Russian News Agency Expands Global Reach

by Andrew Roth, The New York Times

MOSCOW — When Dmitry K. Kiselyov, the firebrand Russian television pundit, announced on Monday that the state news agency he leads was planning a major foreign expansion, he did not deny that the goal was to spread a type of propaganda.

After all, Mr. Kiselyov said during a kickoff event attended mainly by foreign press and a smattering of diplomats, the West was already doing it. So why not Russia?

“Komsomolskaya Pravda has its editorial politics,” said Mr. Kiselyov, referring to a popular Russian tabloid that features young, sometimes skimpily dressed women on the back cover, “and The New York Times has its own editorial politics.”

In today’s information war, he claimed, no one is objective.

“We are against the aggressive propaganda being fed to the world,” Mr. Kiselyov said, on a day that CNN announced it would stop broadcasting in Russia because of restrictive ownership rules. “We believe that it is not real. We believe that it leads to suffering. Blood. And there is nothing good along that path.”

It is a familiar rallying cry as the Kremlin aggressively expands its voice in the Western media, most notably through RT, formerly Russia Today, the television station that serves up bad news about Russia’s enemies and good news about its allies.

Now there is also Sputnik: a network of news hubs in 34 countries with over 1,000 staff members producing radio, social media and news wire content in local languages paid for by Russia. Sputnik is part of the RIA Novosti news agency, which Mr. Kiselyov heads. The network of bureaus, whose structure resembles Radio Free Europe, will span five continents and include offices in the former Soviet Union, Beijing, Cairo and Western capitals like Washington, Berlin and Montevideo, Uruguay. Kiev will have a staff of 100 because of the Ukraine crisis. A year ago, RIA Novosti, the Soviet-era news agency, was liquidated and reorganized in a surprise order by Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. RIA Novosti jettisoned 40 percent of the people on its old staff, including the news agency’s relatively liberal leadership.

In their place came more hawkish supporters of Mr. Putin: Mr. Kiselyov and Margarita Simonyan, the aggressive editor in chief of the RT news channel.

In China, “a country with which we have excellent relations,” the local bureau chief explained in a videoconference call, there is enormous interest in what Russians think and how they live. The German bureau chief, meanwhile, complained that the local press had titled the expansion “Putin’s Propaganda Is on the Offensive.”

On opening day, the American version of Sputnik ran an article accusing the Western news media of manipulating acronyms for the Islamist State militant group to support airstrikes, a tongue-in-cheek list of examples of how 2014 has been the “year of secession” and suggesting that Miami may secede from Florida, and an interview with Oliver Stone on his plans for a film about the whistle-blower Edward J. Snowden, who is in hiding in Moscow.

“Russia Today feeds the huge Western audience that wants to believe that human rights are a sham and democracy a fix,” wrote Nick Cohen in a column critical of RT for The Guardian on Saturday. “Believe that and you will ask: What right have we to criticize Putin? At least he is honest in his way.”

On Monday, RT was issued a warning by the British media regulator Ofcom for bias in its coverage of the Ukraine crisis. The regulator could cancel RT’s broadcasting license for further violations of impartiality rules.

Mr. Kiselyov, who compared President Obama to the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a recent program, is known for a scripted television delivery and a seemingly endless supply of canned hand gestures.

When several reporters approached him on Monday, Mr. Kiselyov refused an interview. He was irked, he said, by a recent portrait in The New Yorker.

Reminded that the reporters asking him questions on Monday were from a different publication, he smiled with a hint of sarcasm.

“Of course that means that you’re different,” he said in English, little louder than a whisper.

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