fraud? Maybe not entirely. He does point out that Putin has a lot of honorary diplomas in various martial arts. That 8th degree black belt I mentioned earlier was essentially honorary, but reading Wittes it seems that Putin has been given honorary rankings in martial arts he might not have actually practiced; they were given for his promotion of the sport instead. If Wittes didn’t come up with the smoking gun that proves Putin is a judo fraud, he certainly deflated Putin’s exaggerated image as a multiple-martial arts-practicing badass.

Furthermore, his point about the lack of video evidence of Putin’s judo prowess is valid if we’re evaluating his skill and not past accomplishments. Just when did Putin stop doing actual judo practice anyway? It does make a huge difference. Knowledge and practice in martial arts are hugely different things. Theoretically, I know how to do a helicopter arm bar in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Realistically, I’d never even attempt it in free practice even if I’d been training continuously for several years. Skill in martial arts, just like any sport, relies on muscle memory. If Putin hasn’t actually been practicing judo for 18 years or so, it’s possible that Mr. Wittes might be able to easily take him after all. Putin may also have been taught judo in a way that almost exclusively emphasizes throws, and thus he may have almost no ground game and he might have no experience dealing with striking. As such, someone trained in Muay Thai, for example, might easily front kick the little guy into a wall with no trouble. Basically, it’s entirely possible for Putin to be a legitimate judo black belt (which I believe is the case) and yet no longer be able to fight at that same skill level due to disuse.

Still, given the fact that Wittes’ martial arts are aikido and taekwondo, it might not be advisable to challenge Putin without more information on his judo skills. Otherwise, I’d say don’t wear a gi, use strikes, and practice countering harai goshi, which I’ve read is one of Putin’s favorite techniques:

By Jim Kovpak, Russia Without BS

Categories: World News

Fellow travellers: Russia, anti-Westernism, and Europe’s political parties

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 14:24

By Gustav Gressel, for European Council of Foreign Relations

SUMMARY

There is a large amount of ideological overlap between some European political parties and the Russian government. Significantly, these include parties considered to be ‘mainstream’ – it is not just ‘fringe’ parties that share elements of the Kremlin’s world-view.

European political parties range from those that are ‘hardcore’ in their ‘anti-Westernism’ to those that are fully pro-Western. The former are much more open to cooperation with Russia and are generally aligned with its priorities.

Strong election showings from anti-Western parties can change the character of entire national political systems. Most countries are ‘resilient’ to ‘anti-Western’ politics, but a large minority are favourable towards Russian standpoints. Important players like France and Italy form part of the ‘Malleable Middle’ group of countries which Moscow may seek to cultivate.

The populist, anti-Western revolt of the last decade did not originate in Russia. But it is yet to run its course, and Western politicians should act now to prevent Russia taking further advantage of it.

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To make progress in this area, the problem must first be named. Anti-Western elements, exploitable by the Kremlin, exist not only on the fringes of European politics, but reach right into the heart of established parties.

Strengthening counter-intelligence services, tightening anti-corruption legislation and supervision, strengthening anti-trust laws, and strictly implementing the third energy package would make it more difficult for Russia to develop and exploit its various channels of influence.

It is up to politicians of pro-Western parties, especially ‘mainstream’ ones, to spot such trends, show leadership, and halt the drift towards a place where liberal democracy transforms itself into something rather less open.

INTRODUCTION

Russia is increasingly getting to know some of Europe’s political parties. And it is not just that Russia is coming to Europe – some European political parties are coming to them. In October 2016, members of the Italian political party Lega Nord travelled to Crimea, making up the largest component of the visiting Italian delegation. One of the party’s leading members, Claudio D’Amico, had acted as an ‘international observer’ at the peninsula’s status referendum two years previously.[1]

Earlier that same year, in February 2016, Horst Seehofer, head of Germany’s Christian Social Union (CSU), Angela Merkel’s key coalition partner, made an official visit to Moscow. Although insignificant from a German perspective, the Russian media celebrated Seehofer as the alternative to Merkel and as the German leader who would re-establish German-Russian friendship.[2] At that time, Seehofer had just recently threatened legal action over the German chancellor’s policy towards refugees, a message also frequently heard in Russian propaganda.[3]

These types of contacts and ideological convergences show the growing strength of relationships between the Russian authorities and European political parties. Over the last few years, ‘Russian meddling’ in general elections in the West has become a constant media focus. But, without an election, the story soon drifts away. This is a mistake. The world’s attention should linger a bit longer on the landscape that the Russians themselves see when contemplating their neighbours. For Europeans in particular it is time to understand which countries may appear to the Russians as fertile ground for growing fellow ideological travellers.

Russia is preoccupied with building a neighbourhood that responds to its interests and treats it as a great power. For years, the Kremlin has tried to find forces that would support or tacitly agree to this world-view. Where is there significant overlap of interests and ideologies between it and players in Europe? Which European political parties and leading politicians are open to pursuing goals it shares? Are these forces significant, or are Russian fellow travellers restricted to the noisy but less important anti-system opposition?

With those questions in mind, this study examines the European political landscape that the Russians see. The research underpinning it looked at all 252 parties represented in the 28 national parliaments and the European Parliament and attempted to determine how ideologically aligned with Russia each of them is.

One crucial finding of this study is that it is not only the ‘fringe’ or so-called ‘populist’ parties that align ideologically with Russia. In fact, the research reveals that important common ground exists between the Russian government and many mainstream political parties, often based on a narrative of ‘anti-Westernism’ that originates within Europe itself.

The second part of the study examines how the presence of these parties is affecting the larger political system. It reveals how some countries’ political systems are becoming more aligned with Russia over time as new parties sharing the same priorities as Russia win increasing representation in national parliaments.

Anti-Westernism and ideological affinity

Contacts between European and Russian political players are nothing new, despite their often fractious relationships; nor are the meetings of minds which have frequently recurred over many decades between Europeans and Russians. Whenever an old political, social, or economic order has come to an end, discussions about the ideal nature of a new one start to emerge. In both Russia and Europe such shocks took place several times in the twentieth century: the end of the monarchic order in Europe 1917-1918, the end of the fascist or national socialist order in 1945, and the end of the Communist order in 1989. In all of these historic moments, Russian and European thinkers influenced each other, although Europe and Russia ultimately developed in different ways.

As far back as 1995, Richard Herzinger and Hannes Stein described the rising ideological discontent with the ‘Western model’ of the post-1945 European order (founded on free trade, an open society, and a transatlantic link based on common liberal values). Borrowing from the concurrent debate inside Russia between Westernisers and Slavophiles, they described those within Europe opposing the post-1945 order as “Antiwestler” (anti-Westerners).[4]  They identified a “cross-over” in which anti-Westernism inspired both far-left and far-right political thought within Europe. The transatlantic and liberal ideological foundations of the Western order were particular targets of the Antiwestler.

While it is predominantly about German authors, thinkers, and political activists, Herzinger’s and Stein’s book is important for two reasons. First, it provides a compelling and systematic account of the anti-Western ideology that underpins populist parties’ opposition to the established order. Second, the actors and ideologues described as Antiwestler back in 1995 are today among the key so-called Putinversteher, members of the German elite who express empathy for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.[5] In the mid-1990s, Russia had no money or inclination to fund propaganda campaigns in the West, but the ideological patterns of what would later develop into affinities with the Russian regime were already visible. Today, anti-Westernism has become the core ideological connection between Russia and a wide variety of political parties in Europe, including some mainstream parties. It is now time to examine the current situation and to consider the European political landscape as Moscow may view it.

Methodology

This study examined all 252 parties represented in the 28 national parliaments and the European Parliament. Researchers and leading journalists in all EU member states completed a survey containing 12 multiple-choice questions covering party views on:

•              support for the European Union;

•              liberalism as a European value;

•              secularism as a European value;

•              support for the NATO/EU-centric
European security order;

•              the country’s support for transatlantic relations;

•              free trade and globalisation;

•              the country’s relations with Russia;

•              the country’s sanctions on Russia;

•              the country’s support for Ukraine;

•              refugees and migration;

•              the war in Syria;

•              the particular party’s links to Russia.

