Almost immediately after the authors of the “Pandora Papers”Released on October 3, revelations of wrongdoing by powerful public figures, including in Russia, began to resonate in and out of capitals. The catalog of nearly 12 million leaked confidential records from offshore financial services industry companies documented how wealthy and well-connected buyers influence and protect their assets.
Also since Sunday, Russian state media have been amplifying some of the project’s most troubling findings, including the emergence of the United States as a leading destination for refuge dark money, while simultaneously trafficking conspiracies about the origin of the leaks. The state-controlled media has repeated driven skepticism on the absence of US officials in the documents, suggestion that Western leaders may have been “excluded” from the data and that “recurring quirks” point to “Washington’s hand behind” the revelations. In some cases, state-controlled media has reached out to promote the idea that the revelations are a “political ployAnd the work of Western intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.
In its efforts to use the revelations as a means to discredit democratic governments, Moscow has also been highlighting details of irregularities committed by Latin American heads of state, including presidents of Ecuador, chili, and the Dominican Republic and the vice president of Colombia, Come in others. This focus in Latin America is due in part to the fact that more than 90 of the more than 330 politicians and public officials identified in the data They are from the region. But it also hides a focus on reaching a part of the world where Russia has frequently tried to advance its geopolitical interests, including, in recent months, the use of concerted deals. information manipulation bells.
The Kremlin has followed this line of attack despite, or perhaps due to, the fact that the records expose people that researchers have suggested are linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The consortium of researchers identified about 3,700 companies with more than 4,400 beneficiaries who were Russian citizens, including 46 oligarchs, the highest among all the nationalities represented in the data. Russian state media circulated claims of innocence from people implicated in the report, while discrediting it as “Funded by Soros. “This approach is not unusual for the Kremlin. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, state-controlled outlets have published content critical of public health measures in other countries that Russia itself has adopted.
The research, which is the result of a massive collaboration between more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets in more than 115 countries, is emblematic of the role vibrant civil societies play in speaking the truth to power and keeping citizens informed. To that end, he adds evidence to the argument that geopolitical competition is rooted in a systems clash between openness and authoritarianism, in part because for autocrats, liberal systems are inherently threatening. As my Brookings colleague Tom Wright has observed elsewhere, journalists expose their misdeeds, defenders of good governance question their legitimacy, and a free and open Internet loosens their grip on information.
The Kremlin’s response highlights important facets of its evolving information strategy, which includes the use of Western influencers and alternative media as a vector to sell conspiracy theories that cast doubt on official accounts of political events, partly to deflect blame and partly to depress trust in institutions within target societies . It also demonstrates an emphasis on amplifying factual information to promote narratives that denigrate democratic governments, using a massive state-controlled online media apparatus.
This has important implications for policymakers seeking ways to roll back recent autocratic advances. It suggests that a global campaign to root out corruption and kleptocracy should be a pillar of that effort. That’s because corruption is an Achilles heel for autocratic and democratic governments. Exposing the failures and false promises of kleptocratic regimes while closing the avenues they use to interfere in democratic processes, making it difficult for them to establish damaging equivalences and helping democratic governments deliver on their promise is both a good offense and a good defense. The episode also suggests the need for a greater focus by lawmakers on the use of information manipulation by Russia and its representatives, not just in the Kremlin’s backyard, but in ours.