The Network of Russian Propaganda: What Connects Western 'Experts' Promoting Narratives Beneficial to Russia

The Network of Russian Propaganda: What Connects Western “Experts” Promoting Narratives Beneficial to Russia

Photo: facebook.com/TuckerCarlsonTonight
9 February 2024
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Russian propaganda continues to spread in the West. Despite the blocking of a number of Kremlin-sponsored media in the US and the EU, these bans are being circumvented. PolitiFact analyst Peter Benszoni calls this process “information laundering” — the movement of false or misleading information from less reliable sources to more reliable ones. Thus, it appears as if it is legitimate and comes from a reliable source. The legitimization of Russian propaganda is also facilitated by so-called “experts” who amplify narratives aligned with Russian ones from their platforms.

Network of pro-Russian disinformation

Methodology

VoxCheck and the Center for Countering Disinformation of the National Security and Defense Council analyzed 26 Western “experts” and found that their activities have signs of a network. Publications and speeches for the period from 2014 to 2023 were taken into account. The activities of “experts” were analyzed according to the following criteria: publications on sites owned by other “experts” or funded by the Kremlin, appearances on YouTube channels, awards received, and reviews of visits to Russia or temporarily occupied territories.

“Experts” actively blog on social networks, but on YouTube their mutual activity as interviewers and speakers is followed. So YouTube was chosen as the main platform for finding connections between “experts”. The search for connections with Russia was carried out from open sources. See separately about each “expert” on our YouTube and website.

Typical dissemination strategies

Through own or friendly “expert” YouTube channels and other platforms

Most of the “experts” we analyzed have their own YouTube channels or blogs on other platforms. One of the most well-known is Fox News host Tucker Carlson and his own show on Twitter (X). In the first episode, Carlson accused Ukraine of undermining the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. Prior to this, he repeatedly justified Russian aggression, spread fakes about “American biolabs in Ukraine,” and emphasized that supporting Ukraine harms Western countries.

Among the guests of Fox News ex-educator, it’s worth noting journalist Glenn Greenwald. Like Carlson, he has a loyal audience that believes and trusts his opinions. At one time, Greenwald wrote articles for The Guardian and has received several awards, particularly for journalistic investigations. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, he statesat the end, there’s going to be a negotiation that says that Russia will end up being able to protect the part of Eastern Ukraine it believes had people in it who are largely Russian, Russian speaking, ethnic Russians who are being oppressed by Kyiv. They will keep Crimea”.

American journalist Danny Haiphong also runs his own YouTube channel. He often records videos with the equally well-known American commentator Scott Ritter. The Russian television channel Russia Today actively circulates translated excerpts from Haiphong’s videos. In general, the mutual appearances on each other’s programs are characteristic of speakers who propagate the same narratives as Russian officials and media. In addition to Scott Ritter, Haiphong often hosts former Marine Brian Berletic. He describes himself as a “geopolitical analyst” and also has his own YouTube channel, The New Atlas. Berletic claims that the Ukrainian government uses “Nazi” military units to suppress pro-Russian sentiments among Ukrainians. He also accuses fighters from the “Azov,” “Aidar,” and “Right Sector” units of terrorizing civilians. Additionally, he promotes Russian narratives such as “Ukraine’s victory is impossible” and “the U.S. has started a war in Ukraine.”

Andrew Napolitano often gathers various “experts” to discuss the Russo-Ukrainian war. Like Tucker Carlson, he comes from the Fox News channel, where he worked as a legal analyst from 1997 to 2021. Among his guests have been John Mearsheimer, Ray McGovern, Alastair Crooke, Larry Johnson, Jeffrey Sachs, and others. Materials with retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor and Scott Ritter are categorized separately as “fan favorites.” Napolitano himself stated in 2014 that the U.S. should not resist Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but in 2023, he accuses the U.S. of a “direct war with Russia.”

The YouTube channel Redacted, run by the couple Clayton and Natali Morris, is equally popular among the mentioned individuals. The channel is positioned as “alternative” media that supposedly fights against propaganda and tells the “truth.” In reality, the hosts and guests spread conspiracy theories and narratives that align with Russian perspectives. For example, Morris sees the “proxy war of the U.S. against Russia to the last Ukrainian” as an attempt to seize Ukraine’s natural resources. Fragments of the channel’s videos with Russian subtitles are often published by Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov.

Through cooperation with mass media or other organizations with a dubious reputation

Apart from YouTube and social media, the speakers also use the media as an information platform. One of such outlets is The Grayzone, founded and edited by American journalist Max Blumenthal. Media Bias/Fact Check categorizes the media as biased, left-radical, and questionable, systematically spreading propaganda, conspiracy theories, and false claims. In his articles, Blumenthal shifts blame for war crimes onto Ukraine, referring to the tragedy in the Mariupol drama theater as “staged,” and dismissing accusations of Russia’s mass campaign regarding the deportation of Ukrainian children as “unsubstantiated.”

Among other things, The Grayzone also publishes interviews with the same “experts.” For example, political scientist John Mearsheimer from this platform claimed that “NATO provoked Russia in Ukraine.” Mearsheimer has been making similar accusations against the West since 2014, which is why he is often quoted by Russian media. Scientist Richard Sakwa, in turn, expressed doubts about the involvement of Russian military forces in the tragedy in Bucha in an interview with The GrayZone. He accuses Zelenskyi of being responsible for the war, stating, “Yes, Putin pulled the trigger in this case, but who put the gun to the wall? Who created the conditions under which that gun would be used?

