Foreign voices of Russian propaganda: who and how justifies Putin in the world

For many Russians, the faces of Kremlin propaganda are primarily the “stars” of Russian television during Putin’s era: Kiselyov, Solovyov, Simonyan, Skabeyeva… As well as their lesser-known colleagues, whose ranks have recently been joined by a whole cohort of military correspondents.

See also: Narratives of Russia’s propaganda and disinformation in its fight against Ukraine and the democratic world

In fact, a much larger number of people create content for the Kremlin’s media machine. Among them are employees of TV, radio, and the press, who, given the specifics of their work, can hardly be called journalists.

Bloggers, actors, musicians, athletes and other celebrities, politicians and political commentators close to the authorities have a significant influence. The latter regularly become “experts” in international relations, epidemiology, and military affairs, depending on the current situation.

Foreigners can be considered a separate unit of this army.

The Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security talks about the most prominent Western media outlets that spread Russian propaganda and make little or no secret of their cooperation with Putin’s regime. They run their own projects and help each other promote them.

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How Russian propaganda uses foreigners

Russian propaganda generates hatred and contempt for the “collective West,” chauvinism, and a sense of superiority toward other nations. At the same time, it also seeks various proofs of recognition and approval of the “special Russian way.”

The technologies of using foreigners in propaganda aimed at the Russian audience take into account and feed the collective inferiority complex and the compensating “superiority” complex.

In Russian society, the endowment of foreigners with a greater level of expertise, especially representatives of the West, is combined with a demonstrative disregard for their countries.

This can be seen as a continuation of the traditions of Soviet doublethink when public criticism of the Western way of life did not interfere with almost religious awe of American jeans and gum.

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Currently, foreigners used by propaganda face two key tasks:

  • creating the illusion among the Russian audience that foreigners support the Russian Federation and the Putin regime’s military and political adventures;
  • spreading Russian narratives, propaganda, and disinformation to foreign audiences.

Russian residents are convinced that Russia and its socio-political system are a worthy alternative to the West. The instruments of such influence include both the distribution of Russian passports to VIP foreigners and the coverage of the lives of expats from Europe and America in Russia. Federal and local TV channels make series of programs about the lives of the latter.

The granting of Russian citizenship to French film actor Gerard Depardieu, former action star Steven Seagal, former MMA fighter Jeff Monson and other actors and athletes was accompanied by full-fledged PR campaigns.

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Americans Seagal and Monson consciously participate in propaganda, justify the war against Ukraine and visit the occupied territories. But only Monson lives permanently in Russia, and he even became a local deputy from Putin’s United Russia party.

Despite their prominence, representatives of show business are still in the minority among media personalities who relay Russian propaganda messages. The content they contribute to is distributed through:

  • Russian federal and other pro-Kremlin media (in Russian and other languages);
  • Youtube, Telegram and other Internet platforms and social networks;
  • foreign mainstream and alternative media.

Among the federal media targeting foreign audiences, Russia Today (TV channels, news sites, Telegram channels) and Sputnik (news sites, Telegram channels, Internet radio) are prominent. The sanctions imposed by the US and EU governments have complicated, but not stopped, the work of these propaganda resources.

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Alina Lipp (Germany)

Alina Lipp is one of the most prolific content creators targeting the German audience. Without access to mainstream media in Germany, she actively uses Telegram, Youtube and social media.

Lipp’s Telegram channel Neues aus Russland (News from Russia) has more than 180,000 subscribers. Posts on it, including video messages from the author, are duplicated in German and Russian. The content is also published on the website of the same name and a page on the Russian social network Vkontakte.

In 2019, Lipp launched the YouTube channel Glücklich auf der Krim (Happy in Crimea). The German woman came to the peninsula in 2016, ostensibly to implement a research project, which eventually became a resource for propaganda content. The characters in the video compared life in Crimea before and after the Russian occupation (of course, in favor of the latter).

