News Release

February 13, 2018

For Immediate Release
Contact: Fiona Gettinger, Communications Associate, 703-824-2388

CNA Maps the Media's Role in Russian Influence

Arlington, Va.  Russia’s use of the media as an important lever of influence has become increasingly visible since the conflict in Ukraine and other domestic and international confrontations began. In a new report, CNA analysts have undertaken an effort to map the Russian media environment and examine Russian decision-making as it relates to the media through a series of scenarios that range from crisis to steady state.

CNA gathered data using Russian and English language sources, reviewed primary messaging from the Kremlin, and evaluated the role that media plays in Russian foreign policy. The researchers found that television is the most popular source of information for Russian citizens, followed by the internet, radio, and print media. The Russian government directly controls and operates state media and exercises considerable influence over private media through both formal and informal means while seeking greater control over media with larger audiences. Russia’s rich business elite, commonly referred to as "oligarchs," owns most of Russia’s media. President Vladimir Putin has links to most media-owning oligarchs and swiftly established state control over television after his election in 2000.

"State-controlled or state-influenced media is a key foreign policy tool at the disposal of the Kremlin, which Russia can easily deploy to garner support for its perspectives or influence audiences," says Umida Hashimova, associate research analyst at CNA.

President Putin and his inner circle view domestic and international media as key instruments in promoting Russian state interests. Russia’s media has three primary functions in contributing to Russian foreign policy: mobilizing and sustaining domestic political support for its foreign and security policies; presenting official perspectives and policies to foreign audiences; and influencing foreign audiences through disinformation and propaganda.

Vera Zakem, CNA research scientist and director of strategy and partnerships for the Center for Strategic Studies, says, "Media and disinformation are part of Russia’s broader influence campaigns abroad. It is important to pay attention to cultural, societal, business, and political levers of influence, and work with host nations to address the structural sources of instability that may make a country susceptible to influence."

To help policy makers and the international community better understand the connections between Russia’s foreign policy and its messaging and decision-making, the report highlights five key takeaways.

  1. Media is a key tool and will continue to play a significant role in Russian foreign policy.
  2. Since Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, Russia’s government has significantly tightened its control over external messaging.
  3. Putin plays a central role in decision-making and messaging in the media.
  4. Putin and his inner circle have direct and indirect control or influence over Russia’s media.
  5. While the media is a critical element of influence, Putin and his administration also have power in the cultural, societal, business, and political spheres in target countries.

"President Putin’s domestic legitimacy relies on his ability to control perceptions about his leadership and his policies. Our study highlights the Kremlin’s oversight of the media environment in Russia and paints a clear picture of the role control plays in sustaining his regime," says Kate Hammerberg, associate research analyst at CNA.

CNA is a nonprofit research and analysis organization dedicated to developing actionable solutions to complex problems of national importance. With nearly 700 scientists, analysts and professional staff, CNA takes a real-world approach to gathering data. Its one-of-a-kind field program places analysts on carriers and military bases, in squad rooms and classrooms, and working side-by-side with a wide array of government decision-makers around the world. In addition to defense-related matters for the U.S. Department of the Navy, CNA’s research portfolio includes criminal justice, homeland security, energy security, water resources, enterprise systems and data analysis, and education.

Note to writers and editors: CNA is not an acronym and is correctly referenced as "CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA."

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