IMITATION GAMES

HOW THE KREMLIN FAKES POLITICAL PLURALISM AND INDEPENDENT PRESS

Left: Fake Memories. Blade Runner. Right: Self-explicable.

IMITATION OF THE ENJOYMENT

This article explains a Kremlin propaganda technique “political pluralism imitation.*” The Russian-state owned and funded mass media has been employing this model in Russia for a while. Lately, the Kremlin-linked agents are implementing it in the US and other Western countries. The goals differ; the mechanism is the same.

  • In Putin’s Russia, the political discourse is suppressed.
  • Unlike the USSR ideologists, the Kremlin propagandists understand the importance of the public opinion and positive image. “The sublimation of emotions on a political topic” is an important part of the engineered collective mentality.
  • An illusion of political life is created by the mass media and propagandists to the audience’s satisfaction.
  • Political discussions that include opposing views and liberal opinions are staged on TV and the Internet in order to ensure fully experienced surrogate of reality.
  • The purpose of these political shows is “to imitate the enjoyment of politics” and simultaneously push pro-Kremlin point-of-view in a scripted and centralized manner.
  • In the West, the political discourse exists so the goal is different: by exploiting the familiar concept of the freedom of speech, the Kremlin propagandists hold partially scripted discussions to demoralize the population by sowing further discord, distrust and mutual hatred.
  • I’ve been writing about this Matrix-like phenomenon of political simulacra in Putin’s Russia since 2015. The below material is a combination of my research database and an abridged and edited translation of The Insider’s The Confessions of a Propagandist. Read the original in Russian here and here.

MYTH-MAKING METHOD: HOW IT WORKS

For the lovers of sci-fi: Bladerunner 2 fake reality and simulacrum from Matrix.
  • Propagandists present actual and fictitious events as an image and text.
  • The images and language are visceral and appeal to all senses.
  • They create a strong emotional response.
  • The non-existing event is experienced as an intimate, real-life event.
  • Fiction is perceived as life.
  • Additional discussions and repetition reaffirm the real nature of events.

*For more examples of how negative emotions are formed please read my detailed analysis of this method.

*For positive image engineering read here:

EXAMPLE 1: HOW IT IS DONE IN RUSSIA

CHANNEL ONE: THE PRESENCE OF “LIBERTADS” IS REQUIRED

Channel One is owned by the Russian government (51%), Roman Abramovich (24%) and other Kremlin-connected entities and has curators from the presidential administration.

The top management comes up with the themes for political talk shows.

To stage the semblance of pluralism and democracy, the management requires the presence of “libertads” on air.

The liberals are chosen carefully and can not express any harsh or unwanted criticisms of Putin or Russia.

Department of Replicants (about 20 employees) curates people in the audience, “replicants.” Their participation and comments are scripted and most of the time they are not allowed to speak up.

Department of Talk Show Guests (25–30 employees) handles featured guests — frequent participants paid for their appearance.

Kovtun and Bom. The US is often represented by Michael Bohm, a former insurance agent, who moved to Russia from the US. He is introduced as an “independent journalist” although he never worked as a journalist outside of being a columnist for a Russian newspaper in English The Moscow Times. His average appearance fee is 10,000–15,000 rubles. Ukrainian guests and experts are hard to come by. A regular “Ukrainian expert” is formerly unemployed Vyacheslav Kovtun, who came from Ukraine to Russia in 2014. During the political talk shows he is introduced as a “Ukrainian political scientist.”

“Pseudo-Ukrainians” are invited from Ukraine; their travel expenses are fully paid in addition to the show fees. These guest speakers express carefully edited “anti-Russian” views and at the end of the shows they line up for a cashier hands out the envelopes with cash.

Screaming on the air is a must. There is a special term “screamer” that is applied to the guests and replicants. One employee jokes that the housewives watching shows need to hear over crunching their cabbage. Jokes aside, the sound is used to create the stronger reaction. The close-ups play their roles as well. Mirror neurons in our brain elicit emotional responses when triggered by the sight of another human being’s feelings.

Sergey Dorenko in 1999 and 2017. Left: Dorenko is speaking about sex workers, with disgust. Right: Dorenko today. According to Insider, Dorenko is a speaker for hire and his rate is 100,000 roubles per appearance. “He is being explained what is needed; he says, ‘Okay, not a problem’ and is excellent at handling any topic. There was one incident, when he was invited to hit enemies on the Ukrainian issue; there was one female liberal so he literally made a puddle out of her — it was disgusting — he got all personal. During the commercial break, he got up, came up to her, and said: “Listen, don’t be angry, you know, that’s just my job!,” and he kissed her hand and went back to his seat. As they say, you don’t want me, don’t call me. My price is 100,000 roubles.”

EXAMPLE 2: HOW IT IS DONE IN THE WEST.

RTVi: A CHANNEL THAT PRACTICES “DISCUSSIONS” IN THE US

RTVi is a major Russian-language channel broadcasting to Russian-speaking viewers outside Russia. It is presented as “an independent channel” banned in Russia and run by immigrants. A Russian news outlet called RTVi “a typical ‘sleeping agent” in the Western world.”

