Russian Media on Elections

Source: Komsomolskaya Pravda (Reuters attribution) Caption: “Second round of French presidential election is slated for May 7. The country will make the choice between Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron.” Although attributed to Reuters, this juxtaposition appears unique to several Russian outlets.

With elections in the United Kingdom and Germany looming this year, it is useful to understand the continuing power of the narrative promoted by Russian media circles and its real impact on both Russia’s domestic audience and the international right-wing populist movement. It is not just manifested in isolated periodic intervention in western elections. Although the disinformation seen in Russia’s state-dominated media during the French presidential election has been well documented, it also continues to reframe the results after the fact, portraying it as a victory for the right and simultaneously attempting to undermine the election’s legitimacy.

While western outlets typically viewed Emmanuel Macron’s election as a rebuke of the the anti-EU movement represented by Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Russian outlets highlighted instead the historical level of support for National Front. Rossiya-24, for example, hailed the “phenomenal results” achieved by her campaign. On the other hand, Macron’s result was portrayed as the result of political corruption and straight-up electoral fraud. Channel One highlighted the low turnout and the high number of blank ballots as indicative of the country’s deep political division, and asserted that National Front would emerge “even stronger” in June National Assembly elections. The article concluded by mentioning protests and clashes with police, who “had to use tear gas” to restore order. Widely read tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, in an article titled “French Election: They Deserve Macron,” sowed doubt about the results and focused on election irregularities. It reported how “each voter received an envelope with two ballots — one for Macron and another one — for Le Pen. Some of those for [Le Pen] were partially torn, and therefore, not valid.” The article also implied that Le Pen posters in Paris had all been removed, except for a few posted at night.

Komsomolskaya Pravda was also the outlet that featured an article titled, “Who is Emmanuel Macron: Rothschild puppet, psychopath and ‘Mr. Nobody.’” It called him impervious to insults, and said, “He shines like a counterfeit coin, and speaks nonsense with a surprisingly confident look.” The article quotes French analyst Alain Soral, who said Macron was “a political product of French hierarchy and oligarchy.” “Who is Emmanuel Macron?,” it continues: “A Rothschild bank clerk. A happy gay. A Mister Nobody. A robot that says the right words at the right time. A new Frankenstein. Yet, behind him are billionaires, globalists, a Rothschild America and all the media power. Macron married his teacher. They don’t have kids. One does not need to be Freud to understand the number of [psychological] complexes he has,” the tabloid added.

Through it all, Russia has sought to portray itself as a country that respects and defends democratic norms, as the beacon of stability, cooperation, and rationality. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for example, suggested that western press coverage of the Trump Administration and Russia had gone over the top. That is, despite all the allegations of Russia’s meddling in the US election, Russia still makes it a point that President Trump is a legitimate product of the US political system. Meanwhile, that EU and US meddling was behind the overthrow of legitimate governments in the “color revolutions” is a staple theme in the Russian narrative — one that in the Russian view justifies upending the geopolitical threat posed by the EU and NATO to its borders. The power of such narratives explain how the percentage of Russians viewing the United States favorably could have dropped from 51% to just 15% in just two years (2013–2015), as Pew Research Center has shown. France is only the latest example of how Russian media interprets unfolding international political landscape. Regular monitoring and analysis of Moscow’s ongoing narratives is critical to anticipating future moves, and outcomes. A more widespread understanding of them in western leaders and media is also likely a prerequisite for the emergence of a more universally effective counter-narrative.