Rapid Conspiracy theory and Russian Public Diplomacy

Regrettably for Moscow’s Kwood, production takes time so when something unexpected happens to upset the apple cart and looks like becoming a PR disaster for the Russian Federation the less efficient “rapid fire conspiracy theory” has to be utilized in both the domestic and foreign channels of their Public Diplomacy. In this case nipping the truth in the bud and relying on people to get confused and fed up of the news item becomes more important than being caught out.
A recent example of this was after the bombing of a humanitarian convoy destined for Aleppo with food and medicines on 19th September 2016.

_91307278_035415929.jpgThe convoy was destroyed, and the Russians were blamed for the destruction of the convoy, which had aid for 78,000 men, women, and children in Aleppo, Syria (some of which may have been rebels). As well as denying this Kwood, under the auspice of the RF Ministry of Defence,  first came up with the claim that the convoy was being accompanied by a rebel mortar, so obviously the convoy must have been protecting terrorists or that terrorists had destroyed the convoy. They even showed pictures, convincing aerial photos, and maps to “prove” that there never was any aerial bombing. However, even in their own photoshopped photos, it was evident even to Russian experts that only an attack from the air could have produced the damage to the convoy vehicles that was shown in the KWood photos.

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Kwood therefore fired off the tried and tested enemy conspiracy theory defense and claimed that it must have been a US drone which had attacked the convoy. This played into the hands of those who criticize the USA drone overreach in Pakistan so appealed to a different set of conspiracy theorists. All was fine until Russian bombs amongst the wreckage of the convoy pictures became apparent.

bellingcat2.jpgThe Russians found this impossible to deny so a switch of tactic was needed and turning on their Ally blamed Assad and Damascus for using bombs he had bought from Russia to explain the Russian weapons. This was followed by their domestic public diplomacy denying that it was Assad and that it must have been rebels who had captured munitions from Assad.

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After this they claimed that it was a US plot to distract from their bombing of Assad positions. This was taken up by their fake news channels and newspapers which then chose to blame the “white helmets” an impartial NGO whose only function was to dig people out of bomb sites and get them to medical care.

As can be seen, the idea is to follow one false theory by another in rapid fire succession so as to make the reader so confused that they lose interest in the original act.

The fact that they are being created so fast that they contradict each other is irrelevant to Kwood. What is important is to bombard the reader, listener or viewer with so much information that they don’t know what to believe when the balanced reporting of liberal democracies reports all of their claims. There is no problem of such a balance happening in Russia or Serbia though. All their claims, however, are clear that it was the United States and their “puppets”which was somehow to blame.

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Add to this the Chinese whispers of the global network of conspiracy theorists, allowed by western freedom of speech laws,  and every time the stories are repeated a slight exaggeration of the West’s Imperialism is added. Soon each conspiracy theorist has their own convincing reason of why it must have been the Illuminati, Bilderberg, a Ufo, Santa Claus or Elvis Presley that killed the aid workers and blew up the convoy. Just enough confusion is created in rapid fire conspiracy public diplomacy to convince the world the maxim “If you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras” (Woodward, 1940) is not relevant. These new theories are then taken up again by the trolls to recycle and create new stopgap theories until the more watertight official Russian version can be produced to the world and the Russian people.

 

Another example is that of Malaysian Airlines MH17. A  passenger aircraft was flying over Ukraine at the approved height for passenger aircraft and on the correct route when out of nowhere it disappeared from the radar screens over the Russian-occupied Ukraine territory known as Donbas. Obviously not something any state wants to be accused of being associated with especially when debris and dead Malaysians, Australians, Dutch and others start falling into the field of that region. It was quickly apparent that the plane had been shot down by Russian militants using a Russian BUK missile when they intended to shoot down a Ukrainian government military plane gloriously. Immediately Kwood went into rapid fire conspiracy theory mode. #1 that a Ukrainian military jet had shot down MH17

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and #2 it was a Ukrainian BUK that shot down MH17. They even produced falsified radar data and fake satellite images to support these fantasies. Even Wikipedia was edited to claim that passenger jets, and military planes fly at the same altitude. (they don’t)  If Vladimir Putin hadn’t had his photo taken in front of a Russian BUK at a Russian military base and if these pesky Russian civilians hadn’t posted photos of the BUK travelling from Russia to Donbass before rapidly being whisked away on the back of a transporter immediately, as soon as they realised what had happened, their story that might have flown that Russia didn’t have any.

