Research on this topic was recently published by the Czech Analysis Center "European values." It is the result of monitoring of Russian media that the center conducted from 2014 till 2016 year as part of its Kremlin Watch program. Jakub Janda, Deputy Director of the Centre tells the details of this survey.
Jakub, what are the main results of your research?
The main results are that the Russian propaganda is manipulating with information about certain European leaders to show them in the way Kremlin likes. We are talking about propaganda, because there is not so much real media Russia, and there are many people who directly managed by the Kremlin.
For example this system depicts Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, the as an opponent of Vladimir Putin. But there are other policies, such as the leaders of central European countries, say Czech President Milos Zeman, Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico whether Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who are portrayed as more friendly to Kremlin.
Here Russian propaganda exaggerating their impact. For comparing the size of their country, we can say that attention to them is clearly overstated: in Russian propaganda they took much larger space than many of other leaders of the European countries that are not so friendly to the Russian politics.
When you say that some European leaders receives disproportionately less attention of Russian propaganda, and others - disproportionately more – how do you assess the reasons for this imbalance?
We know that in Russia it’s very difficult to establish an independent media. Because the majority of media materials are somehow determined, directed or "inspired" by the Kremlin. Perhaps in this way the Kremlin wants to make a clear division between those European leaders who are its opponents and those whom are describes as more friendly, as Putin's potential allies in Europe. In this way, the Kremlin is trying to draw a picture for the Russian audience, on which the whole world, at least the West, is trying to destroy Russia, but the Russian leader, they say, is so great that even in this situation he has friends.
Does this mean that the Russian propaganda clearly separates European leaders, calling some friends of the Kremlin, and the other enemies? And if so, what politicians are considered enemies?
Usually Russian media doesn’t use the term "enemies". But you can clearly see the attitude to them – the coverage of their actions and images has a very negative tone. For example, during the last three years this trend is that the Russian media believe German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a same leader who determines the policy of sanctions that the EU imposed on Russia. And, of course, many Russian media portray Europe as a continent full of refugees, as on the eve of Armageddon. And they blame Angela Merkel of this situation.
Instead, other leaders are portrayed in a different context. For example, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi or Czech President Zeman portrayed as people who try to protect their sovereign nations and their independence from the EU or US pressure. Some of these leaders, for example, the same Czech President Zeman himself said about it.
In other words, there are some leaders whom are described by Russian propaganda as a sort of "United States’ slaves" who only do what America orders. For Russians, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of such politicians. Instead, there are those leaders depicted as more friendly to Vladimir Putin. And these leaders are portrayed as independent or sovereign in their decisions.
Have you noticed any specific myths about leaders of various EU countries? And if so, which of these myths Russian propaganda brings to the audience and spreads?
Yes, dozens of them. If you watch Russian television Channel One or RT, you will hear many stories about European leaders having some secret plans, and these plans are directed against European nation. In this way, these Russian channels trying to quarrel both European leaders and their peoples with each other.
Russian propaganda tries to create the impression that the United States is the biggest enemy and opponent. But, it continues, some European leaders are much friendlier to Russia, despite they simply have become hostages of American politics. And some European nations, they say, are also friendlier to Russia, and they have become victims of American leadership or American dictatorship.
What is the Russian media attention to the leaders of the institutions of the European Union? Do they play an important role in the Russian propaganda?
In our study, we tried to show how Russian propaganda portrays all of the European leaders, which we considered. For example, you can see information about Rasmussen or Stoltenberg, former and current leaders of NATO, they receive attention first of all in connection with the subject of NATO. Instead, Juncker, the President of the European Commission, is represented primarily due to the Ukrainian crisis and migration. But, for example, Mrs. Mogherini, the leader of the European Foreign affairs policy, is often represented in connection with topics such as sanctions or Ukrainian crisis - but not with the theme of migration.
This, of course, makes sense, because these people are involved in related issues. On the other hand, it is noticeable that within the topic of sanctions greatest attention is paid to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And the Russian media put emphasis on the fact that it’s Merkel the main figure in imposing sanctions against Russia. So the negative tone of publications about German Chancellor is connected with this fact. And other leaders, such as Juncker or Mogherini haven’t the same attention of the Russian media regarding the issue of sanctions.