The survey provided sufficient data to assess 181 parties represented in national parliaments and/or the European Parliament and the 22 countries where they are elected. Each party received a score for individual questions and an overall score. Using these results, the sum of all answers about a single party provided an index number, according to which a party was ranked on a scale from pro-Western to anti-Western. According to the score received, the party is described as either ‘pro-Western’ or ‘anti-Western’. If the party received negative scores on the questions related to Russia, it is described as ‘pro-Russian’. A more detailed description of the methodology, the quantitative aspects of the findings, and explanations of conclusions drawn are provided in an annex to this paper.

To see the full ranking of political parties referred to in this paper, please see Table 1 in the annex.

European political parties and anti-Westernism

The paper divides the 181 political parties into four groups according to their ranking on the anti-Westernism scale. Thirty parties are “Hardcore anti-Western parties”, meaning that they qualify as anti-Western on most or all questions. A further 31 parties qualify as “Moderately anti-Western” because they accept some parts of the Western model. Forty-nine parties are considered “Moderately pro-Western”, meaning that they accept more parts of the Western model than they reject. Finally, the largest number: 71 parties are essentially pro-Western. This is explained in greater detail below.

Hardcore anti-Western parties (30 parties)

The political parties with the most anti-Western patterns are far-right, ‘anti-system’, or even fascist parties: the Ataka party in Bulgaria, Kotleba – Our Slovakia, Jobbik in Hungary, the Front National in France, Fratelli d’Italia-Centrodestra Nazionale and Lega Nord in Italy, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). The ‘top 30’ parties (headed by Ataka, with the Greek Communist Party in 30th place) were categorised as anti-Western on all but a few questions. These parties are against the EU, reject free trade and globalisation, oppose political and social liberalism, and perceive migration from non-Christian communities as an existential threat. Right-wing parties are predominant in this category, although some radical left-wing parties, such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Unitary Democratic Coalition (the former Communist Party) in Portugal, or populist parties like the Five Star Movement in Italy also feature here. With a few exceptions, they are anti-system opposition parties. It is rather unlikely that they will enter power any time soon.

With the exception of the Sweden Democrats, all the parties in this group support closer ties between their country and Russia, oppose sanctions on Russia, or have party contacts with the Russian regime. They want to bring an end to the ‘NATO/EU-centric’ European security order in favour of a system that would suit Russia’s interests. Various media outlets have documented Russian loans to the Front National, and researchers suspect financial links with many more of these parties, although they have not found any proof.[6] The FPÖ and the Lega Nord have agreed cooperation pacts with Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, United Russia.[7]

Moderate anti-Western parties (31 parties)

The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) in the Czech Republic and Geert Wilders’s Party of Freedom (PVV), ranking 31st and 32nd in the party list, are the first parties one can designate ‘moderate anti-Western parties’. They are anti-Western parties overall (they reject more elements of the Western order than they endorse), but accept some parts of the Western model. For most left-wing parties in this category, like the German Die Linke or the Spanish Unidos Podemos, this includes support for secularism and an open society. Right-wing parties like the Finns Party or Forza Italia accept economic liberalism and the transatlantic link, and they sometimes accept a European security order based on Western institutions. Because the moderate anti-Western parties have some commonalities with the established pro-Western parties, they are much more likely to be invited to join a government.

Apart from more moderate left-wing or right-wing populist parties, several mainstream parties are found in this grouping as well. They include the Austrian Social Democratic Party and Austrian People’s Party, the Slovak Direction-Social Democracy, Fidesz in Hungary, Forza Italia, and Les Republicains in France. In all of these mainstream parties, anti-Western positions are stronger than pro-Western positions. In central Europe, anti-Westernism has strong roots in the political discourse: in Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, many parties share anti-Western ideological patterns. In Italy and France, the political spectrum is divided between pro- and anti-Western forces. In all of these countries, debates about whether the country belonged to the West or would have to embark on a ‘culturally unique path’ to modernisation were strong during the entire twentieth century. The anti-Westernist patterns are to some extent the latest manifestation of this debate. Germany had a similar debate in the past. However, after 1945 it fully embraced the Western model.

The parties in this category: show a preference for close relations with Russia, are in favour of lifting sanctions, and have ties with the Russian regime. The exceptions to this rule are the Finns Party, Centrum (also from Finland), the Südtiroler Volkspartei in Italy, Kukiz’15 in Poland, and the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia. The remaining 26 parties in this category are inclined towards Russian interests.

Moderate pro-Western parties (49 parties)

Parties in this category support more elements of the ‘Western model’ than they reject, although they do reject some of them. This group is very heterogeneous, as the results for different measures vary considerably from party to party, and from country to country. Left-wing parties have reservations about globalisation and free trade, and are sceptical about transatlantic relations and about a European security order which relies on NATO and the EU. Conservative parties, on the other hand, are sceptical about secularism and opening up to non-Christian communities (see below for more on this). Some conservative parties are Eurosceptical in their outlook.

This group features many parties that are currently in government, or recently have been, such as the British Conservative Party, the Parti Socialiste in France, the Partido Popular in Spain, the German Social Democrats, and others.

And within these moderate pro-Western parties is a special subgroup comprising left-wing parties that are completely pro-Western – except when it comes to questions relating to Russia directly. These parties fully embrace the Western model, open societies, free trade, political liberties, social modernisation, and a secular state. But they also promote closer ties or economic cooperation with Russia, easing sanctions at the earliest opportunity, or are equivocal when it comes to how the European security order should be arranged. These parties include the Italian Democratic Party, the Portuguese Socialist Party, the Slovenian Social Democrats, the French Parti Socialiste, the German Social Democrats, the Bulgarian GERB, the Czech Social Democrats, and the Finnish Social Democrats. The parties belonging to this ‘inconsistent left’ group do not support the ideological agenda that the Kremlin promotes in Europe, nor do they promote outright ideological confrontation with the Kremlin over the future of Europe’s political, social, and economic order.

Pro-Western parties (71 parties)

The biggest single group emerging from the study is that which comprises parties supporting Western positions on all issues surveyed. Despite the populist surge and the rise of anti-system parties, this is still the largest group, larger than the two groupings of anti-Western parties put together. Across Europe’s political parties, there still is broad support for the ‘Western model’.

This group also includes some of the most important parties in Europe, such as the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), La République en Marche! in France, Civic Platform in Poland, the Socialist Party in Spain, and the Social Democratic Party in Portugal. The success of En Marche! in the recent parliamentary election helps shift the political balance in France very much towards the pro-European centre. This pro-Western end of the ranking is largely occupied by liberal parties or bourgeois green parties, which are ideologically closest to the concept of Western universalism.

The data suggests that some western European parties in this group are relatively relaxed about the question of whether or not Russia is a threat. But no party promotes the lifting of sanctions or cultivating ties with the regime. There are no out-and-out pro-Russian parties in this category.

National political systems

The parties, however, are not the end of the story. They exist within national political systems, and it is the balance of parties within each system that determines the overall orientation of the country. Many hardcore anti-Western parties, for example, are small anti-system opposition parties with marginal representation at the national or European level that have little direct influence over political decisions. By contrast, the opportunity for Russia to find friendly faces in the national politics of a country grows significantly once the ideological patterns of mainstream parties begin to align with those of the Kremlin.

Aggregating the results across the parties studied in each individual country can reveal which national political systems have experienced a spread of anti-Western ideological patterns and which have remained resistant to such a spread. This section categorises EU countries according to the patterns of pro- and anti-Western thought in their respective parliamentary systems. As described in the annex, countries were ranked according to a specific index number and then grouped in the same way that the individual parties were. There are four groups: the Anti-Western Stalwarts, the Malleable Middle, the Nordic-Baltic Exceptions, and the Resilient Rest. For the full ranking, see Table 2 in the annex.

