Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cold War 2.0?

Voice of Russia, the one that was scrapped and will be incorporated into the new "Russia Today" news agency, had a mind-blowing piece today, titled: "Orwellian US propaganda tool VOA finished in Russia". It was basically a reflection-rant regarding the news that Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will not see their contracts in Russia renewed after the current ones expire.

Reading the article first time was, indeed, very disturbing. Here's an excerpt:

With headlines from the Orwellian alternate universe that the United States exists in like "Experts Liken Ukraine Crisis to Soviet's Afghanistan Invasion" it can be no wonder that the Russian Government and in fact any truth loving country or citizen of the world might want to ban the voice of the aging recidivist Cold War propaganda machine seeking to stay relevant by creating its own bogeymen and brainwashing the masses to promote knuckle dragging caveman policies of force and subservience.
[...] The BBG should not worry though, last July they were allowed to broadcast their Ministry of Truth vitriol disguised as "democracy radio" into the United States after being previously banned. Useful tool I imagine for Obama's brainwashing of the American populace as they are being trampled upon and oppressed. 
I can say what I want about the BBG and their "product" and will not, unlike the Voice of America, try to convince you I am "fair and balanced", I work for the Voice of Russia and love Russia and President Putin, so I have a certain pro Russia bias. The difference is I am not hiding that fact and you dear reader can therefore adjust appropriately. I will say that we at the Voice of Russia are not trying to change reality unlike the Voice of America, and as for myself I am always trying to inform my readers of the truth.

And it goes on and on... Half-way through the second time, it was plain funny. And sad, of course. Between this and all the other info-warfare going on these days, I was reminded of good ol' Dr. Strangelove. Now, didn't HE know how to handle those Ruskies...

P.S. - By the way, I got curious about the author, John Robles -- the self-proclaimed truth absolutist, and Russia/Putin devotee. A quick search revealed that "he is currently the only US citizen granted political asylum in Russia". I guess that clarifies things a little...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

#Happy #Yerevan - US Public Diplomacy in Armenia

I've been covering quite grim subjects lately, so decided it's high time I share some smiles and happiness here, too.

Here's a video the US Embassy in Armenia posted on its YouTube page just a few hours ago, produced in collaboration with the US Alumni Association of Armenia:

It is, of course, yet another addition to the whole series of "Happy [fill in the blank]" videos, based on Pharrell Williams' hit. It's an earworm, I admit. Yet, what makes this one special is that it was made by the US Embassy in Yerevan, featuring (presumably) the alumni of various US programs and Ambassador John Heffern himself. Most of it was shot at the US Embassy, the American University in Armenia, the Cascade (Cafesjian Museum), and a few other notable sights around Yerevan.

It's great to see so many bright, funky, and happy people in Yerevan... especially these days. The video's currently going viral on my Facebook homepage (and, four hours later, has gathered close to 28,000 views!). Well done on happy public diplomacy! :-)

"Russification" of "Soft Power" -- Part 2: The Russian Twist & Ukraine

In my post last week, I started discussing the Russian understanding of soft power, particularly its conceptualization as "hegemony" and interference (usually American/Western). Yesterday, as the pro-Russian protesters in the Eastern city of Donetsk took over government buildings, declared independence, and requested that Putin send Russian peacekeepers, I decided to revisit this conversation and finally write the Part 2 of the post.

The region of Donetsk. Map from TV Rain [Dozhd'].

Before moving on, let's remind ourselves of the definition of soft power as suggested by Nye: "the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion." It is, thus, based on persuasion and appeal, rather than military force or any financial payment/sanction. The sources of soft power, according to Nye, lie in a country's culture (its attractiveness), its political values (their attractiveness, and consistent applications at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (their perception as legitimate and moral).

Based on this formula, a preliminary analysis of the Russian discourse on soft power and public diplomacy demonstrates that the overall understanding of Russian soft power resources are as follows:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"Russification" of "Soft Power" -- Part 1: Russia's view of Soft Power as Hegemony

Reading the coverage of Russia and Ukraine over the past few months, one would think that whatever happened was a disaster for Russia's image and Russian "soft power" around the world. Yet, we need to get beyond that Western-centric view and look at public diplomacy writ large. Not only has Putin's popularity increased domestically and abroad (including in the West), but Russia can now claim the entire episode with Crimea as the cherry on top of its soft power success story. To understand this we need to look at the context, and more specifically, at Russian policy-makers' perspectives and worldviews. Twisted, I know. But bear with me, please.