Alina was actively assisted by her father, Vladimir Lipp, a Russian who had lived in Germany for a long time. He argued that living conditions on the peninsula were much better than in the EU.

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Since January 2022, the channel has stopped adding new content. Lipp switched to her other YouTube project “A German woman in Russia,” which publishes videos in Russian with German subtitles.

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, her main activity has been justifying the Russian occupation and spreading fakes about “Ukrainian crimes.”

Alina Lipp actively uses children under occupation to create propaganda content.

In January 2023, the propagandist released a 16-minute documentary film, Donbas 2022, based on footage shot in Donetsk, Mariupol, and other occupied cities of Ukraine.

Lipp presented the history of the Russian-Ukrainian war as “Ukraine’s attack on Donbas” in 2014, and justified Russian intervention by the need to “protect the population from the Nazis.”

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The German version of the video has received over 340,000 views on Lipp’s main Telegram channel alone, and over 670,000 views in Russian.

The propaganda network InfоDefence published translations of the film on Telegram in English, Italian, Dutch and Polish. The total number of views of all language versions on Telegram alone exceeded 2.5 million. Another platform that actively promoted the film was the social network Vkontakte.

Alina Lipp was invited to appear on Russian TV channels and radio stations. She participates in the recording of programs of the Solovyov Live studio and the show of the comedian-propagandist Max KomikaZe.

In a video released in January 2023, the impersonator played the role of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Lipp played German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

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Thomas Röper (Germany)

Thomas Röper is the head of the media outlet he founded, Anti-Spiegel, whose name defiantly emphasizes its “alternative” nature by contrasting it with the popular German weekly.

The total number of subscribers to Röper’s Telegram and Youtube channels exceeds 200 thousand.

Anti-Spiegel and its founder specialize in conspiracy theories. In 2021, the media outlet published the book Inside Corona, which was dedicated to conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years earlier, a collection of Putin’s speeches was published with comments by Röper, who also acted as the compiler of this publication.

The book was promoted by Russia Today.

As in the case of Alina Lipp, Röper is also regularly given the floor by the Russian media, positioning him as a German journalist. Meanwhile, he creates propaganda content in German about the occupied territories.

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Anti-Spiegel harshly criticizes the German government for its military support of Ukraine, using the manipulative thesis “more weapons – more deaths,” accusing it of dependence on the United States and the Western media of spreading fakes about the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Röper repeats the same theses on the airwaves of friendly bloggers and Russian TV channels.

For example, on April 21, he took part in a conference organized by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and titled “Evidence of Mass War Crimes by the Armed Forces and National Units of Ukraine in Mariupol”.

A telling fact: the Anti-Spiegel website is registered in the RU domain zone.

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Wyatt Reed (USA)

Wyatt Reed is a correspondent for the Russian news agency Sputnik who describes himself as a left-wing activist, opponent of imperialism, and fighter for racial and social justice.

His Twitter account is labeled as a “Russian-affiliated media outlet.”

On his Twitter and Telegram channels, Reed promotes the narrative of “Ukrainian Nazism,” justifies aggression, and glorifies the Russian army. He also collaborates with the American website The Grayzone, where he publishes his “expose” materials.

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In September 2022, Reed participated as an “observer” in Russian pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories.

Max Blumenthal (USA)

The Grayzone online publication, which we have already mentioned, is founded by American left-wing journalist Max Blumenthal, who has long collaborated with the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera English and other popular publications.

Since 2015, he has been publishing materials that are in line with Russian propaganda: about the “Nazi coup” in Kyiv, the “genocide of the Russian-speaking population” in Donbas, etc.

Blumenthal is also known for his anti-Israeli stance. He even accused Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, of turning “from a victim of war crimes to a supporter of those who commit them.” And he allowed himself to say that the deceased writer “does not deserve to be honored.”