Richard Sakwa, along with economist Jeffrey Sachs and Scott Ritter, gave an interview to the “Schiller Institute.” This is another resource through which the founders and invited “experts” spread narratives that align with pro-Russian views. The founder of the Schiller Institute is Helga Zepp-LaRouche, a German politician and activist. She systematically uses the center to justify Russian aggression among the European audience. For example, on April 15–16, 2023, the Schiller Institute held a conference aimed, among other things, at finding a peaceful solution to the so-called proxy war in Ukraine. “This is a proxy war between the United States, Great Britain, and NATO on one side, and Russia on the other, with a looming conflict with China as well,” the event program stated.

Undisguised connections with Russia

Cooperation with Russian government-sponsored mass media

Russian state foreign media companies, Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, actively republish materials from many of the mentioned speakers. However, their connections go beyond this. For example, after Tucker Carlson was fired from Fox News, RT immediately offered him cooperation. Additionally, Carlson hints at his positive attitude towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, posing the question, “Why should I hate him?”

Systematically writing for RT and being a frequent guest on the show “Solovyov Live” is Scott Ritter. He openly expresses his sympathies for Russia and claims that it is on the “right side of history.” Jackson Hinkle, an American blogger who also openly demonstrates his support for the Russian president, is also an active participant in Solovyov’s show.

On RT broadcasts, stand-up comedian Jimmy Dore appears. On YouTube, he hosts his own comedy-political talk show called “The Jimmy Dore Show,” where he often echoes pro-Russian narratives. Like other “experts,” he has been on Tucker Carlson’s program. In this interview, the comedian referred to the United States as a terrorist state, accused Ukraine of violating the Minsk agreements, and labeled Russia as a protector of Russian-speaking people in Donbas. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer Ray McGovern comments on intelligence and foreign policy issues for RT and Sputnik News.

Recently, the correspondent for RT is the Irish publicist and journalist Chay Bowes. Chey Bowes’s rhetoric is filled with narratives identical to Russian ones: “Ukraine is a criminal and terrorist country,” and Ukrainians themselves are labeled as “Naziscontrolled by the West. A Canadian blogger, Eva Karen Bartlett, also maintains her own blog on RT. By the way, in 2022, she gave an interview to the “Schindler Institute,” where she spoke about alleged Ukrainian war crimes against the civilian population of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Staying or living in Russia

Scott Ritter not only writes for Russian state media but also visits Russia. In 2023, the ex-weapons inspector presented his book “Disarmament Chase” in Russia, published by the Russian media group “Komsomolskaya Pravda.” In the summer of 2023, the Irishman Chey Boyz could be spotted in Moscow. And in the fall, Jackson Hinkle strolled around Moscow as well.

Ray McGovern also visited Moscow. In 2015, he was spotted at the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Russian information agency RT, where Vladimir Putin was also present. McGovern was in Russia in 2013 when he presented the Sam Adams Award for “Integrity in Intelligence” to Edward Snowden. Snowden was awarded in Moscow because it was there that he found refuge after committing the crime of exposing classified materials from the CIA. Snowden still resides in Russia and obtained Russian citizenship in 2022. Every year, the Sam Adams Award is given to those convicted of espionage and revealing details of secret CIA operations. Notably, Glenn Greenwald’s interviews with Snowden and a series of materials about him helped Greenwald receive the George Polk Award in 2014. That same year, he likely visited Snowden in Russia.

Former British diplomat and ex-MI6 intelligence officer Alastair Crooke joined the Russian discussion club “Valdai” in 2016. The Club’s sessions are held within the framework of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. On the Russian side, participants include Dmitry Medvedev, Sergey Lavrov, Sergey Shoigu, and other Russian politicians and figures. Vladimir Putin traditionally meets with participants of the annual Valdai Club meetings since its inception. The club also includes the scholar Richard Sakwa.

A frequent visitor to the temporarily occupied territories by Russia is Eva Karen Bartlett. She first began “documenting Ukrainian war crimes against the peaceful population of Donbas” in 2019. She appeared as one of the witnesses of the so-called Ukrainian military crimes for the International Public Tribunal (established by the Public Chamber of Russia). She also played the role of an “independent observer” during the illegal referendum on the annexation of the Donetsk region to Russia. Since 2021, she has been residing permanently in Russia.

The same awards in the arsenal

In 2017, Eva Karen Bartlett was among the first to receive the Serena Shim Award. The website states that the award is given to journalists for purported “uncompromising honesty.” This award was also given to Scott Ritter, Jackson Hinkle, Jimmy Dore, Max Blumenthal, Alastair Crooke, and Eva Karen Bartlett. “Bellingcat” found out that this award is issued by a pro-Assad lobbying group — the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees (AIPAC), based in San Francisco, USA. It’s worth noting that this organization shares the same abbreviation with another group — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Presumably, this mimicry is used to deceptively collect donations. By distributing awards, the lobbying group funds organizations and individuals who portray the Assad regime positively.

Conclusions

Similar speakers try to position themselves as “independent experts” who “reveal the global truth.” However, their systematic appearances on Russian state channels, visits to Moscow or temporarily occupied territories, and overt admiration for Putin indicate the opposite. The danger of the activities of such “experts” lies not only in their dissemination of narratives identical to those favored by pro-Russian entities. Each of them has its own supportive audience, a certain level of authority, and a cultivated image built over the years. As a result, they gain access to significant platforms of influence. Figures like Ray McGovern, Max Blumenthal, Chay Bowes, and others have already spoken at UN Security Council meetings.

So, when they popularize pro-Russian theses, they legitimize Russian propaganda in the West. The illusion of mass appeal and expertise is formed through joint broadcasts, columns in the media, newly created awards, and prizes. Furthermore, Russian media quote and reference their materials to corroborate their statements. Thanks to such citations, Russian narratives can also be relayed in the Ukrainian information space, disguised as “Western.” Therefore, it is important to identify these connections to restrain the spread of pro-Russian narratives both in the West and in Ukraine.

Attention

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations