Russia’s leaders use state media as a political weapon

State-controlled broadcasting outlets in Russia offer a pro-Kremlin version of the news to their audiences. (© Shutterstock.com)
State-controlled broadcasting outlets in Russia offer a pro-Kremlin version of the news to their audiences. (© Shutterstock.com)

State-controlled media in Russia routinely hide the truth, but they don’t hide their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies.

Rather than inform the public and hold the government accountable, broadcasting outlets in Russia offer a pro-Kremlin version of the news. When foreign media coverage of Russian leaders or their policies is unfavorable, Russian state-media use disinformation to influence opinion.

RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik are Russia’s primary media outlets that produce content for non-Russian speakers abroad. While they compare their operations to independent media, both outlets support the Russian government’s position and do not criticize senior officials or state policy.

“The channel is funded by the government, so it cannot help but reflect the Russian government’s official position on the events in our country and in the rest of the world, one way or another,” Putin said about RT in 2013.

Kremlin’s influence over state-funded media

Officials who supervise the Russian state media outlets serve in government, are loyal to Putin, or both. They are far from free, independent press outlets. At the same time, the Kremlin is shutting down independent Russian media, designating them “foreign agents” and “undesirable” organizations, banning their activities and giving state media near-complete control over the narrative.

Aleksey Gromov, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, is known to lead the Kremlin’s media apparatus. His protégé, Margarita Simonyan, is editor-in-chief of RT and Rossiya Segodnya, Sputnik’s parent company. The United States sanctioned Gromov for interference in U.S. elections and his role in the 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin-supported outlets frequently spread disinformation through false reports that attempt to undermine democracies or views that the Kremlin opposes. Current and former government officials exercise substantial influence over staffing and coverage.

Both RT and Sputnik amplify stories from proxy websites that have ties to Russian intelligence agencies.

A University of Oxford 2021 study based upon anonymous interviews with former and current RT staff revealed that government officials hire station managers and determine story angles.

Below are further examples of the Kremlin’s influence over state-funded media:

  • One former Sputnik White House correspondent said a supervisor required approval of all questions asked of the White House press secretary.
  • RT reporters went to Belarus to work for state-owned media after local reporters resigned in protest over Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s fraudulent August 2020 presidential election in Belarus.
  • A former German employee of RT said the outlet ordered him to spy on Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny while the latter was recovering from an assassination attempt in a Berlin hospital.
  • The All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company fired employees in November 2021 who expressed opinions that conflicted with the government’s viewpoint.

Learn more about this and other examples of Kremlin-funded disinformation in a new report (PDF, 4.3 MB) from the State Department’s Global Engagement Center. To learn more about Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem, see the Department of State’s Global Engagement Center’s 2021 report.