Because of this tweet in 2016, not only Max but also his father, journalist Sidney Blumenthal, who was working at Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters at the time, found themselves on the margins. The US presidential candidate’s team publicly distanced itself from this scandalous family.

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Instead, Blumenthal came to the attention of the Russian media, which began to quote him regularly. In 2020, he married RT America host Anya Parampil, who now also works with The Grayzone. The publication collects donations from readers through PayPal Patreon but does not publish financial statements.

Blumenthal’s publication is a platform for spreading disinformation and anti-Ukrainian propaganda.

The Grayzone’s columnists accuse NATO and the United States of starting the war, the Ukrainian government of ethnic cleansing and ties to neo-Nazis, and President Zelenskyy of destroying the opposition.

Esha Krishnaswamy, who publishes joint texts with Blumenthal and is a columnist for his publication, wrote an article about “child molesters released from prison by Zelenskyy” allegedly to “strengthen the exhausted Ukrainian army.”

The columnist used a blatant fake about Ruslan Onishchenko, the former commander of the disbanded Tornado police company, who was released after serving his sentence, not because of a presidential pardon. Moreover, Onishchenko did not join the Ukrainian Armed Forces after his release.

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Laurent Brayard (France)

Just like Aline Lipp or Wyatt Reed, Frenchman Laurent Brayard spends most of his time in the occupied Ukrainian territories or in Russia. Before 2010, he moved to Moscow, and from 2012 to 2013 he worked in the French editorial office of the Voice of Russia.

In 2015, Brayard published a book entitled “Ukraine – the Kingdom of Disinformation”, which was full of fakes and claims about “one nation”.

Brayard participated in the “anti-fascist congress” in Donetsk and was the editor-in-chief of the propaganda online publication Novorossia Today. After the closure of this project in 2018, he headed a new resource, Donbass Insider.

The website of this publication has three language versions: French, English and Russian.

Donbass Insider’s French-language YouTube channel has over 38 thousand subscribers. The Telegram channel has over 30 thousand subscribers, and the Twitter account has 17 thousand followers. Information on these resources is published in French and English.

Despite the fact that Donbass Insider is positioned as a source of exclusive content, a significant part of its publications are translations from Russian media and Telegram channels.

See also: Who supports Russia in France?

Russian narratives in the West are also promoted by more respectable “friends of the Kremlin”. These include representatives of the International Schiller Institute, retired military officers, former and current European and American politicians, diplomats, and officials who have access not only to Russian but also to mainstream Western media.

Propaganda is also spread by outspoken marginalized individuals, such as former UN inspector Scott Ritter, who was convicted in 2011 of molesting a minor.

Russell “Texas” Bentley, who is wanted by the United States for drug trafficking, can also be considered his “colleague”. The latter is part of a pool of foreign pseudo-journalists who are almost constantly in the occupied territory.

The only difference between some of them, such as the British Graham Phillips, and Russian military commanders is the language of the content.

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The connections between the individuals mentioned in the article are easy to trace, as the messages they broadcast through their resources are similar in content. In addition, all of them are welcome speakers in the Russian media.

All of these pseudo-journalists and bloggers regularly help each other create content. In particular, Russell Bentley regularly provides comments for Alina Lipp’s YouTube channel and starred in her film Donbass 2022. And Lipp and Wyatt Reed have participated in Max Blumenthal’s streams.

Lipp’s friendly relationship with Thomas Röper is evidenced by the photos and videos they published.

See also: Ukraine’s victory in the Asian era: what experience should be adopted

Stepping up the fight against Russian disinformation, blocking TV channels, websites, YouTube channels, and imposing sanctions on propagandists – all these measures have complicated but not stopped the spread of Kremlin’s narratives outside Russia.

The information support of the aggressive war against Ukraine not only justifies the Kremlin’s murders and other crimes but also provokes new ones. That is why they can be considered deliberate accomplices in the information war, and they should also be punished for their participation in it.

Originally posted by Ukrainska Pravda, translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

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