Russia's "soft power" institutions in Britain: How Putin pulls the strings - Times

09:56 Oct. 31, 2016

How Putin pulls the strings - Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures before a meeting with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 17, 2016 (AP photo)

Russian state money is quietly helping to embed a network of "soft power" institutions in British society and build links to organisations on the political left and right

Russia has four state-funded media outlets in Britain, described by Ben Nimmo of the Royal United Services Institute think tank as part of a "co-ordinated but undeclared information campaign against the United Kingdom".

Analysis of its television station, RT, reveals a pattern of favourites. Nimmo found that Jeremy Corbyn featured in 89 per cent of all RT website headlines on the 2015 Labour leadership contest - compared with 43 per cent on the BBC website. Corbyn's picture was shown on RT six times more often than all his leadership rivals put together.

Read also EU unit fighting Russian propaganda set for budget upgrade

Who watches this - and do they believe it? RT reached 718,000 UK viewers in the week ending October 16, about a seventh of Sky News's reach. A controlled experiment by Monica Richter of Oxford University exposed 1,000 uncommitted western viewers to rival discussions on Ukraine by RT and the BBC. Those who watched the RT discussion were more likely afterwards to express an unfavourable view of the West.

Unlike Soviet-era propaganda, Russia's new purpose is not really to convince us that it is superior but to persuade a generation schooled in cultural relativism that the West is just as bad.

In the words of Michael Weiss, editor of the US government-funded Interpreter website, Moscow proffers a "wised-up, postmodern" world view in which "everything is a sham, all liberalism is cant and anyone can be bought".

Liz Wahl, a former RT presenter, said she was given instructions in her earpiece any time an interviewee criticised Russia's actions in Ukraine: "I was told to change the subject, bring up Iraq and make it about US hypocrisy. Talk about the neo-Nazis, how the US is supporting the neo-Nazis."

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