Russian state media is selectively using American content to support their own narratives, by taking headlines out of context and portraying fringe figures as representative of mainstream American views.
This leads to outcomes, such as articles like “Biden accused of hiding corruption in Ukraine” and “US emphasizes NATO’s inability to withstand Russia for long periods”, frequently pushing government-controlled news stories to the top five positions on Russian search engines, potentially reaching millions of viewers.
Russian media often mentions Americans such as Tucker Carlson, a former Fox News commentator, Republican Representative James Comer, and members of “The Squad,” a group of Democratic Congress members who advocate for more leftist beliefs.
Nina Jankowicz, former disinformation chief under the Biden administration and vice president of the Centre for Information Resilience, stated that Russian disinformation efforts utilize both ends of the political spectrum to magnify issues and give credibility to narratives that are against the West and Ukraine.
Jankowicz stated to VOA that Russia is targeting individuals who are either on the far left or far right of the political spectrum, and may already hold negative views towards NATO and Ukraine.
Vladimir Soloviev, a Russian television host with over one million followers on his Telegram channel, utilizes this approach. He rose to fame by endorsing the invasion of Ukraine, publicly backing President Vladimir Putin, and advocating for nuclear attacks against Western nations.
In order to strengthen his beliefs, he frequently mentions Carlson. A search conducted by VOA on the Telegram account from June 2020 to November 2023 showed over 230 mentions of Carlson. The number of mentions increased significantly after the complete invasion.
Soloviev and Russian propaganda outlets have highlighted certain ideas from Carlson, such as his unfounded assertions that Christians in Ukraine face persecution, that white Americans are oppressed, and that certain American media coverage of Ukraine is deceitful.
Some sources elevate lesser-known commentators and portray them as having a larger impact, despite the fact that most Americans are unfamiliar with them.
These are often used to reinforce Russia’s narrative of a “declining” West, with state-run media citing figures such as Jackson Hinkle and Jack Posobiec, who are largely unknown in the United States but are favored among the far right and in conspiracy circles on X, formerly Twitter.
For example, RIA Novosti emphasized Posobiec’s sarcastic statement regarding Kyiv’s desire for Abrams tanks, portraying it as the perspective of a esteemed veteran and incorporating a quote from Putin that stresses Moscow’s alleged objective to resolve, rather than escalate, the conflict.
Similarly, the Russian news site Lenta.Ru featured a headline that quoted Hinkle’s proposal to label the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ counteroffensive as a suicidal mission.
Soloviev often mentions Americans on his Telegram channel, depicting them as influential bloggers, talk show hosts, or well-known U.S. journalists.
The method assists Russia in presenting the illusion of greater backing for perspectives that, as per experts interviewed by VOA, are more accurately classified as extreme beliefs.
According to Jankowicz, this can cause ordinary Russians to perceive the opinions as a better reflection of the overall thoughts of Americans.
According to her, Russian state media utilizes outlets like Breitbart and Fox News on the right and The Grayzone on the left, with news stories being shared between Russian and American organizations.
During her time on the U.S. Disinformation Governance Board, Jankowicz stated that American right-wing media outlets inaccurately portrayed the board’s purpose as censoring Americans.
According to Jankowicz, the report was completely false and shortly after, it was also broadcasted on Russian Channel One with identical quotes, images, and overarching narratives.
The board responsible for managing disinformation, created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to combat false information, was dissolved after a short period of time.
According to her, including statements from prominent American individuals and news sources adds an air of authenticity.
Jankowicz stated that presenting these radical perspectives reinforces the narratives that the Kremlin wishes its audience to accept regarding Ukraine and U.S. foreign policy.
Dominik Stecula, a Colorado State University assistant professor of political science specializing in political polarization, has observed comparable patterns. Stecula noted that television host Carlson has consistently echoed Russian propaganda narratives on his program.
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Stecula noted that populism is a common factor among certain extreme left and right wing political figures. She also pointed out that they were echoing Russian propaganda regarding Ukraine and its politicians, specifically President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The scholar stated that extreme right-wing individuals in the United States base their beliefs on the concept of putting America first, while those on the far left view it as a form of American imperialism influenced by NATO’s influence.
According to Stecula, Carlson, Elon Musk, and niche bloggers like Hinkle and Posobiec hold a strong influence within their own ideological bubbles.
According to Stecula, “The Squad” consisting of U.S. Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib have significant sway in the Democratic Party, although they do not fully represent the party’s mainstream views.
According to Stecula, these individuals are not typical social media influencers. They hold significant influence and positions of authority. It was disappointing to witness their actions during the initial stages of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, as they aligned themselves with right-wing Republicans.
The academic observed that the Russian incursion into Ukraine brought attention to the fact that both the far left and far right in America have been united by their rejection of mainstream politics, revealing a strong presence of populism.
Jankowicz stated that although a portion of Americans may hold similar beliefs to some of these individuals, the truth is that perspectives are much more diverse.
She stated that displaying these radical perspectives helps reinforce the notions that the Kremlin wants its viewers to accept regarding Ukraine and U.S. foreign policy.
This article was first published by VOA’s Russian Service.