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Watching the Kremlin

Russian propaganda on European leaders

Who does the Kremlin consider to be its friends and who are viewed as opponents? Who deserves more attention and who can be neglected?

The answers can be found in a study recently published by the Chech think tank “European Values. The Kremlin Watch mission which monitored Russian media lasted from 2014 to 2016.

Jakub Janda, deputy director of “European Values,  met with a HromadskeTV correspondent to share the details.

– What are the basic conclusions of the study?

The basic conclusions are that the Russian propaganda machine manipulates information in order to portray European leaders the way the Kremlin wishes. We are talking about the propaganda machine directly managed by the Kremlin since there are few real media organizations in Russia.

The German Chanсellor Angela Merkel is being portrayed by Russian propaganda as Vladimir Putin’s opponent. But there are others, Milos Zeman, the Chech President, Robert Fico, the Slovak Prime-minister, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime-minister and Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime-minister, who are being portrayed as leaders who are more friendly towards the Kremlin.

However, Russian propaganda overplays their influence. Taking into account the role of their countries they get more attention from the Russian propaganda machine than other European leaders who are considered less friendly towards the Kremlin.

– Why do you think Russian propaganda promotes certain European leaders and downplays others?

We know that independent media is not welcome in Russia. Most publications are published as the result of Kremlin intervention.

This possibly reflects the Kremlin’s desire to distinguish between its opponents among European leaders and the ones it is more friendly with, i.e. potential allies of Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin is trying to convince its Russian audience that the whole world, or the West at least, is trying to eliminate Russia, but Vladimir Putin is the kind of leader that can have allies even under such circumstances.

That is why the Chech President Milos Zeman gets so much attention in the Russian media. Whenever he does or says something that is meant to harm the Western allies of the Chech Republic, the US. Germany or the EU as a whole, it always gets wide coverage in the Russian media. In other words, these figures are being used as part of Russian propaganda to influence the home audience.

– Does this mean that Russian propaganda makes a clear distinction between the friends of Kremlin friends and its opponents? Who are its enemies then?

“Enemy is not a word in the vocabulary of Russian propaganda. But the trend is obvious, some leaders are being portrayed in a very negative light.

The Kremlin Watch mission and Semantic Visions have been monitoring the situation for the last three years. We found out that Russian media considers Angela Merkel to be the key figure behind the EU sanctions against Russia, and the Russia media portrays the refugee problem in Europe as the beginning of Armageddon. Furthermore, Angela Merkel is to blame for this.

Other leaders are being presented in a different manner.

For instance, the Italian Prime-minister, Renzi, or the Chech President, Zeman, are potrayed as leaders defending the sovereign rights of their nations against pressure from the US and the EU.

Some leaders are being portrayed as “slaves of the US, blindly following its instructions. Angela Merkel a vivid example. There are others, nevertheless, who sympathize with Vladimir Putin and are being portrayed as independent or sovereign leaders.

– Have you recorded the examples of myths regarding European leaders that have been used and promoted by Russian propaganda?

Examples of this number in the dozens. The secret plans of the European leaders meant to harm the common people frequently make the news on Russian TV, be it the 1st Channel or Russia Today. The idea is to divide the leaders and the nations.

Russian propaganda is trying to make the US into an enemy. However, some European leaders are more friendly to Russia, which in turn, makes them the hostages of American policies. Some European nations, it claims, are more friendly, falling victim to the American powers at be or dictatorship.

– Does the Russian media cover the leaders of EU institutions? Are any of them of any importance?

Our study shows the way each of the selected EU leaders is being portrayed, for example, Stoltenberg or Rasmussen, the former and present heads of NATO, who make the news because of holding this position. Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU Commission, owes this mainly to the Ukrainian crisis and the problem of migration. Federica Mogerini, who is in charge of EU foreign affairs, deserves attention because of sanctions and the Ukrainian crisis, but not because of the migration.

It surely makes sense, because the officials mentioned are responsible for these areas. However, on the other hand, it is obvious that Angela Merkel is being mentioned mainly due to the sanctions. The Russian media stresses her role. That is why she is being portrayed negatively. Mogerini and Juncker are being paid less attention to when covering sanctions when compared to Angela Merkel.

Published: 11.08.2016

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