The Anti-Western Stalwarts

In five countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, and Slovakia – the overall party system tends towards anti-Western positions on most of the 12 questions. This indicates that anti-Western ideologies are deeply rooted in the political system. Anti-system opposition parties – associated with anti-Western thought in most European countries – are even more radical. With the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, openly endorsing ‘illiberal’ governance, Hungary leads the ranking of anti-Western party systems in Europe.[8] It is followed closely by Austria. Both are ruled by parties – Fidesz and the Social Democratic Party respectively – that fall into the anti-Western category in the party index. One shared characteristic of the countries in this group is that mainstream and ruling parties, not just fringe parties, show a particular affinity with anti-Westernism. For example, Syriza, the ruling party in Greece, is nearly as anti-Western as Fidesz. The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which recently won the country’s presidency, is the most anti-Western mainstream party in Europe.

Hungary is the EU member state that exhibits the greatest level of disagreement with the liberal order in Europe. It has the highest ranking on Euroscepticism, the strongest scepticism about liberalism and transatlantic relations, and the most negative stance towards European solidarity in the refugee crisis. After Poland it is the second most anti-secular parliamentary system in the EU. On globalisation and free trade, only Austria is more sceptical than Hungary.

The ‘social conservative’ or ‘illiberal’ consensus among the governing parties provides an opening for Russia. Only in Greece is the desire to create closer ties with Russia and to lift sanctions stronger than in Hungary.

Previous studies have identified growing business ties between Russia and the Hungarian government, as well as loopholes enabling corruption, as key facilitators of Russian influence in Hungary.[9] Indeed, the economic and political proximity of Orbán’s government and the Kremlin is well documented.[10] Russian intelligence services see Hungary as a sanctuary and have increased their activities there.[11] But the strong anti-Western political consensus among the Hungarian ruling elites suggests that the country’s close business relations with Russia are the result of a dedicated ideological choice.[12]

In Austria, the political left is the main purveyor of anti-Western discourse, but the growing might of the right-wing FPÖ is contributing further ideological elements. Scepticism of free trade and globalisation are strongest in Austria, and these attitudes are shared by both right-wing and left-wing parties. In fact, Austria is the only EU country that receives an anti-Western score on all 12 questions – although sometimes only marginally so. Its position on Ukraine particularly stands out. Even in deeply anti-Western Hungary, support for Ukraine is a pragmatic exception to the country’s generally anti-Western ideological stance (Ukraine is home to a significant Hungarian minority). No other country in Europe perceives Ukraine to be an obstacle to good relations with Russia in the way that Austria does.

The anti-Americanism visible across all parties in Austria also helps create conditions in which there is sympathy for Russia, particularly on security issues. Austria is, after Greece, the country most dissatisfied with the ‘NATO/EU-centric’ security order in Europe. The research on Austria has focused primarily on the Russian influence on the FPÖ and other extremist groups, although since 2014 various authors have attested to a wider Russian influence on the political mainstream.[13] As one group of authors put it, “[p]ro-Kremlin/anti-sanction voices in the Austrian political debate can be divided into two groups: actors that operate exclusively, or predominantly, based on economic considerations and those located in considerable ideological proximity to Russian power circles. The first group reaches far into the political centre.”[14]

Both Bulgaria and Greece suffered extensively in the economic crisis after 2008, and were key transit countries in the refugee crisis. The countries’ parties have absorbed the backlash into their ideologies, although in different ways. In Bulgaria, the impact of the refugee crisis is clearly visible. Support for the continuation of Assad’s rule as a means to end the Syrian war is the policy issue that most sets Bulgaria apart from the rest of Europe. Other patterns of anti-Westernism include the nativist fear of decadence and decline, the wish for better relations with Russia, opposition to sanctions, and scepticism towards transatlantic relations. However, support for the EU is still relatively strong. Russia’s extensive links to various Bulgarian political and social actors as well as attempts to influence the country have been documented.[15] But, unlike Hungary, the Bulgarian prime minister, Boyko Borisov, has tried to contain Russian influence, often finding himself at odds with Bulgarian business elites.[16] Bulgaria’s decision to deny Russia access to its airspace for its operations in Syria in 2015 underpins Bulgaria’s view that solidarity within the NATO alliance comes first. But the pro-Russian camp in the country has heavily criticised such efforts. These can come at a cost in domestic politics.

In Greece, the pro-Russian agenda is much more dominant. There is greater support for closer ties to Russia and bringing an end to sanctions in Greece than in any other country in Europe. It is the country most sceptical of a European security order based on Western institutions and scepticism against transatlantic links is almost as strong as in Hungary. That said, Euroscepticism is weaker than might be expected, and, despite the refugee crisis, the Greek political mainstream does not campaign on an anti-refugee platform. Still, anti-secular fears and anti-liberal tendencies are present. The close ties of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to Putin have barely drawn comment, primarily because the country is utterly dependent on financial assistance from Europe and Germany in particular. Hence Athens’s freedom of manoeuvre on foreign policy is limited.[17]

In Slovakia, as in most central and eastern European countries, Russian connections to far-right and extremist parties are well documented.[18] And the Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, has made a number of pro-Russian comments.[19] However, the current government has adopted a double-track strategy. In Brussels, it toes the line of the other EU member states, or even proactively supports Ukraine, for the sake of its own security interests embedded in NATO and the EU. However, because pro-Russian sentiments are popular at home, the same government acts very differently if it speaks to the domestic media. Slovak experts and journalists participating in the survey judge the government to be pro-Russian, based mostly on Fico’s language at home. But it remains to be seen how long this dual approach can be maintained.

The Malleable Middle

In some national political systems, the overall consensus is pro-Western but this consensus is challenged by some mainstream parties adopting anti-Western ideological patterns. In central Europe, the Czech Republic is in this group. Social conservative fears of decline, dissatisfaction with the EU and NATO, and anti-liberal populism are visible in the Czech Republic as well. But as a relatively secular society, the anti-liberal and anti-secular patterns are much less pronounced.[20] Compared to Slovakia, the Czech Republic stands out from other central European party systems because of the range of liberal parties that it hosts.

In France and Italy, the liberal pro-Western camp is even stronger. Across the entire party system, anti-Western ideological patterns are not part of the national consensus. On identity issues, such as support for EU integration, liberal values, secularism, free trade and globalisation, and the refugee crisis, both countries are mostly indifferent to anti-Westernism. Established liberal forces lead the policy discourse on these issues and their stance is strongly pro-Western. But on Russia-related issues, the established liberal forces have fewer consensus views. Hence the anti-Western forces have more leeway to express their views and shape the political debate.

In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is an anti-Western mainstream party. The party holds anti-secular views, is sceptical towards the established European security order, supports deeper ties with Russia and the lifting of sanctions, and opposes immigration, particularly from the Middle East and north Africa. On Forza Italia’s right flank stand even more radical anti-Western opposition parties, which compete for the same electorate: on the extreme right are the Lega Nord and the Fratelli d’Italia, both heavily inclined towards anti-Westernism on all 12 issues. Meanwhile, the populist Five Star Movement promotes the anti-Western agenda from a left-wing perspective.

