Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed a vast information network across Central and Eastern Europe, as well as within the European Union.
This network uses a very developed and coordinated use of social media networks and traditional news media outlets, as well as influence among European politicians, like former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
In addition, they have provided funding for anti-systemic political parties like the National Front in France.
What is Putin’s goal through all of this?
According to Anne Applebaum, who has co-authored a new study with Edward Lucas, “Wordplay & Wargames,” Russia’s goals are not especially ideological in nature, but simply to keep Putin and his inner circle in power.
The biggest threat to this goal is the anti-corruption movement represented by the Ukrainian Maidan uprising.
Attacks on the revolution in Ukraine and undermining any desire of Russians to join the West are central strategies.
The Russian government, under Putin, is therefore aggressively using its propaganda network to extend its influence and wage a war of information across the world.
Increasingly, Russian propaganda has harped on three major themes:
Ukraine as a chaotic and anarchic disaster
The corrupting influence of the European Union and the United States and modernity in general
Putin as the guarantor of stability in Russia (of course)
In Europe, Russia is working to break apart the European Union and destabilize NATO. Russia may not be able to achieve either, but it can wreak havoc in the process.
Needless to say, as far as the European Union is concerned, Russia is pushing on an open door as the Euro currency crisis rolls on.
It is not the first time, of course, that the United States has faced information and ideological warfare with Russian and Soviet masterminds.
The Cold War was won by the West partly on the battlefield of ideas.
Applebaum, who spoke this month at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), says the United States must move beyond the lessons of the past.
She argued that promoting positive visions of the values of democracy, as the U.S. has traditionally done, is not enough.
The West needs to retool its arsenals. The Russian propaganda message is carefully tailored to each country—particularly in smaller countries like the Czech Republic, where weak media markets allow easy manipulation of facts by Russian information agents and networks.
In larger countries with a more robust and established press, like France, it is more difficult.
A Princeton PhD, was a U.S. diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Central/Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. After leaving the State Department in order to express opposition to the planned invasion of Iraq, he taught courses at Georgetown University pertaining to the tension between propaganda and public diplomacy. For many years he shared ideas on the theme "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" with Eurasian/European delegates participating in the "Open World" program.
Brown’s articles have appeared in numerous publications. A recent piece is “Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann During the Great War” (published in Nontraditional U.S. Public Diplomacy: Past, Present, and Future; now online).
He is the author (with S. Grant) of The Russian Empire and the USSR: A Guide to Manuscripts and Archival Materials in the United States (also online). In the past century, he served as an editor/translator of a joint U.S.-Soviet publication, The Establishment of Russian-American Relations, 1765-1815.