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The Russian militants had also posted themselves on Russian social media celebrating shooting down a plane at the moment MH17 disappeared. The main aim of this type of rapid-fire conspiracy Public Diplomacy is just to plant doubt. Westerners have grown up with the concept of “innocent until proved guilty, beyond reasonable doubt” Reality, therefore, becomes one theory in a host of truths that people wish to accept. Many are likely to give the benefit of the doubt. No amount of proof from the experts at all the later reputable inquiries which prove that it was Russian BUK can remove those seeds of doubt which Kwood produced in the first days and still keeps producing on the subject. When very few care anymore in the 24/7 24 hour news circle researchers and Investigative journalists reveal the enduring truth, it is too late. By then the trolls will be firefighting another calamity, for one thing, is sure and that is they are here to stay, and rapid fire conspiracy public diplomacy is just another weapon in Russia’s armory to be used by their Kwood controlled MOD to fight the cold war that the West believed to have won in 1991.# GI6007

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“Whataboutism” in Russian public diplomacy  

 

The Russian people are no different to any others when it comes to being told negative things about their country; its leaders or the place they live. They don’t like it! The UK seems unique in the fact that it is almost a civic responsibility to criticize our politicians and civil society. Do not try this in the USA however as they will quickly tell you where to go back to if you criticize the USA. The same goes for Russia and if visiting you will rapidly learn that “whataboutism” and “othering” are drilled into Russians in the kindergarten and that International Relations students are like chess masters in using this Public Diplomacy technique.
“ Whataboutistm: a rhetorical defense that alleges hypocrisy from the accuser.“ (Khazan, 2013)

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Lecturers and professors, you meet at conferences, may not use it but, believe me, they are humoring you to be polite.  They will be following the dominant discourse of their parents and just hiding either their shame if they think you are right or their anger if they have to listen to some arrogant westerner spouting his imperialist views at them again.
Their media has engaged in ”othering” for all their lifetime and for the Russians it is a definite case of “Us and them (the others).”
Some, however, will engage with you and their domestic media has armed them well.
None of the world’s greatest illusionists has anything on these guys when it comes to smoke and mirrors, and they are well prepared for your discourse on any lack of human rights, corruption, privacy violations, etc.. “Whataboutism” teaches us never to answer the question but always to divert and misdirect and the Russian domestic media provides all the answers to the majority of Russians who still get their news from terrestrial TV and Radio.

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It works as follows: You say “invasion of Crimea,” they say “what about Iraq and the Serbians who predominantly get their news from Russia say “what about Kosovo.” You say “what about corrupt politicians in Russia” and they contra with “what about crooked Hilary” and so it goes on. You say police state; they say  “what about police brutality in the USA.” You say, “lack of Minority rights” and they respond with  “what about “Black lives matter.” There is always a “whatabout” for any point you try to raise occasionally leaving you to question your own country’s media presentation. After all “what about the Native Americans protesting against the oil pipeline going their ancient burial grounds?  Why wasn’t that more reported?
The only problem is that the Russian Public diplomacy machine, with its warehouses full of trolls producing for “Kwood,” is that it is too big and relies on the short memory of its audience as whataboutism can be contradictory so relies on distraction rather than in-depth analysis.
Regarding Kosovo Dmitry Medvedev says:-
1) “ Kosova Independence violates Serbia’s’ sovereignty and is a violation of international law” (Dimitry Medvedev, Feb 2008)
but then he contradicts himself when Medvedev wants to use Kosova to justify Russia’s intervention in Sth Ossetia, Georgia and he says:
“In international relations, you can not have one rule for some (Kosovo) and another rule for others (Sth Ossetia) (Medvedev, August 2008)
There seems to be no problem producing  2 “whatabouts” out of the same situation or even 3 when Medvedev is picked up on it and then claims that Sth Ossetia is a good type of Kosova.
“Kosovo is a special case; South Ossetia is a special case “ (Medvedev, August 2008) as according to him it is not appropriate to compare (whatabout) the two.

However, the one who really counts then uses Kosova again in a “whataboutism” to tell us that Crimea is just like Kosovo” Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was just Kosova’s secession from Serbia” “Vladimir Putin, March 2014).

Confused about Kosova? It provides an excellent example of “Whataboutism, ” and confusion is precisely the aim. To ‘whatabout” the West for recognizing Kosovo it is bad, but it is good when Russia wants to justify the annexation of Crimea. Whataboutists can’t lose.

For foreigners, it is  “if Kosovo is special then so is Crimea so, what about Kosovo? What is it that the Russians find so useful about Kosovo? Those having lived in both countries understand that Serbia sees itself as Russia’s little brother and for the Serbs, Kosovo is as much a part of Serbia ideologically and religiously as Wales is a part of the UK. Add to this that Russia has never bombed Belgrade and most Serbian newspapers tow the Kremlin line perhaps the EU should ask itself whether this cuckoo may just be a little too big for their anti-populist agenda.
The men and women on the Serbian autobus are just as adept as the Russians at ”Whataboutism” and disparaging views about the Imperial US who led NATO to bomb their beloved Belgrade. “Whataboutism” has nothing to do with facts. It is more akin to mass conspiracy theory and comes from the birthplace of populism. It drives the listener to disregard their argument and tune in solely to the emotional part of the brain and as such is a highly valued state public diplomacy tool designed to get us to forget our rules and play by theirs. # GI6007

Khazan, Olga (August 2, 2013). “The Soviet-Era Strategy That Explains What Russia Is Doing With Snowden”The Atlantic.
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/the-soviet-era-strategy-that-explains-what-russia-is-doing-with-snowden/278314/  Accessed December 17, 2016.

Contempory State Public diplomacy –a la Russe.