In France, Russia has fostered ties not only with the extreme right, as is commonly thought.[21] In advance of the French presidential election this year, it was widely expected that victory for François Fillon would be a positive outcome for the Kremlin. Indeed, even the Soviet Union learned to exploit the Gaullists’ anti-Americanism and argued that the USSR needed to be respected as a ‘normal’ great power with legitimate rights.[22] These Russophile attitudes have survived until the present day among the French right, and are now represented by the Les Republicains.[23]

In Italy, however, anti-Western right-wing forces continue to dominate the debate about Russia. As with France, Russia had invested considerable resources into shaping close relationships. The friendship between Putin and Silvio Berlusconi is well known.[24] But the underlying ideological consensus between the right-wing elites and the Russian leadership – sharing the view that both Russia and Italy were both denied their rightful great power status by the West – extends beyond these two individuals. Geopolitical myth-building[25] is amplified by extensive Russian attempts to increase its profile in the country, and has created very favourable conditions for Moscow.[26] With France’s conservative elites out of favour with the electorate, Italy may be expected to move to the centre of Russia’s attention to maintain influence in Europe.

The Nordic-Baltic Exceptions

In the previous groups, the spread of anti-Western ideological patterns coincided with the adoption of pro-Russian stances by anti-Western forces. But some countries, including Finland, Poland, Sweden, and, to a much lesser extent, Denmark find themselves more or less in the middle of the overall ranking and therefore not particularly susceptible to anti-Westernism. However, the study shows that they share a certain amount of Euroscepticism and a certain fear of the loss of their Christian identity. But in none of these countries is establishing closer ties with Russia, lifting sanctions, or altering the European security order to Russia’s liking up for negotiation.

Even individual parties with strong anti-Western sentiments on the right do not embrace Russia. As suggested earlier, these include the Finns Party, Law and Justice (PiS) and Kukiz’15 in Poland, and the Sweden Democrats. The political left is also relatively unsympathetic towards Russia. The Swedish Left Party and the Finnish Left Alliance are marginally inclined towards Russia – but their views are not comparable to the pro-Russian sentiments seen in other western European left-wing parties. Even though mainstream parties in Finland and Poland hold anti-Western positions on questions around secularism and European integration, including the governing parties, the parties in these countries nonetheless broadly believe that Russia is not a potential partner in ensuring the survival of Christianity or finding an alternative order to the EU.

The Resilient Rest

The other national party systems seem rather less open to anti-Westernism, and so it may be more difficult for Russia to influence national debates in those countries: Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom. However, this does not mean that anti-Westernism is not present at all or that Russia has no potential partners in these countries.

In the Netherlands, for example, there is an overall consensus that the transatlantic link, free trade, and globalisation are good things. Belief in the value of NATO is strong (including in Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party), but opinion on the EU is quite negative. The Netherlands has the fourth most Eurosceptical party system in Europe, after Hungary, Denmark, and Austria. Identity issues, particularly the fear for the loss of Christian identity and fear of migration, are widespread in the Netherlands. And while public attention focuses on Wilders, he is not the only political figure to bring it up. Russian propaganda also profits from the fear of terror and migration. All parties in the Dutch parliament are open to the argument that Russia is an ally in the war on Islamic terror.

Euroscepticism is the only viable entry-point for Russia’s ideological influence in many of these countries, particularly the UK. Forging permanent structural ties with opposition parties is much more difficult, as the national consensus is less susceptible to the ideology that Russia promotes. Hardcore anti-Western parties, like UKIP, exist but they have only dim electoral prospects. The Brexit referendum was an occasion on which there was a vote on the single anti-Western attitude that is fairly popular in north Europe and separate from other anti-Western stances (opposition to free trade, to NATO, and to the transatlantic link) that a British audience would not accept. No wonder allegations of Russian support for the Brexit campaign appeared early on.[27] However, compared, for example, to the permanent structural influence created through party ties with Italian or Austrian mainstream parties, the Brexit campaign only provided a short – if dramatic – opportunity to exert influence. And even then, Euroscepticism was strong in the UK even without Russian assistance. Moscow may make use of the opportunities that arise, but these are frequently of Europe’s own making.

Finally, it might come as a surprise that Germany is not considered susceptible to Russian influence, given the prominent friendship between Putin and former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, as well as the intensive lobbying for rapprochement and unconditional détente conducted by pro-Russian circles within Germany.[28] However, three years into crisis and war in Ukraine, German political and public attitudes have shifted against Russia, and the findings of this survey have partially demonstrated this shift.

But there are reasons for caution. This survey was carried out at a moment in German politics where resilience against anti-Westernism was probably at its all-time high. For now, the left-wing Die Linke is the only anti-Western party represented in the Bundestag. But the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is a strongly anti-Western party and is set to enter the Bundestag in the September 2017 election.

One can only speculate as to what effect the AfD will have on German politics once it enters the Bundestag. In Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Slovakia, where anti-Westernism has penetrated the political mainstream, two or more parties have an agenda inclined towards anti-Western patterns. To some extent, this indicates at least a partial anti-Western consensus within society at large.

But this party configuration may also hint at structural dynamics within the party system. In systems containing just one anti-Western party, the consensus tends to consolidate around pro-Western positions, and anti-Western sentiments are consigned to the extremist fringe (the right wing in the UK or the left wing in Germany, Portugal, and Spain). However, once there is more than one anti-Western party in parliament, they are much more able to push the political agenda in their direction and exert influence over the positions of mainstream parties. In Germany, the conservative CSU’s increasingly favourable stance towards Russia is already a sign of this dynamic at work. The party considers the AfD its main competitor.

Researchers responding to the survey in Germany made extensive use of explanatory answers, reflecting the fact that many different and even opposing opinions are frequently found within one German party. Because of the still relatively compact German party system, the parties contain diverse ideological perspectives. The German Social Democrats house an anti-Western wing, the Greens are split, and in Merkel’s CDU liberal and conservative wings are divided on many issues, particularly EU integration and refugees. However, the mainstream parties’ ability to host such diverse views is in decline. If the Bundestag election this year propels both the AfD and the Free Democrats into the Bundestag, there will be further fragmentation – and, crucially, the potential for a parliamentary make-up that is friendlier to Russia overall.

Anti-secularism: Moscow’s way in?

The most interesting individual topic identified in the study is the debate on ‘secularism’, or the fear of losing Europe’s Christian roots. There was a high response rate to this question and a broad spectrum of views all across Europe. Eight countries have parliamentary systems that tend towards supporting the idea that the loss of Christian identity is a major threat. They are Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

It is the only item in the survey that correlates with the traditional ‘left-right’ divide, with conservative parties more likely to fear the erosion of Christian values (on all other questions, there is no correlation between the spread of answers and whether a party is left-wing or right-wing). Importantly, this attitude does not correlate with the parties’ own broader views on Russia – meaning that many parties sceptical of Russia also subscribe to the narrative that European Christianity is under threat.

From the Kremlin’s perspective this issue may be its best chance of reaching an audience beyond the constituencies already well disposed towards Russia. Moscow already claims to be Europe’s ‘third Rome’, the last Christian bastion. The Kremlin tries to portray its efforts in Syria under the framework of a “common fight against terror”,[29] putting Putin into the role of the defender of Christianity.[30] Russian propaganda seeks to highlight this issue, portraying its competitors in Europe (Germany, Sweden, and particularly Merkel personally) as facilitators of the ‘Islamisation’ of Europe.[31] It remains to be seen how effective these efforts will be. Still, European policymakers should take the challenge seriously and be aware of issues like this that could resonate with the public in both Europe and Russia.

On broader identity issues, established parties need to come up with credible policies on integration that reassure populations that the coexistence of diverse religious communities can be managed under the umbrella of the existing legal and public order. One of the few serious attempts so far to do this has been Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz’s effort to set up a state secretariat for integration in Austria. This first tries to assess the situation and then to tackle the most pressing issues with corresponding legal and administrative actions.[32] One may debate the effectiveness of the measures, or whether the Austrian approach is applicable in other EU member states. But it is the only visible attempt to respond to the challenge posed by anti-Westernists.

With regard to other key topics, despite the current unity within the EU on maintaining sanctions, the research shows that ‘relations with Russia’ and support for sanctions are highly polarising issues in domestic politics. The issue is also inherently divisive across Europe, as national consensuses vary greatly, with Greece the most pro-Russian and Poland the least. There is support for lifting sanctions and creating closer ties with Russia in Greece, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Bulgaria, France, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Portugal, while on the other hand Poland, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Romania, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany are sceptical of the possibility of achieving better relations with Russia. For the moment, the sceptical states seem able to hold the line on sanctions. But it is a fragile status quo.

