Russia’s Deception and Denial Machine

The main narrative of post-Communism is that the Russian Federation is unique and, therefore, its system is neither of the West nor of the East. Instead, it is sui generis: a “sovereign democracy,” which in reality is a cover for the post-Communist dictatorship of Vladimir Putin, that deploys all the tools of statecraft, including strategic communications. It seems like a mighty machine which we must learn to map to be able to face it down.

Although the precise structure of the Muscovite deception and denial machine remains mostly obscure, we can construct a fairly convincing outline of it based on available information assisted by historical analogies and deductive reasoning.

Let us look at ideologies, institutions, and operations in the Russian system of strategic messaging. How are they organized? In Tsarist Russia, the cornerstones of state ideology were “Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality.” Fine points of this platform obtained from the so-called State School (gosudarstvennaya shkola) of Russian historiography. It was a proto-Mussolinesque intellectual endeavor serving the Tsars by glorifying his state in congruence with the Hegelian Weltanschauung. The principal institutions for strategic communications of the messages of the State School were the Holy Synod (which supervised religious and educational matters), Okhrana (which was the secret police), and diplomacy (which served as an intelligence and propaganda arm of Russia abroad). Targeting both native and foreign publics, these institutions ran influence operations to perpetuate the Tsar in power. They included coopting the elite by feeding official narratives into preexisting prejudice and thought patterns, bribing the press and officials, infiltrating opposition groups, and staging provocations.

In Bolshevik Russia Marxism-Leninism was the reigning millenarian ideology which, while promising paradise on Earth, operated according to morally relativistic dialectics to keep the Communists in power in perpetuity. The main institutions tasked by the general secretary of the Bolshevik party and his Politburo with spreading the red news was the Komintern (or, more precisely, the Information Bureau of the Communist International), which was synchronized with the Propaganda Department of Central Committee of the party. Naturally, the Information Bureau underwent several transformations for deception’s sake, including its submersion into the Foreign Department of the CC CPSU. All the while, the Communist secret police played a paramount role in running the deception and denial organization and by the early 1930s the Soviet terror apparatus completely took over all functions of the Komintern, subordinating it to intelligence and counterintelligence priorities. And, thus, we should credit the Communist police with success in a bevy of influence operations, tasked and scripted by the Kremlin, refined by evil geniuses like Willi Münzenberg, and implemented by agents of influence and droves of useful idiots. We know all this for certain because of decades studying Communism and a treasure trove of records released after 1991 from the Soviet archives.

Read more