“Hurrah for Hollywood” people say and who doesn’t love the music and costumes of Bollywood?  Even the emerging Nollywood is beginning to boom, but in Moscow, the lesser known “Kremlinwood” or “Kwood,” produced by the Russian Ministry of Defense, affects the lives of everyone on the planet more than all the others put together. Their blockbuster “whataboutism” (sometimes referred to as “whataboutery” ) and its multiple sequels are guaranteed to leave you hanging and confused as that is exactly its purpose.“ Whataboutistm: a rhetorical defense that alleges hypocrisy from the accuser.“ (Khazan, 2013)

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We look here at how and why Kwood works, what its target audiences are and who are the producers and directors. In Moscow, Russia’s Minister of Defense claimedthe mass media are just but another arm of the armed forces” ( Shoigu, 2015)
The stars of Kwood are the the press secretary for Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, Dmitry Peskov, since 2012

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and Director of the Ministry of foreign affairs of the RF information and press dept. Maria Zakharova since 2012

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When Russia wants something or doesn’t want something to happen on the world stage, Kwood swings into an eager beaver mode to get its own way. Even Maria Zhakarova dances Kalinka on prime time tv to show a softer less aggressive side of the RF. Thousands of “trolls” are set to work in warehouses to write algorithms which pick up on any word, picture, tag or meme on social media relevant to the subject. An army of highly-trained journalist soldiers engages the post like white blood cells attacking evasive cells attacking the immune system to prevent any clear message getting out which differs from the Kremlin line. When using the word Kremlin we also understand the FSB (now renamed KGB again) GRU (Military Intelligence) and SVR RF:  which since 1991 took over from the KGB 1st chief directorate. In fact, there are military units engaged in public diplomacy which operate with no name to avoid detection. Their aim is to create fake news posts and organizations which promote contradictory conspiracy theories hidden in fake news. The production quality of the fakes, news reports, and video clips are on a par with any major blockbuster Hollywood production and for the layman impossible to detect as fake. Websites arrear with names so close to reputable news outlets that detection becomes a skilled art; an almost perfect way to fool the uninitiated.
In most illiberal states this is the case with “public diplomacy,” which we pejoratively used to call  “propaganda,” being divided into productions for the domestic audience and productions for the foreign audiences. There are still people who believe what they see on RT. RT used to be called “Russia Today, ” but the Kremlin cleverly changed the name to disguise their connection.

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At this point I can hear the “whataboutists” screaming “What about the BBC and what about Al Jazeera?” but compared to “Kwood” these are amateurs.

The Russian domestic audience, without Internet, gets served a different dish of patriotic deeds of Russian heroism in the state-controlled media. The Russians love their country and being Russian dearly, so they need a Kwood production to reinforce their love of Mother Russia and the Russian “Mir” (world) so for them there is no mention of the end of the cold war. For them, their old enemy, the USA, still looms as a threat, especially amongst the older generations. This mentality enables “Kwood” to present their executive or glorious leader, Vladimir Putin, as the star in Kwood, emulating Churchill in England during WW2, as the only man strong enough and capable of standing up to the opression and save them. The Russian people are always expecting war and ready to fight off NATO which they see as constantly challenging their borders. Any opposition like Nemtsov, Navalny, Khordokinski, Kasyanov gets presented as “useful idiots” of the CIA and enemies of the state with Russia as the last bastion of the resistance to US imperialism. The Russian people are still fighting Fascism as they had as “they alone” (they were told) had stood to up and won the great war in the eyes of the domestic media.
Unhappy Ukrainians, therefore, become Fascists, supported by American mercenaries, who had smuggled weapons and killed civilians in Iraq.  Kwood presents them as overthrowing a “legitimate” (albeit corrupt Russian puppet)  president and the UN “responsibility to protect” becomes a Russian “right to protect any Russian speakers anywhere who are in danger of falling into the hands of Fascist leaders.” When Kwood produces heart-wrenching images of Russian speakers in Ukraine being slaughtered at the hands of “right-wing Ukrainian fascists” the domestic media calls upon Russians to travel to Ukraine and fight to protect their Ukrainian brothers from these fascists, and many did. Any serving military are given a “sabbatical” to fight in Ukraine so that the claim that “no active serving Russian military” were fighting there was technically correct.
Kwood problems only started when, like WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq,  no fascists could be found by the Russians traveling there to fight. Most states use foreign policy to distract their populations, but Russia has taken this to a new level with the population being even willing to accept pensions and salaries not being paid out of solidarity with the costs involved of the brave Russian people fighting fascism.
The breakup of the Soviet Union left a void in the hearts of the idealistic Russian population in which public diplomacy was needed to fill and explain to the people why their lives were so hard, and Kwood came to the rescue.# GI6007

Khazan, Olga (August 2, 2013). “The Soviet-Era Strategy That Explains What Russia Is Doing With Snowden”The Atlantic.
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/the-soviet-era-strategy-that-explains-what-russia-is-doing-with-snowden/278314/  Accessed December 17, 2016.

The media must serve the military — Shoigu
http://euromaidanpress.com/2015/03/28/the-media-must-serve-the-military-shoigu/#arvlbdata Accessed December 17, 2016