There is a further north-south divide when it comes to support for the EU. Interestingly, Euroscepticism appears to be a minor issue overall, with only five countries’ political systems leaning towards reversing European integration or leaving the EU. However, this is the only issue on which the north is more anti-Western than the south. While support for EU integration correlates most strongly with support for free trade, the European security order and the transatlantic link, there is also a strong relationship between views on EU integration and support for Ukraine. This reinforces the argument that the EU is above all seen as an instrument that safeguards Europe’s security and well-being.

The revolution will be cultivated

This study has for the first time revealed the significant potential overlap of ideology and interests between many European political parties and the Russian government. The focus in recent years has remained very much on parties on the extremes of European politics, even while parties like the Front National accumulated a level of support normally associated with ‘mainstream’ parties. But this research shows that sympathy towards Russia is found within all types of parties, right across the EU. Moreover, such views can spread across national political systems to such an extent that they become the dominant view. Of the 30 radical anti-Western parties for which data is available, 25 seek closer ties to Russia; of the 31 moderate anti-Western parties, 22 do so; of the 49 moderate pro-Western parties, 12 are known to seek closer ties to Russia; and of the 71 fully pro-Western parties only six modestly embrace rapprochement of some kind.

Many Western observers have not fully appreciated the ideological convergence between important European political parties and Russia. But it has likely not escaped Moscow’s notice or that of the parties themselves.

Just as Russia views liberal democracy as inherently flawed and is betting on the long-term weakening of Europe’s established parties as part of this decline, the anti-Westernists see the rise of Russia as an opportunity for them. After 1990, anti-Westernists lacked a credible example to demonstrate that economic modernisation and prosperity were possible without accepting the ‘Western model’, involving a market economy, a liberal democracy, and an open society. Now, anti-Westernists point to Russia and state that another way is possible and that Europe could seek a political, economic, and social order different from the Western liberal model of democracy and market economy. Moreover, every order needs a security provider and Russia could serve as just that.

Of course, as in the cold war, not every fellow traveller is a paid agent of influence. A wide range of motivators – ideological preferences, moral convictions, or opposition to the ‘establishment’, among others – determines party positions. Indeed, ideology is often a more potent influencer than money. One principal benefit that some European parties sense is the feeling of purpose and legitimacy that a relationship with the Russian regime can provide. Both the self-image of Russia’s elites as well as the regime’s official self-justification stress the importance, prestige, and reach of Russia and its power. Russia’s financial resources are far too low to create powerful incentives for all of the actors speaking up on Moscow’s behalf. But, in reaching out to Russia, these parties can show that they have a foreign policy agenda independent from the usual Eurocentric or transatlantic orientation of most parties.

The benefits from the Russian perspective are obvious. As seen with the visits of Italian and German officials to Crimea and Moscow that opened this paper, when the representatives of these parties speak to visiting Russian counterparts or to Russian official media – and repeat the Kremlin’s line – the Russian government can claim to its domestic audience that it is not isolated and that large parts of the European political class support the Russian point of view.[33]

Despite the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election, the anti-Western revolt has not yet run its course. Allegations of Russian meddling, influencing, financing, supporting, or cultivating relations with anti-Western parties will not fade away. This does not mean that Russia is intentionally creating opportunities to disrupt European policymaking all the time. Rather, these opportunities will present themselves to Russia to use according to the situation and the tactical considerations of the moment. Russia did not cause the recent ideological revolt in Europe, but it may yet be its main beneficiary.

Forging ties with anti-Western parties will remain a long-term interest for Russia. These connections suggest that Moscow has the capacity to improve its image and popularity among large segments of the European population. This would increase Russia’s ability to shape political discussions beyond the range of its conventional power resources. Economically and culturally, Russia’s ability to influence the course of events in Europe is limited. Ideologically, however, Russia can play the role of leader.

In response, European politicians who are pro-Western need to actively counter the ideological threat that Russia and its apologists represent. Strengthening counter-intelligence services, tightening anti-corruption legislation and supervision, strengthening anti-trust laws and strictly implementing the third energy package would make it more difficult for Russia to develop and exploit its various channels of influence.

Above all, such steps would make it harder for Russia to cultivate the established political and economic elites, which are more influential than marginal populist parties. They will not see off the existence of anti-Western dissent within Europe, but they will make it much more difficult for Russia to make use of the openings this dissent creates.

And, finally, to address the problem, we need first to name it. We now know that anti-Western elements, capable of being exploited by the Kremlin, exist not only on the fringes of European politics, but can be found at the heart of Europe’s established political parties. It is up to politicians of pro-Western parties, especially ‘mainstream’ ones, to spot such trends, show leadership and halt the drift towards a place where liberal democracy transforms itself into something rather less open.

[1] James Politi and Max Seddon, “Putin’s party signs deal with Italy’s far-right Lega Nord”, 6 March 2017, Financial Times, available at https://www.ft.com/content/0d33d22c-0280-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9?mhq5j=e1.

[2] Russische Medien begrüßen den “Gegner der Kanzlerin”, Deutschlandfunk, 3 February 2016, available at http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/seehofer-in-moskau-russische-medien-begruessen-den-gegner.1773.de.html?dram:article_id=344436; Wie russische Medien Seehofer instrumentalisieren, Die Welt, 3 February 2016, available at https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article151796449/Wie-russische-Medien-Seehofer-instrumentalisieren.html.

[3] Philip Oltermann, “Bavarian leader lashes out at Merkel’s handling of refugee crisis”, the Guardian, 10 February 2016, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/10/bavarian-leader-horst-seehofer-lashes-out-merkels-handling-refugee-crisis.

[4] Richard Herzinger and Hannes Stein, “Endzeit-Propheten oder Die Offensive der Antiwestler. Fundamentalismus, Antiamerikanismus, und die Neue Rechte“, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, Reinbeck bei Hamburg, April 1995.

[5] See “Germany and Russia: How Very Understanding”, The Economist, 8 May 2014, available at https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21601897-germanys-ambivalence-towards-russia-reflects-its-conflicted-identity-how-very-understanding.

[6] See, for example, Gabriel Gatehouse, “Marine Le Pen: Who’s funding France’s far right?”, BBC Panorama, 3 April 2017, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-39478066.

[7] “Putin’s Party Signs Cooperation Deal with Italy’s Far-Right Lega Nord”, the Daily Beast, 6 March 2017, available at http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2017/03/06/putin-s-party-signs-cooperation-deal-with-italy-s-far-right-lega-nord.html; “Austria’s Far Right Signs a Cooperation Pact With Putin’s Party”, the New York Times, 19 December 2016, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/world/europe/austrias-far-right-signs-a-cooperation-pact-with-putins-party.html?_r=0.

[8] “Defying Soviets, Then Pulling Hungary to Putin, Viktor Orban Steers Hungary Toward Russia 25 Years After Fall of the Berlin Wall”, the New York Times, 7 November 2014, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/world/europe/viktor-orban-steers-hungary-toward-russia-25-years-after-fall-of-the-berlin-wall.html?_r=0.

[9] Heather A Conley, James Mina, Ruslan Stefanov, Martin Vladimirov, “The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe”, Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 2016, available at http://www.csd.bg/fileadmin/user_upload/160928_Conley_KremlinPlaybook_Web.pdf (hereafter, Heather A Conley et al, “The Kremlin Playbook”).

[10] See Dániel Hegedűs, “The Kremlin’s Influence in Hungary, Are Russian Vested Interests Wearing Hungarian National Colors?”, DGAP Kompakt, Nr.8/2016, available at https://dgap.org/en/article/getFullPDF/27609.