In 2017, RTVi started to broadcast interactive shows between the US and Russian audiences. In summer 2018, RTVi has been inviting the US citizens, immigrants from the former USSR, to discuss divisive subjects. The on-air discussions usually lead to heated, lengthy and undignified debates on the social media, resulting in much hatred, aggravation, bans, etc.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF RTVi OWNERSHIP AND “INDEPENDENCE”

RTVi is a former NTV International, a branch of an NTV channel. Its history is critical to understanding Putin’s regime. Putin’s first move as the President in 2000 was crashing NTV and establishing the government control over it. Briefly:

  • In 1993, Vladimir Gusinsky co-founded NTV. The channel set high professional standards, broadcasting live coverage and analysis of current events.
  • In 1997, Gusinsky founded RTVi (formerly NTV International), a channel that broadcasted to Western countries, in particular, the United States, Israel, Germany.
  • By 1999, the audience of NTV achieved 102 million people.
  • In 1999–2000, during parliamentary and presidential elections, NTV did not support Putin and his political party.
  • In May 2000, tax police, backed by officers from the general prosecutor’s office and the FSB, stormed the Moscow headquarters of NTV.
  • In 2000, Gusinsky, after a brief arrest, fled Russia but was arrested twice in Greece and Spain on the request of the Russian authorities.
  • In April 2001, Gazprom, a Kremlin-owned energy company, took over NTV.
  • In 2001–2003, two independent TV channels which absorbed the former NTV journalists, were also shut down.
  • Putin appointed his classmates and friends to the managerial positions of NTV. (some facts from Wikipedia)
  • NTV International kept its independent status but switched the broadcasting programs to the material produced by a channel, owned by another oligarch Boris Berezovsky.
  • In 2002–2004, Berezovsky and his partner, a Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, reportedly invested tens of millions of dollars in RTVi. Berezovsky and Patarkastshshvili — both opponents of Putin — both suffered sudden deaths under suspicious circumstances.
  • In 2012, Gusinsky who wanted to return to Russia changed his political views publicly, praised Putin’s policy and sold RTVi to Ruslan Sokolov, a former head of the Russian state media holding close to the Kremlin. Sokolov, a former head of the state channel United Broadcasting System of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the member of the Public Council under the Ministry of Defense, or, in other words, an official voice of the Russian army, said that “nothing was agreed with the Kremlin” but that he “always wants to be useful to the authorities and the country,” and “if there were any opportunities to help,” he was ready to do so. He noted that he saw “a prospect in a company developing abroad for a Russian-speaking audience.”
  • In 2014, the legal entity of RTVi in Russia, Mediamart-M, received almost half of its profit, 85 million roubles ($1,350,000) from the state contracts.
  • In 2015, Mediamart-M received contracts for the total of 94 million roubles ($1,500,000) from Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian federal government agency under the jurisdiction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, opened in 2008 by Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister at the time. (Based on conservative estimates from publicly available data, the Kremlin spends about $130 million a year through foundations like Rossotrudnichestvo and the Gorchakov fund. Putin has pledged to increase the budget of Rossotrudnichestvo to $300 million by 2020.)
  • Working for Rossotrudnichestvo, RTVi made and distributed TV-programs dedicated to the current events and issues of the Russian-language world community, “Russian world.”
  • RTVi anchor, Ekaterina Kotrikadze, worked on a talk-show Accord (Soglasie.) According to her, in 2014, the channel was allowed to produce and broadcast a talk-show that openly called Crimea operation annexation and stated that the Russian army was directly involved in the war in Eastern Ukraine under the condition that the Moscow point of view would be also expressed — by the pro-Kremlin politicians and experts.
  • More funding for RTVi came from Interprombank, a small bank, with Putin’s university classmate Nikolay Egorov on the Board of Directors.
  • Currently, RTVi is also included in the package of MagtiSat satellite TV in Georgia. The same package includes a Russian channel Russia24, owned by VGTRK (All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company), wholly-owned by the Russian government.

EXAMPLE 3: HOW IT IS DONE IN CYBERSPACE

FACEBOOK, AGAIN

In cyberspace, the same “pluralism” is applied on a wider scale.

According to the Guardian, on July 31, 2018, Facebook “has detected ‘coordinated inauthentic behaviour’ before the United States midterm elections that could be linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian-based group with ties to the Kremlin….Some of the deleted pages include “Aztlan Warriors”, “Resisters” and “Black Elevation”. The “Resisters” page created a Facebook event for a protest on 10–12 August titled “No Unite The Right 2”…There was also coordinated activity around #AbolishICE, a leftwing campaign aimed at shutting down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the New York Times reported.”

This is a perfect example of Putin’s Russia omnivorousness. The Kremlin also actively supports the ultra-right, white supremacist movements and neo-Nazi groups. For a detailed report of such connections please read my articles with many examples:

In addition, the Kremlin funds, cultivates, supports and nurtures the US and European separatist movements, political parties, organizations and social movements and uses them to manipulate diverse population groups.

LEFT: La Rouche recruiters in front of the Russian Orthodox church in San Francisco, January 2017. The movement is supported by the Kremlin. Center and Right: Amercian alt-right and neo-Nazis on RT.
Left: Matthew Heimbach, a leading neo-Nazi, in Charlottesville at a protest against the US sanctions. Center: White supremacists Jared Taylor at an event in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2016. Right: David Duke, of KKK, a tweet.

Like a puppeteer, the Kremlin manipulates individuals and groups by pulling on the strings of human emotions. It is an old trick — but it still works.

CONCLUSION

These are just some of the examples of the “imitation games” that are a part of the hybrid warfare, often called “asymmetric” or “non-traditional,” for a reason.

This type of war is defined by its out-of-the-box methods. It messes with your mind. It attacks your feelings.

Before we can develop a defense strategy, we need to acknowledge that it is not “meddling” but a war and learn the attack methods and the mentality of our adversary.

Debating propagandists on a TV-channel funded by them for this exact purpose or fighting trolls posting the opposing views on several accounts simultaneously is playing into their scenario. We must overcome the understandable resistance to learn more about these lowly strategies — not to mimic and imitate them but to find the way to defend the liberal democracies, the true freedom of speech and the human dignity.

Read more about Cyberwar and Propaganda here:

This is Chapter of CLUSTERCLICK, a photo novella documentary by Zarina Zabrisky.

*All facts and photos are in public domain and available through Google. Links to the original sources are included.

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