Monday, September 15, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Unlike Its Soviet Predecessor, Russian Propaganda Deceives Only Those Who Want to Be, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 15 – Russia’s intervention in Georgia has highlighted the fundamental difference between Moscow’s propaganda now and Soviet propaganda in the past. In Soviet times, the regime sought to convince everyone of the truth of its lies, whereas now, the Kremlin propaganda effort is so transparent that it deceives only those who want to be deceived.
In a commentary on the portal, Lev Rubinshtein argues that Soviet “illusionists” worked hard to keep the propaganda techniques they employed well concealed in the hope that they would be able to convince all or almost all of the people living under the totalitarian system of the USSR (
Now, however, the Russian government’s propagandists, “clearly recognizing the new information-technology situation in the country and in the world, count only on deceiving those who are glad to be deceived, and such people, to the great joy [of the current Russian government] are extremely numerous.”
As for those who “do not believe” the official line? Well, says Rubinshtein, “They don’t believe and it isn’t necessary that they do – let them sit at home and not come to our circus” because whether they accept the propaganda the regime puts out or not will make very little difference to the regime, although it may be taken as a mark of greater “freedom” by the West.
During the course of Russia’s military advance into Georgia, the Russian government offered a great variety of “varied and contradictory” explanations for what it was doing, some of which were so at odds that no one who was paying attention could be expected to accept them unless of course he or she wanted to accept whatever the Kremlin was saying.
Two of the most extreme examples of this, the analyst says, are “official one” offered for “visitors to [the government’s carefully staged] circus.” According to this propaganda line, Moscow attacked for “defense” of its citizens. No one, in Russia or abroad, could object lest Moscow bring charges of double standards: “You can and we cannot?”
Rubinshtein says that “generally speaking, [he is] pleased when a strong and just state defends the life, health, rights and dignity of its citizens wherever they are located. But in this case, it is precisely ‘wherever they are located’ which is the key aspect of the case, if one is not to call it the fatal one.”
That is because the Russian government is quite prepared to defend these rights of its citizens -- but only if they live outside the borders of the Russian state and only if defending them serves other purposes as well. And of course, from the point of view of the Kremlin, it is quite irrelevant whether the Russian citizens involved have asked for such a defense.
The other explanation the Kremlin offered, the Grani analyst points out, was very different: Moscow took the measures it did, its spokesman implied, because it could, a logic that reflects the values of a criminal band rather than a state but that appeals to those who want to strike out against someone, anyone to demonstrate how powerful and important they are.
Because of the nature of the media, including the Internet, anyone who wants to think for himself or herself will quickly see that the Kremlin’s propagandists are willing to say anything in the hopes of attracting support even if they have to act in ways that reveal their methods and even their goals.
But for many people, Rubinshtein says with regret, that is not a problem. Their methods are just as “uncovered as the torso of the former Russian president” in the picture of him that has become famous around the world. In it, the Grani writer says, Putin is “naked as a haw” or perhaps, in a reference to the well-known children’s story “naked as the king.”
Rubinshtein’s article is only the most pointed of a rising tide of criticism of Moscow’s propaganda effort during the Georgian war, on occasion from those, like Rubinshtein who find the Russian line absurd on its face but more often from those who argue that the Russian authorities have behaved incompetently in getting their message out.
One of the latter argues that Russia has suffered a propaganda defeat analogous to the military one in 1941 and wonders whether it can eventually achieve a Stalingrad-like triumph the next time around (, while a second says the Kremlin, unlike the West, doesn’t understand the new media technologies at all (
And regardless of whether one shares their views or not, this war did feature a particularly embarrassing propaganda fiasco on the website of the Russian defense ministry: At the start of the war, that site posted an article which directly contradicted Moscow’s line and then had to take it down quickly in the hopes no one would notice.
(On that propaganda failure, one that Rubinshtein would undoubtedly say shows that only those who want to be deceived will be, see . For the article taken down but cached and thus still available online, go to

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