[11] Hungarian secret agent reveals in detail how serious the Russian threat is, Index.hu, 21 March 2017, available at http://index.hu/belfold/2017/03/21/hungarian_secret_agent_reveals_how_serious_the_russian_threat_is/.

[12] Preliminary evidence also supports this conclusion. See: “Súlyos visszaélések voltak a moszkvai magyar konzulátuson”, Index.hu, 8 February 2017, available at http://index.hu/belfold/2017/02/08/brutalis_visszaelesek_voltak_a_moszkvai_magyar_konzulatuson/.

[13] Bernhard Weidinger and Fabian Schmid, “Austria”, in: Péter Krekó, Lóránt Győri, Edit Zgut (ed.), From Russia With Hate: The activity of pro-Russian extremist groups in central and eastern Europe, (Political Capital Kft: 2017), p.35.

[14] Bernhard Weidinger, Fabian Schmid, Dr Péter Krekó, “Russian Connections of the Austrian Far-Right”, Political Capital, 27 April 2017, available at http://www.politicalcapital.hu/pc-admin/source/documents/PC_NED_country_study_AT_20170428.pdf.

[15] Heather A Conley et al, “The Kremlin Playbook”.

[16] Dimitar Bechev, “Russia’s Influence in Bulgaria”, New Direction, 24 February 2016, available at http://europeanreform.org/files/ND-report-RussiasInfluenceInBulgaria-preview-lo-res_FV.pdf; John R Haines, “The Suffocating Symbiosis: Russia Seeks Trojan Horses Inside Fractious Bulgaria’s Political Corral”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 5 August 2016, available at http://www.fpri.org/article/2016/08/suffocating-symbiosis-russia-seeks-trojan-horses-inside-fractious-bulgarias-political-corral/.

[17] Henry Stanek, “Is Russia’s Alliance with Greece a Threat to NATO?”, the National Interest, 17 July 2016, available at http://nationalinterest.org/feature/russias-alliance-greece-threat-nato-16998.

[18] Grigorij Mesežnikov, Radovan Bránik, “Hatred, violence and comprehensive military training: The violent radicalisation and Kremlin connections of Slovak paramilitary, extremist and neo-Nazi groups”, Political Capital, 5 April 2017, available at http://www.politicalcapital.hu/pc-admin/source/documents/PC_NED_country_study_SK_20170428.pdf.

[19] “EU should drop Russia sanctions, Slovak PM says after meeting Putin”, Reuters, 26 August 2016, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-slovakia-idUSKCN1111A1.

[20] However, it is still present, and exploited by the Kremlin. See Sofia Voznaya, “The Czech Republic’s Phantom Muslim Menace”, Coda, 15 February 2017, available at https://codastory.com/disinformation-crisis/information-war/the-czech-republic-s-phantom-muslim-menace.

[21] Jean-Yves Camus, “A Long-lasting Friendship: Alexander Dugin and the French Radical Right”, in: Marlene Laruelle (ed.), Eurasianism and the European Far Right, Reshaping the Europe-Russia Relationship, (Lanham, Boulder, New York, London: Lexington Books, 2015), pp.79-96.

[22] Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 2000), pp.613-618.

[23] Alina Polyakova, Marlene Laruelle, Stefan Meister and Neil Barnett, “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses: Russian Influence in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom”, the Atlantic Council, November 2016, available at: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/publications/The_Kremlins_Trojan_Horses_web_0228_third_edition.pdf, p.7. (hereafter, Alina Polyakova et al, “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses”).

[24] Alan Friedman, “Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin: the odd couple”, Financial Times, 2 October 2016, available at https://www.ft.com/content/2d2a9afe-6829-11e5-97d0-1456a776a4f5.

[25] For examples see the Limes geopolitical review. The review maintains both the anti-American myth of Washington seeking to destroy a supposed German-Russian alliance through ‘expanding’ to the ‘buffer-states’ of eastern Europe as well as the myth of ‘natural’ Russian interests in the neighbourhood. See http://www.limesonline.com.

[26] “With Italy No Longer in U.S. Focus, Russia Swoops to Fill the Void”, the New York Times, 29 May 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/29/world/europe/russia-courts-italy-in-us-absence.html.

[27] Nico Hines, “Why Putin Is Meddling in Britain’s Brexit Vote”, the Daily Beast, 8 June 2016, available at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/08/why-putin-is-meddling-in-britain-s-brexit-vote.html.

[28] Stefan Meister, “Interdependence as Vulnerability”, in Alina Polyakova, Marlene Laruelle, Stefan Meister, Neil Barnett (ed.), the Kremlin’s Trojan Horses: Russian Influence in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the Atlantic Council, November 2016, available at: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/publications/The_Kremlins_Trojan_Horses_web_0228_third_edition.pdf, p.12-17.

[29] Somini Sengupta and Neil MacFarquhar, “Vladimir Putin of Russia Calls for Coalition to Fight ISIS”, the New York Times, 25 September 2015, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/world/europe/russia-vladimir-putin-united-nations-general-assembly.html?_r=0.

[30] Giulio Meotti, “Putin’s Russia claims the role of defender of Christians under Islam”, Geller Report, 24 April 2014, available at http://pamelageller.com/2017/04/russia-christians-islam.html/. See also “Russia – a game changer for global Christianity”, RT, 11 November 2015, available at https://www.rt.com/op-edge/321447-christians-isis-religion-putin/.

[31] For a specific example of Russian messaging on this issue, see “German economy collapse inevitable, caused by migrant waves – MEP”, RT, 18 September 2015, available multiple examples of  https://www.rt.com/shows/sophieco/315811-refugees-influx-german-economy/. However, there are many disinformation attempts. For a broader overview of Russian disinformation see “A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories”, the New York Times, 28 August 2016, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/29/world/europe/russia-sweden-disinformation.html; or Tim Hume, “Germany struggles to fight anti-migrant fake news amid fears it could influence its election”, Vice News, 2 February 2017, available at https://news.vice.com/story/germany-fake-news-election-migrants.

[32] For more on the Austrian secretariat for integration and related activities, see https://www.bmeia.gv.at/integration.

[33] For illustrative examples, see “Ein Tag im russischen Staatsfernsehen”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 19 May 2014, available at http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/ein-tag-im-russischen-staatsfernsehen-12944596.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2.

By Gustav Gressel, for European Council of Foreign Relations

Dr. Gustav Gressel is a Senior Policy Fellow on the Wider Europe Programme at the ECFR Berlin Office

Categories: World News

Twelve Myths about Change in Ukraine

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 12:30

Activists demand to deprive several Ukrainian lawmakers, suspected of corruption by the General Prosecutor’s Office, of parliamentary immunity during a rally near the building of Parliament in Kyiv, Ukraine July 11, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

By Alexander J. Motyl, for Atlantic Council

Most Ukrainians will tell you that “nothing has changed” since the Euromaidan Revolution. Meanwhile, most Ukrainian analysts bemoan that Ukraine’s elites are resisting change and that, unless Ukraine changes more quickly, the country will backtrack and be lost. And everyone seems to agree that no change is possible unless corruption is fully eliminated.

