by Paul Robinson, August 1, 2016
A couple of newspaper articles caught my attention this weekend. The first was in The Times, and claimed the following:
President Putin has launched a secret propaganda assault on Britain from within its own borders, The Times can reveal. The Kremlin is spreading disinformation through a newly opened British bureau for its Sputnik international news service, and is infiltrating elite universities by placing language and cultural centres on campuses. Analysts said that the push was part of Russia’s military doctrine, which specifies the use of ‘informational and other non-military measures’ in conflicts.
The Times is particularly alarmed by the fact that, ‘the University of Edinburgh accepted £221,000 from the Russkiy Mir (Russian World) Foundation to host Britain’s first Moscow-sponsored language and cultural centre. The foundation has also opened centres at Durham University, which accepted £85,000, and St Antony’s College, Oxford.’ According to The Times, ‘A Nato source accused Russia of “operationalising information” from within Britain. “The Russian information effort is to muddy the waters, to create uncertainty,” he said.’
The second article was published in Sunday’s New York Times. In this, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul claims that ‘Everywhere, autocrats are pushing back against democrats, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is the de facto leader of this global movement.’ America must resist this movement, McFaul says. Otherwise, ‘The threats will grow and eventually endanger our peace, as we saw in Europe and Japan in the 1930s, and Afghanistan in the 1990s.’
What exactly should America do? McFaul suggests:
Just as the Kremlin has become more sophisticated at exporting its ideas and supporting its friends, so must we. We should think of advancing democratic ideas abroad primarily as an educational project, almost never as a military campaign. Universities, books and websites are the best tools, not the 82nd Airborne.
But it’s best not to do this openly, McFaul admits. He says, ‘Direct financial assistance to democrats is problematic: A check from an American embassy can taint its recipients. America’s next president should privatize such aid and help seed new independent foundations.’
So, let me get this straight. Russkii Mir openly provides money to the University of Edinburgh for the study of Russian language and culture. That constitutes a ‘secret propaganda assault on Britain’. Ambassador McFaul proposes giving money to Russian universities through disguised channels and for decidedly political purposes, and that is ‘advancing democratic ideas’. ‘Nuff said!
Paul Robinson is a professor at the University of Ottawa. He writes about Russian and Soviet history, military history, and military ethics.
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