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This Week in Info War

Editor’s Note: 27 November 2016

The Kremlin-financed media outlet RT will receive an extra $19 million in state funds over the next two years, the Russian government announced on 1 December. Deputy Communications Minister Alexei Volin stated that the higher 2017 allocation will help RT with “a number of language tasks.” The outlet currently spreads Russian government propaganda in English, Russian, Spanish, French and German. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently praised RT after the European Parliament accused it of spreading “disinformation.”

The increase in funds for RT follows a period of belt-tightening. RT’s 2016 budget of $307 million is a 9 percent reduction from 2015. Considering the ruble’s sharp devaluation that year, the cutback in real terms for the station—which has studios in many countries including the United States and Britain—was much deeper. However, Rossiya Segodnya, another state news agency charged with disseminating the Kremlin line in multiple languages, won a $10.6 million boost in 2015 funding to $108 million, the report said. No information is available yet about any pending budget changes for Rossiya Segodnya.

Nor is it clear what “language tasks” the Kremlin has in mind for RT. Although the channel’s website boasts that “RT’s signal is carried by 22 satellites and over 230 operators, which allows some 700 million people to watch the channel in more than 100 countries,” reliable figures for RT's worldwide audience are unavailable (in the United States, RT typically pays cable and satellite services to carry the channel via subscriber packages).  RT also has incurred difficulties opening bureaus in some Western countries. Thus, last year’s cut in funding was widely viewed as a change in the Kremlin’s preferred information war weapons in favor of Sputnik, the newer information agency established by Rossiya Segodnya in 2013. On the other hand, the Kremlin may have decided that the string of favorable political outcomes in recent European elections may be a sign of RT success. As CEPA’s Latvia brief shows this week—though it is taken from state-owned NTV rather than RT—the Kremlin appears interested in exploiting Europe’s nervousness resulting from Donald Trump’s election.