These views rest on simplifications, distortions, and misunderstandings. Here are a few:

  1. Ukraine hasn’t changed since 2014. Nonsense. Change has been enormous, as a walk through any Ukrainian city reveals. Obviously, Ukraine needs to change more—as do a score of its neighbors and friends, including Russia, Belarus, the European Union, and the United States.
  2. Ukraine needs to change more quickly. Probably true, but maybe not. This view presupposes that fast change is better than slow change. In fact, very fast change—revolutions—generally doesn’t work, while evolutionary change generally does. There is no one-size-fits-all formula of change.
  3. If Ukraine doesn’t change more, then the forces opposed to change will win the upper hand. Maybe. All entrenched interests in all countries at all times oppose systemic change; they’d be fools not to. Resistance is a constant. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. It all depends on how strong the forces supporting change are. The good news is that, in Ukraine, they’re pretty strong and likely to remain so.
  4. Change is linear. Wrong. All countries at all times take two steps forward and one step backward, followed by three steps forward and four steps backward, and so on. Despite, or because, of these zigzags, systems do change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
  5. Change must be pursued to the point of irreversibility. Nonsense. There is no such point. If there were, then revolutions would never happen. Besides, even highly developed, well institutionalized democracies backslide, as Trump’s America and the European Union’s travails demonstrate.
  6. Poland got it right, especially by adopting radical reforms just after 1989. Alas, no. If Poland—and Hungary—got it right, then how do we explain the Kaczynski and Orban governments? More to the point, the big bang Poland pursued in 1990 was actually tiny, as communist Poland had always had a state, a developed nation, a civil society (Solidarity and the Catholic Church), and some degree of private property—qualities that Ukraine has only now come to possess.
  7. Estonia and Latvia got it right, and Ukraine should emulate them. Only if you consider disenfranchising Russians a good thing. Estonia and Latvia made great strides toward changing themselves because they kept their pro-Russian and pro-Soviet constituencies out of the national decision-making process. Should Ukraine have done the same back in 1992? Perhaps. Putin’s occupation of Crimea and the eastern Donbas has effectively disenfranchised their populations and thereby facilitated the reforms of the last three years.
  8. Nationalism is always bad for reform. It depends. Yugoslavia suggests that ethnic hatreds can cause bloody wars, but the separation of Slovenia and Croatia from the Yugoslav federation quite possibly hastened their abandonment of the communist past. As it probably did in Czechoslovakia, when Czech and Slovak elites mutually agreed to pursue their own nation states—to great success. And who doubts that Poles’ intense sense of identity enabled them to oppose communism?
  9. Democracy is the only way to pursue radical change. To the contrary, most radical change has been pursued by authoritarian or highly centralized regimes. For obvious reasons: radical change always undermines vested interests, sometimes of elites, sometimes of populations. Their opposition is inevitable, and the easiest way to overcome it is by overriding it. That Ukraine has pursued so much change and still managed to remain democratic is well-nigh miraculous—and largely a function of Putin’s aggression, which presented Ukrainian elites and publics with a do-or-die alternative. Unfortunately, the people do not always know best. They’re prone to accept populist remedies that change little.
  10. Corruption makes change impossible or less likely. Where’s the evidence? All of today’s successful market economies and democracies were at one time deeply corrupt. Many, like Greece and Italy, still are. Most, like France, Germany, and the United States, are periodically rocked by fantastic corruption scandals. Obviously, corruption doesn’t promote positive change, but neither is it an insurmountable obstacle.
  11. Ukraine should emulate France and Germany. Really? It took France several revolutions and wars and a good 150 years to become the democracy still plagued by extremist left- and right-wingers it is today. Germany’s experience—consider Bismarck, Wilhelm II, Hitler—is even less instructive.
  12. Ukraine should emulate the Europeans and their “European values.” Yes, but not because democracy, human rights, and rule of law are European and not because most Europeans honor these values only as long as their material comforts remain undisturbed, but because these are intrinsically good things that Ukraine should desire to implement—regardless of whether they bring Ukraine closer to some mythical Europe.

The lessons for Ukrainians are obvious. Continue changing. Pursue democracy, rule of law, and the market. Become prosperous and strong. And pretend to listen to Westerners bearing advice and gifts.

By Alexander J. Motyl, for Atlantic Council

Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark, specializing on Ukraine, Russia, and the former USSR.

Categories: World News

Russian Justice Ministry bans 19th century book about persecution of Jews in medieval Europe

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 11:01

By Meduza

Russia’s Justice Ministry has banned a 19th century book by German Orthodox rabbi Marcus Lehmann about the forced conversion of Jews to Christianity in medieval Europe. According to the news agency Moskva, a district court in Sochi ruled on July 14 that Lehmann’s book, “Forced to Convert,” qualifies as extremist literature.

In response, the spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Boruch Gorin, has called the decision “an absolute mockery of the law against extremism.”

This is a book that’s lasted dozens of reprints (even in 19th century Germany) — a book about religious discrimination against the Jews in Medieval Europe. Saying that this book is extremist is to ridicule the very idea of “fighting extremism.”

Boruch Gorin Lehmann’s book tells the story of Lithuanian and Polish Jews in the 14th century, focusing on a Jewish man named Avraam Yuzefovich, who adopts Catholicism in order to take a position as royal treasurer.

By Meduza

Categories: World News

Moscow leverages Qatar crisis disinfo to bolster Nord Stream 2

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 09:53


By Wojciech Jakóbik, for CEPA

Russian media uses the Qatar crisis to undermine Eastern European energy diversification and defend Gazprom’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project

The recent cyber attacks that caused a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia also led to a transport blockade from Qatar by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to reporting, Russian special forces were responsible for destroying Qatar’s relations with other Arab states and planting false statements that were supposedly made by Qatar’s head of state about Saudi authorities in Riyadh. Upstream, this disinformation and subsequent blockade have allowed Russia to question the credibility of Qatar’s liquid natural gas (LNG) supplies to Poland.

Russian subterfuge in European energy markets is nothing new. Kremlin energy propaganda aims to undermine any alternative to Russian gas supplies, which Moscow still uses to gain political influence throughout the previous Soviet zone of interest. As such, it constantly defends the Nord Stream 2 project, whose purpose is to cement the dominance of Russia’s state-owned Gazprom monopoly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Russia’s Gazprom argued that the blockade may impede LNG supplies to Europe. “Qatar does not export oil, it exports gas,” said Alexander Medvedev, deputy chairman of Gazprom’s board. “We cannot exclude that an escalation of events may cause problems with Qatari LNG exports. I don’t know if this is going to happen.”

The Polish-language version of Kremlin’s Sputnik quotes another Russian propaganda outlet called Life.ru, which assumed that Poland’s “lobbying” against Nord Stream 2 is fading because of the undermining of LNG imports from Qatar. Life.ru attacked Donald Tusk, head of the European Council, by directly claiming that he is lobbying to stop the project. The website claimed Tusk wrote a letter opposing the project just before the Qatari crisis, but that the letter lost clout because of the supposed scenario in which Saudi Arabia has halted LNG shipments from Qatar to Poland which were intended “to hurt Russia.” Sputnik’s assumption was, of course, that Poland would have to import Russian gas if Qatari supplies were to be cut.

The lower chamber of Poland’s parliament also speculated on this issue. Unfortunately, some Polish MPs decided to score political points by saying LNG imports from Qatar support terrorism. They also claimed, as did Gazprom, that deliveries could be problematic. However, the Polish politicians criticizing LNG deliveries from Qatar did not propose Russian gas as an alternative, nor have they said anything about backing Russian terrorism in Ukraine and Syria.

The controversial Nord Stream 2 project is clearly in trouble. Money for the project is flowing, but at a high cost. The European Commission, pressured by critics from Central and Eastern Europe as well as from Denmark and Sweden, have sought a mandate from member states to negotiate with Russia the terms of subjecting the project to EU law. In addition, members of the U.S. Senate have proposed sanctions against Nord Stream 2. This could delay the project and increase risk to the point that financial partners back out. Maybe that is why the Russians are looking to undermine alternatives like Qatari LNG.

Nevertheless, LNG transports from Qatar are not being threatened. In fact, gas sources are becoming more diversified in Europe. On 8 June, the Lech Kaczyński Terminal in Poland received its first-ever LNG shipment from the United States—even though Russian officials and media consistently claimed that such purchases were impossible in Central and Eastern Europe.

By Wojciech Jakóbik, for CEPA

Categories: World News

Baltic Forest Brothers did in 1940s what Russians did in 1991 – they fought Soviet power, Ross Says

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 08:19

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

The Kremlin-orchestrated attack on the Forest Brothers in the Baltic countries in the 1940s and on a NATO film clip about them calls attention to a fundamental contradiction in Russian thinking that the powers that be are exacerbating rather than addressing by their criticisms, according to Tatyana Ross.

Today, the Moscow commentator writes, officials “do not want to rewrite what was written in Soviet textbooks” where it was said that “in Ukraine and in the Baltic countries, Soviet power (which was considered correct) was established and its enemies (local Ukrainian nationalist-Banderites and ‘forest brothers’ in the Baltic fought against it.”

That means, according to this verison of events, Ross says, that members of these groups by definition are “criminals” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59678A5F0BE68). “But,” she continues, there is a problem. “Russia ‘overthrew’ Soviet power” in 1991 when thousands came to the defense of the Russian White House during the coup attempt and several of them died.

“If Russia overthrew Soviet power (did it?) … then it must (?) condemn (among its other crimes0 the occupation by Soviet military forces of the territories of neighboring states and recognize that those who fought with Soviet power (the nationalists of Ukraine and the Baltics) were not criminals but fighters FOR THE FREEDOM of their countries.”

But if one accepts the Kremlin’s logic, Ross continues, then “why not condemn those in Russia who were at the White House in 1991? [For the present] they are even considered heroes. But those who struggled against Soviet power in Ukraine and in the Baltics are considered criminals. Where is the logic in that?”

According to Ross, officials and regime journalists in Moscow “do not want to rewrite the history … which was written in Soviet textbooks. They do not want to REWRITE THE LIE and write instead the REAL history, that is the TRUTH.” And thus they signal that they “do not consider that power in Russia has changed.” It is the same old Soviet version.

Many people had hoped, she says, that “a new generation which had not lived in the USSR would grow up and everything ‘would be put in its place.’ But how can one count on that if the new generation is studying the same Soviet textbooks? And it is being taught by the very same Soviet teachers.”

The final word of official Moscow on all this was delivered by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mariya Zakharova who said that no one can remain “indifferent” to the NATO clip about the forest brothers that has as “its goal undermining the results of Nuremburg. That must be blocked.”

Given such attitudes, Ross says, the question arises: “What will truth be TOMORROW?” Given that the current regime maintains itself with stories about its own “doubtful victories” and by whitewashing “the Soviet-Chekist past,” there is very little that can be excluded as far as what the past will be tomorrow.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Kremlin TV: Singing from the same hymn sheet

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 00:00

By East Stratcom

“The West is the cause of all problems in the world, whereas Russia is invariably the only source of positive hope”. This is the conclusion of a recent study on the messages from Russian TV channels in Moldova, published by the Association of independent press (API).

In spring 2017, API monitored for one month the newscasts, analytical programmes and talk shows of five Russian TV networks that are directly relayed into Moldovan homes: State channels Pervy Kanal and RTR, the Gazprom-owned station NTV as well as private networks REN TV and STS.

West equals terror and fear, Putin equals peace and freedom

The study found that Pervy Kanal, RTR, NTV and REN TV cover international news in a strikingly similar way (no newscasts from STS were part of the monitoring). These outlets portray political events to demonstrate the West’s responsibility “for all negative things happening in the region and worldwide”. At the same time, Russia and its President Vladimir Putin are presented as the “only true fighters for peace and for the self-determination of the peoples in the world, as fighting terrorism, loyal defender of democratic values and Christianity”.

Other main narratives include:

• Ukraine is a failed state governed by corrupt fascists
• Ukraine is responsible for the conflict in its eastern territories
• The EU is morally degrading and about to collapse
• The EU is preparing for war with Russia
• The political leaders of certain EU member states are behaving ridiculously, cannot solve crises and depend on the US
• Marine Le Pen would be best suited for the office of French president
• There is an international conspiracy against Russia
• The Eurasian Economic Union brings real benefits to former Soviet Republics, unlike the European Union
• The USA is an aggressive country that creates conflict in the Middle East, in Syria and with North Korea

At the same time, the authors say that REN TV’s programmes generally “promote Russian lifestyle and culture, glorify the Russian army, and acclaim the President Vladimir Putin”. The study notes that RTR advertised the “greatness of Russia and President Vladimir Putin”, “guarantor of prosperity for the peoples of the former USSR”.

Propaganda gets included in entertainment shows

The propaganda techniques employed also frequently overlap between the stations: As a rule, the study highlights, news broadcasts were one-sided and the right to response and pluralism of opinions were not ensured. News anchors used derogatory terms and showed their opinions. In Pervy Kanal and other networks, caricatures and collages were used to show Ukrainian leaders and the country’s Western partners in a negative light.

Talk shows only “mimicked” debate and guests who are deviating from official lines get “often ridiculed and even verbally abused”. The study notes that talk-show hosts on Pervy Kanal “demonstrate that they realize a well-thought and well-planned scenario seeking to promote messages, most often, denigrating the opponents of the Russian Federation. The hosts do not only moderate the show but also intervene in the guests’ messages, they contradict them, they quarrel when they want to impose certain messages.”

STS was not covered in the news monitoring. As it is an entertainment channel, the API study found numerous examples of sketches subtly mocking the US and conveying “anti-European, anti-German and anti-Ukrainian messages”. For example, an entertainment show at the end of March conveyed the message that young people studying in Europe will change their sexual orientation, a “stereotype widely held within the Russian society”. Other sketches demonstrate that Germany continues to be Russia’s enemy and “Russians could easily defeat them”.

By East Stratcom

Categories: World News

Jim Kovpak: Talking to a Brick Wall

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 18:57

By Jim Kovpak, Russia Without BS

Since Trump’s election, Russian state TV has had a bizarre relationship with the man. Still full of hatred for Hillary and upset at Trump’s failure to change the status quo on sanctions or Syria, the Kremlin’s news has still maintained a more or less pro-Trump stance, but tempered with a conspiracy theory about how the hidden establishment is constraining the poor leader. Sound familiar? Not only is this almost identical to the excuses some Putin fanatics make as to why their brilliant leader can’t seem to solve some of Russia’s most pressing problems, but it also resembles the excuse used by Trump’s own fanatical base, who pin his failures on a non-existent “Deep State” (no, they don’t know what that word means).

Even now, Kremlin TV is still half-scolding, half-encouraging Donald Trump, as if he listens to them.

Putin TV tonight torn btwn scolding Trump for not returning diplomatic compound & recycling every anti-Hillary conspiracy theory available.

— Alexey Kovalev (@Alexey__Kovalev) 16 июля 2017 г.

Putin TV to Trump:
1) Give us our diplomatic compound back
2) Ignore ‘so-called Russian interference’
3) Other than that, you’re fine

— Alexey Kovalev (@Alexey__Kovalev) 16 июля 2017 г.

This is pretty hilarious when you consider that Donald Trump probably has no idea about any of this. To be sure, the US government no doubt has people watching the Russian media and trying to interpret what it might signify (and I suspect those people are overpaid and under-qualified), but I doubt anyone mentions this directly to the president.

Trump most likely can’t name a single major Russian state channel, nor has he any idea who Dmitry Kiselyov is. And this time I’m not making fun of Trump’s ignorance; I wouldn’t expect him to know any of this stuff.

What I find amusing here is how week after week Kiselyov is lecturing Trump or about Trump, and meanwhile Trump is more concerned about media gossip or TV ratings. It reminds me of something my friend once pointed out years ago- the average Russian thinks about the United States at least once a day (probably more if they watch TV), whereas many Americans, even now, go for days on end without seriously thinking about Russia (though to be fair with all this “Trump Russia” talk dominating the media, it’s understandably different from when he said that).

Trump is going to do what Trump wants to do, without any regard for what the Kremlin says. Kiselyov might as well be lecturing a brick wall.

By Jim Kovpak, Russia Without BS

Categories: World News