One of Russia's most powerful tools has been its propaganda. Get ready for some more wild, outright false claims about the war in Ukraine and a bunch of other issues, because Russia just launched another propaganda outlet, called "Sputnik News," specifically aimed at an American audience.
Sputnik "slickly remixes President Vladimir Putin's brand of revanchist nationalism for an international audience, presenting the United States as an ailing imperial power bent on holding on to its domains," explains Foreign Policy's Elias Gross. Sputnik is "cheeky, Internet-savvy" and a lot like BuzzFeed.
The government-funded site went live on Monday, and it's already got some bizarro stories: Miami is a "rebellious breakaway region" like eastern Ukraine "New Russia," American foreign policy is "Trotskist [sic]," and the United States will soon suffer under a vegetarian president because American kids are too soft.
"We are against aggressive propaganda that is now being fed to the world and which forces a unipolar construction of the world," says Kremlin director of aggressive propaganda Dmitry Kiselyov. "We believe that it is unrealistic, that it leads humanity toward suffering and blood, and that there will be nothing good along this path." Kiselyov has a history of anti-gay, anti-Semitic claims and earlier this year suggested Russia could "turn the U.S. into radioactive ashes" if it wanted.
The other, more heavy-handed state propaganda outlet, RT (formerly Russia Today), has lost several legitimate journalists over its deceptive coverage of the war in Ukraine. When Russian-backed forces downed a Malaysia Airlines plane, correspondent Sara Firth said, "Every single day we're lying and finding sexier ways to do it" and quit.
Putin's war in Ukraine is escalating, but he operates strategically. His administration crosses the "red line… little bit at a time, inching across over weeks and months, rather than crossing it all at once, [and] Western publics and politicians will get red-line fatigue and lose interest by the time you're across," explains Vox's Max Fischer. It also repeats outright lies, like the annexation of Crimea was legitimate and legal, or establishing a military supply chain is actually "humanitarian aid," and some people abroad, elsewhere described as "useful idiots," actually believe it.
Domestically, Russians have little choice to hear anything but disinformation, because Putin is cracking down independent media, forcing bloggers to register with the government, and killing journalists.