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April 12, 2017

The non-governmental sector: Pro-Russia tools masquerading as independent voices

Introduction

There has already been much discussion in the Russia-watching world about the tools Russia uses to spread its influence, and it is quite an arsenal. They include a worldwide media programme with an annual budget of over US$300 million, the use of social media trolls and co-option of tiny media outlets to generate false grassroots ‘movements’ and stories consistent with Kremlin messaging, sometimes adopted by unsuspecting Europeans and Americans, that target minority communities said to threaten national ‘values’ to the point that they spur physical threats, as well as garden variety hacking and outright buying of influence. One of the most-discussed has been Russia’s support to disruptive political parties in Europe, including those on the far-right (Front National) and centre right (sections of the Republicans) in France, radical right and far right parties such as the Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany, Liga Nord in Italy, Jobbik and Viktor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary, and the far-left (Syriza and Golden Dawn in Greece, Podemos in Spain, as well as a number of Green parties throughout Europe). However, support to political parties is just one piece of a larger network of interconnected technologies and tools. These tools rest on the foundation of a worldwide media program with an annual budget of over US$300 million, set to broadcast in 30 languages, conducted through RT, Rossiya Segodnya, and Russia Beyond the Headlines, including a Youtube channel, print, and TV media in English, Arabic, Spanish, German, and French, as well as Russian, that peddles disinformation, half- or partial-truths, false stories, and weaponises false media narratives especially about minority populations such as migrants or LGBT communities. Their online vitriol targeting minority communities, sometimes unwittingly adopted by the mainstream media, can lead to offline physical threats.

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