As I had mentioned earlier on this blog, my paper for the Annual Convention of International Studies Association this year was on the Russian interpretation and conceptualization of "soft power". As it turned out, the subject could not have been more timely, and was - for better or worse - a topic of much discussion during the conference last week. There will be a separate post about observations, impressions, and thoughts on the conference itself (forthcoming soon -- I promise!), but today I wanted to share the basic points from my analysis and some conclusions from this preliminary piece of research that will, eventually, be part of my dissertation project.

Presentation slides: a very brief and watered-down version of the paper itself, but gives you an idea.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Putin's Alphabet -- #Ukraine #Crimea

I know I've been all too silent on this blog about everything that's happening in Ukraine, but it's mostly because all my energy is currently directed at finishing my paper on the subject -- to be presented at the upcoming Annual Convention of the International Studies Association. I'll share a preview and some more thoughts on the matter when I get a little more time. (Twitter, is a different story...)

Before then, though, I wanted to share the following video which showed up on my Facebook home page, shared by a friend (full disclosure -- a Russian friend). It's a parody on the Russian alphabet video that was part of the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony. Here's the original:

Now here's the parody:

I think it's a wonderful commentary on all that's going on. Perhaps not subtle enough, but then it's made by Yegor Zhgun, the infamous (and indeed, ingenious) blogger and creator of the "Zoich" -- the alternative Sochi Mascot. He made quite a big splash a few years back: you can read more about him here.

Enjoy for now. More, later... 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

RT's Margarita Simonyan responds...

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, RT -- and particularly RT America -- is facing tough times now, with reporters expressing their disagreement with their employer's editorial policies (and one even quitting) on air. Today, RT's Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan published an op-ed clarifying her stance and bashing the "mainstream media" for not asking the right questions and engaging in an "information war".

Here's what she writes:
Yesterday I spent quite some time explaining to a New York Times correspondent why I consider Russia’s position to be right. I’m Russian. I support my country and I will fight for the truth for as long as it takes. Neither Abby, nor Liz, nor many other employees are Russian nationals, but foreign. And now their country is likening my country to Nazi Germany. For many years they have worked for RT in good faith, proving every day that a voice that stands out from the mainstream media can be beautiful and strong, attract an audience that grows daily. These are the people who were the first to tell their country about the Occupy movement, who were detained at protest rallies, handcuffed for hours and then tried in court for doing their job. These are the people who were outraged by US hypocrisy in Syria, Libya – you can finish the list yourself – and reminded the world who used chemical weapons most often, even resorting to nuclear bombs. These are the people who did things the Western mainstream media would have never done. But those were peaceful times. And now we’ve got a genuine war going on – no, thank God, it’s not in Crimea. It’s a media war. Every single day, every single hour the guys who work for us are told, “You are liars, you are no journalists, you are the Kremlin propaganda mouthpiece, you’ve sold yourselves to the Russians, it’s time you quit your job, and everybody is laughing at you, so change your mind before it’s too late.”
Read the whole thing here.

So, she might be right. RT might be bringing up points and issues and perspectives that are often overlooked in the American/Western mainstream media. However, success in information war -- a war over hearts and minds -- is not measured in terms of domination or the number of articles/reports put out, reflecting your viewpoint. Instead, success comes in form of gradual acceptance of, even if not agreement with, your viewpoint as a legitimate one. Achieving that through aggressive and imposing coverage -- like the one on RT -- is almost impossible, especially among Western audiences (remember the informational spheres I was referring to yesterday?).

More than anything, RT needs credibility and legitimacy with its target public, and if it means straying from the message a little to be more neutral in their coverage, especially in times of conflict, then so be it. Otherwise, I'm afraid, Ms. Simonyan's frustration is here to stay.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

RT is bleeding... anchors

A couple of days ago, RT America's "Breaking the Set" host, Abby Martin, made a big splash by openly criticizing Russia (and her own employer) for what's happening in Ukraine:

Martin took a wise risk, and putting RT's management on the spot, essentially prevented her immediate dismissal. Instead, RT's Editor in Chief said, the network suggested that she be sent to Crimea, to see the situation on the ground for herself. Martin has since declined the request, and it is yet unclear whether (or how long) she will stay with the network.

Today, Liz Wahl followed suit. She went a step further, however, stating that she would resign upon the end of the program. See it for yourself:

According to her interviews with The Daily Beast and the CNN, Wahl had been disappointed with RT for a long time, now. But, apparently inspired by Martin's daring step, she decided to jump in, too, and make use of the opportunity.