This Week in Info War

Washington Reassures Allies

20 February 2017

In January, President Donald Trump was briefly Russia’s most discussed celebrity, according to a survey of more than 240,000 articles from Russia’s national and regional press, radio and TV broadcasts, and online news sites. Trump’s rise bumped Russian President Vladimir Putin—who had occupied the top spot since 2011—to second place. Former President Barack Obama dropped to third, while Hillary Clinton placed seventh. Other top scorers included Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The state-controlled media’s focus on Trump coincided with the euphoric mood of many Russians in December and January about the prospects for improved relations with Washington (though on Russia’s terms).

Yet the mood in Moscow has turned to disappointment in the past few days, amid resistance in Congress toward better relations, continuing suspicions that Russia interfered in the November 2016 U.S. elections, and the turmoil that accompanied the departure of Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn’s brief tenure as Trump’s national security advisor. Many in the United States and Russia saw Flynn as pro-Moscow. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis all spent the week of 13 February in Europe, reassuring U.S. allies that Washington still opposes Russian aggression in Ukraine and supports continued anti-Russia sanctions as well as a strong NATO alliance.

Even Trump seemed to toughen his remarks, on one instance ridiculing Obama’s soft response to Moscow’s seizure of Crimea. Russian officials publicly criticized remarks by Trump’s traveling cabinet members. Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the Duma foreign affairs committee, said he had “heard nothing” in Pence’s speech at the Munich Security Conference. Also in Munch, Lavrov endorsed the “post-Western world.”

Moscow’s increased skepticism was reflected in decreased news coverage of Trump. Bloomberg reported that the Kremlin ordered Russian media to pay less attention to the U.S. president. One source said authorities justified their decision by saying that Russians are no longer interested in the details of the U.S. presidential transition. Meanwhile, a radical pro-Putin nationalist group—the National Liberation Movement (NOD)—picketed the office of Russia’s largest state-owned news agency on 15 February, denouncing the “cult of Donald Trump in the Russian media.”

Demonstrators even targeted Dmitry Kiselyov, the agency’s director and the star of Russia’s most-watched Sunday punditry show on TV, accusing him of “Trumpomania.” It is not clear if the NOD was acting under Kremlin direction, since authorities are usually uncomfortable with grassroots activity even when it supports official positions.

This week, the Center for European Policy Analysis introduces three new features to its work on Russian information warfare in European frontline states. We’ve added Belarus to our coverage area, expanded our analytical treatment of important themes and re-designed our website. We hope you enjoy it. 

Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir