“The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money”
- Michael Weiss and Peter Pomerantsev
Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Russia is posing a new challenge to the Western world. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea early this year and consequent invasion of eastern Ukraine, the West has been forced to face the reality of what Russia has become under president Vladimir Putin’s rule—a revanchist and militarily revitalized country with imperial ambitions.
In less than a decade, the Kremlin has learned to use the principles of liberal democracy against the West, developing innovative propaganda techniques and eventually accomplishing what has been called the “weaponization of information.” The Kremlin has played a crucial role in Russian coverage of the Ukraine conflict: state media, fueled by millions of dollars, has spread blatant misinformation, creating a frenzied atmosphere of suspicion and hostility.
In the twenty-first century, information warfare has become the world’s primary form of warfare, and effective countermeasures have yet to be developed. The report “The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money,” authored by two prominent journalists—Michael Weiss and Peter Pomerantsev—aims to help members of governments, civil society, and the media understand how the Kremlin’s propaganda machine works and the challenges it presents to the West. It also provides a set of recommendations for how best to confront these challenges.
What’s in a Name? Understanding Russian Patriotism
- Boris Bruk, Ph.D., Institute of Modern Russia
This paper is based on a project of the Institute of Modern Russia (IMR) that explores the ways Russians from diverse backgrounds understand and relate to the concept of patriotism. This study primarily focuses on the “insertion” of patriotism into virtually all areas of Russian social life and its assumption as an “ideological posture shared by all parties.” In Russia today, those “who refuse to present themselves as ‘patriots’ are delegitimized and ushered off the public stage” (Laruelle, 2009). This project has been undertaken at a time when the lines between Russian patriotism and the “negative features of nationalism” are becoming increasingly blurred. Currently, as some studies indicate, among the principal ideas that consolidate different parts of Russian society are xenophobia and a general intolerance to “others.” Within this context, this project seeks to identify and illuminate the many ways in which Russian patriotism may manifest. As part of the project, IMR partnered with the Levada Center, an independent Russian polling center, to conduct a survey on patriotism in Russia.
From Economic Crisis to Political Crisis? Changing Middle-Class Political Attitudes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, 2008–2012
- Sasha de Vogel, Columbia University
This paper examines the long-term changes in political attitudes that may have contributed to the sudden emergence of middle-class protest activity in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, during the 2011–2012 electoral cycle. It analyzes three interrelated hypotheses to address this question: the impact of the global financial crisis; attitudes about liberal-democratic concerns; and views on government effectiveness. These trends are examined using data drawn from responses to the survey question “What is the most important problem for the country?” in nine surveys conducted between March 2008 and March 2012. During this period, of increasing concern to middle-class groups were the following: corruption and red tape, standard of living, housing and utilities, healthcare, and education. The factor linking these issues together may be Russians’ dissatisfaction with their quality of life or with the pervasiveness of corruption in the country. The concerns of the middle class were not significantly different from those of the general population, but the middle class, and particularly residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg, were more critical when assessing all problems. Comparison with additional data demonstrates that participants in the 2011–2012 protests in major cities shared similar concerns with the general population, but for most, participation in the protests made them significantly more interested in democracy.
Origins, Dynamics and Consequences of the Russian Protest Movement
- Denis Volkov, Levada Center (Moscow)
Based on the extensive sociological research of the Levada Center (including nationwide polls, polls during protest rallies in Moscow, and in-depth interviews with leaders of the protest movement), this paper reveals the origins of the Russian protest movement, traces its dynamics, and explains its timing. Special attention is paid to the consequences of the protests in 2011–2012 for the Russian political system and possible political change in the country.
International Propaganda: The Russian Version
- Boris Bruk, Ph.D., Institute of Modern Russia
This paper explores a number of the key instruments used in Russia to influence foreign attitudes and improve the country’s reputation and image abroad. For decades, the battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world was fought with propaganda, which is defined by one commentator as “the engine of mental corruption” operated for manipulative purposes. This paper offers a snapshot of Soviet-era propaganda tools and brings the discussion into the context of present-day Russia. The development and deployment of the new instruments intended to “affect others” take place in an environment in which “softer” approaches play an increasingly important role. Based on the argument that modern-day Russia’s efforts show a significant degree of continuity with those of Soviet times, where soft forms of power bordered on hard power applications, the paper questions their effectiveness. Finally, it concludes that in today’s world, propaganda is either limited in effect or is counterproductive. To achieve its current goals, Russia needs to focus its attention on matching words with deeds in its policies and avoiding manipulative tactics for the sake of appearing more attractive.
Corruption of the Fourth Power: The Decline of the Russian Media
- Olga Khvostunova, Ph.D., Institute of Modern Russia, Columbia University
Independent and free media are a key instrument in fighting corruption. But in today’s Russia, this instrument has itself been corrupted and misused. The Russian government has deliberately taken control over the major national media outlets, including TV channels, radio stations, print media, and Internet resources. Only a few publications remain free and are able to fulfill their duties. As competition on the world media market becomes fiercer, traditional media in all countries are looking for new ways of surviving and are becoming more susceptible to corruption. The problem is universal, but in Russia’s case it is aggravated by president Vladimir Putin’s corrupt political regime. Corruption has poisoned Russian media on both levels—institutional and individual. The objectives of this research are as follows: to investigate the main methods of corrupting the media and the journalists that the Russian government has employed; to trace the effects that such corruption can have on media content and, as a result, on public opinion; and to determine whether the few free media can contribute to overcoming this negative trend.
