The game is played by creating chaos. Surkov is said to have sponsored groups of all stripes, from humanitarian to skinhead, and even created a few extremist groups of his own. The warfare he wages is guerilla, multi-layered, and multifaceted. Tactics include creating “alternate facts,” lying to reporters, and switching narratives. Adam Curtis of the BBC illustrated, “In Syria, we are told that President Assad is the evil enemy, but then his enemies turn out to be even more evil than him, so we bomb them, and by doing that, we help keep Assad in power.”
The fog and malingering are tools of control. Writing in Politico, Molly McKew notes, “It’s hard to muster resistance to an enemy you can’t see, or aren’t even sure is there.” Vocal Kremlin critic Peter Pomerantsev wrote, “Putin goes out and lies in your face in order to say, ‘Facts don’t exist, which means you can’t argue with me.’” By raising hype against enemies du jour, those in control not only monger fear, they sow confusion that engenders feelings of inferiority in their subjects, who are incapable of understanding what they don’t realize is designed to defy comprehension.
Political commentator Mike Mariana wrote, “This shape-shifting propaganda makes just enough of a lasting impression to leave people feeling distrustful and victimized. But before any one line of thinking can be pursued for too long, the narrative jumps to something else. People are left distracted and angry, but unsure of why or at whom.” The result is not political activism, but despondency and passivity. “To which,” wrote Curtis, “the only response is to say, ‘Oh, dear.’”
Pomerantsov said this is what has happened in Russia, where people consent to control and play along. He recalls how members of the liberal avant-garde would look at him as if he were a fool and say, “’Over the last 20 years, we’ve lived through a communism we never believed in, democracy and defaults and mafia state and oligarchy, and we’ve realized they are illusions, that everything is PR. … Can’t you see your own governments are just as bad as ours?’ they asked me. I tried to protest – but they just smiled and pitied me.”
McKew noted Georgia, Estonia, and Lithuania had all complained about Russian operatives sowing chaos in their political systems, and, “all three countries now have parties with Russian financial connections leading their governments, which softly advocate for a more open approach to Moscow.” But now that’s starting to look like Trump-Russia, which is crazy because now that Trump’s leading, he says our countries share mutual respect. Besides, Russia stands nothing to gain from disrupting America’s political structure.
By way of contrast, Pomerantsov illustrated, the Kremlin passed “aggressive” anti-gay legislation to run interference when the news cycle was turning to corruption. “The Kremlin needed a new storyline, one they could control.” Fortunately, that can’t happen here, where Manifest Destiny keeps corruption out of government. Journalists are trained not to turn cable news into “a mudslinging sideshow;” and if they did, the populace is too media-savvy to be polarized and drawn into tribal warfare.