Export of Corrosion: How Practices from Russia Penetrate and Undermine US and UK
- Ilya Zaslavskiy, independent oil and gas consultant
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and United Kingdom governments have chosen to oppose or counteract Russia only on traditional hardcore corruption issues (arms control, espionage, outright crime, etc.) while neglecting highly questionable and ethically debatable practices and appeasing the Kremlin in exchange for its compliance on nuclear proliferation and select regional cooperation issues (e.g. Iran, Korea, Afghanistan). This report seeks to bring together all the different layers of corrosive practices in one comprehensive overview; analyze their aims, means, effective impact, and reasons for acceptance in US and UK; and provide policy suggestions for western governments to counteract them. The main argument of the report is that neglected layers of corrosion, although less harmful at first glance, are nevertheless extremely dangerous in the long run, as they undermine democratic values, institutions, and practices in US and UK and jeopardize national security by importing Russian practices to the West. New forms of corrosion export often come without the direct support of the Russian state but through corporations or powerful individuals connected to Vladimir Putin’s regime. The US and UK governments, media, and opinion-makers should be bolder in filtering and counteracting the penetration of corrosiveRussian practices in international organizations, the Internet, western media, legal and financial system, elections, lobbying, think-tanks, universities, and real estate. In conclusion, the report seeks to synthetize initial policy suggestions for each layer of corrosion in one summary table and hopes to spark a renewed frank debate about the appeasement of corrupt Russian practices in the West.
Corruption in Russia as a Business: Putin’s Palace Case Study
- Alexandra Kalinina, master program student, University of Bern
Corruption in modern Russia has reached its peak and has become a general rule of doing business at all levels of state power and in all areas, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system. According to a report of the World Bank, 48 percent of Russia’s GDP is associated with corruption. Transparency International ranked Russia 143rd out of 183 countries in its 2011 Corruption Perception Index. All attempts to fight corruption are futile, since Russian anticorruption legislation works inefficiently. In this paper, the real character of corruption in Russia, and its causes and effects on the economy are analyzed based on previous studies of the subject and statistical data. To illustrate this problem, the paper provides a deep analysis of the “Putin’s Palace” case as one of the most recent examples of corruption at the top of the Russian government system. The paper also provides a short analysis of the latest changes in Russia’s anticorruption legislation and evaluates their efficiency. The research establishes that despite all the anticorruption measures, the average number of bribes in Russia quadrupled between 2010 and 2011, and continues to grow. It establishes that the fight against corruption in Russia has brought about unexpected results: far more ordinary people who give bribes are convicted than are corrupt authorities. Moreover, Russia’s anticorruption policy usually comes down to fighting common bribes, rather than combating the overwhelming power of authorities with interests in businesses to monopolize markets via embezzlement of state property or nepotism. Finally, based on its findings, the paper discusses some feasible ways of solving the problem of corruption in Russia and proposes guidelines for further research in this area.
Corruption in Russia: Reiman’s Telecommunication Empire (a case study)
- Evgeniya Khilji, independent researcher
Corruption is a phenomenon that has become a way of life in Russia, rather than a crime. Corruption existed in Soviet Russia, but it was controlled by the state; after the collapse of the Soviet Union, though, corruption spun out of control. In modern-day Russia, almost every citizen engages in corruption activities at some point in his or her life. The higher the position one holds in Russia, the larger the bribes are. Laundered money originating from high-scale corruption cases is usually transferred across borders to foreign banks. This research paper analyzes corruption among high officials using the case study of Leonid Reiman, a former minister of telecommunications in Russia, who was reportedly involved in the large-scale offshore telecom corruption case.
Reforming Police, Policing Reforms: Democratizing Russian Law Enforcement and the Federal Law “On Police”
- Sasha de Vogel, Columbia University
This paper explores major issues with Russia’s 2011 federal police reform law (“Law on Police”) that call into question whether the law can be considered progress toward democratization, or whether it fortifies existing structures of corruption, further diminishing public control over the police force. The paper first explores the demand for police reform, including examining salient holdovers from the Soviet militia, and then briefly outlines the framework of democratic policing that will be used to analyze the legislation, before exploring the major flaws in the drafting process and the provisions of the law that will limit its efficacy, including issues with the drafting, financing of the reforms, staffing review, and accountability/monitoring.
Corruption in the Russian Education System
- Vladimir Rimsky, INDEM Foundation (Moscow)
In modern Russia, corruption has become a social norm in the relationships between citizens and government officials, and state and municipal agencies. All manifestations of corruption can be found in the Russian education system. They are determined largely by the development and implementation of the Unified State Examination (“EGE” in Russian) in secondary schools, difficulties in entering universities and hardships of teaching. Article 43 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees that a basic secondary education will be made available and free to each citizen—as well as the possibility of attending, free of charge, on a competitive basis, a state or municipal higher education institution. Overcoming corruption in the Russian education system is complicated by the fact that corruption has become the only way for many Russian families to obtain a nominally free public education. Administrations and owners of educational institutions, as well as state and municipal officials engaged in the regulation of their activity, are not interested in actively combatting bribery. The reason for this is that they receive significant benefits from such instances of graft. One of the consequences of corruption in the Russian education system is that teenagers and students learn to solve their problems through corrupt means, a habit that carries over to other areas of their lives.
This paper is only available in Russian.