Crossroads Asia

The Eurasian Economic Union’s ‘Single Information Field’

Russia’s chief propagandist wants Kyrgyzstan to join the EEU’s information sphere, or risk disappearing.

The Eurasian Economic Union’s ‘Single Information Field’
Credit: Old Russian newspapers vis

There are a handful of nominal perks to joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU): streamlined trade regulations, expedited access for migrant laborers within the Russian market, and increased access to Russian capital. To be sure, though, many of the perks remain in name only; the EEU serves to highlight the differences between regulation and reality. Intra-EEU trade has plummeted, with a floor yet to be found. Border checkpoints remain on paper alone. Protectionism has only increased. Today, the EEU is even farther from being the geopolitical “pole” promised by Russian President Vladimir Putin than when it came into force nearly ten months ago.

Still, the EEU allows Moscow to consolidate its putative influence over the assorted post-Soviet republics who have thus far joined. Last week provided Moscow another opportunity to continue its outreach in Central Asia, as Dmitry Kiselyov joined Kyrgyzstani journalists for a symposium on “informational cooperation between Russia and Kyrgyzstan in the framework of Eurasian integration.”

Kiselyov, currently helming the Rossiya Segodnya conglomerate, unofficially acts as Russia’s chief propagandist. There’s no one quite like Kiselyov in the Russian media sphere, both in terms of managerial reach and on-screen persona. (To those familiar with the American mediascape, The New Yorker’s David Remnick summed up Kiselyov’s approach: “As a master of theatrical sarcasm and apocalyptic rhetoric, Kiselyov eclipses Bill O’Reilly, and as a theoretician of conspiracy he shames Glenn Beck.”) Kiselyov’s crude charlatanism – his threats of turning the U.S. to “radioactive dust,” his calls to incinerate the hearts of LGBT individuals upon their passing – reaches a wide audience, both domestic and abroad. His Sputnik outlets, having absorbed the erstwhile RIA Novosti, continue to reach Central Asian audiences, and continue to co-opt the region’s talented journalists.

This week, Kiselyov landed in Kyrgyzstan to spread his gospel of informational warfare: the pursuit of journalism not as a means of informing the public, but as a vehicle to espouse national interests, national values, and national – and governmental – sanctity. Journalism in this view is a buttress for the ruling castes, rather than any means to affect, or deter, oppression, repression, illegality, and the like. After all, as Kiselyov informed his audience, Russia doesn’t experience any forms of repression. All the while, Western-trained journalists, part of an American megalith, are bent only on destabilization.

Instead, Kiselyov said that Kyrgyzstan needed to join the “single information field” linking those nations now part of the EEU. (A bit of an odd call, seeing as the EEU is only – nominally – a commercial arrangement.) “Kyrgyzstan has a choice,” Kiselyov delaimed. “Following the path of Eurasian economic integration is the choice of national interests. Unfortunately we see today how countries simply disappear, and there is no guarantee that Kyrgyzstan will also not disappear.”

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Such threats of state “disappearance,” transparent as they are, are by no means unique to Kiselyov. Indeed, Kyrgyzstan is not even the first state Kiselyov has claimed would longer exist; he earlier observed that Ukraine is now but a “virtual” state. (To be fair, Kiselyov was only mirroring Putin’s prior rhetoric: In 2008, Putin, according to Kommersant, informed U.S. President George Bush, “You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state.”) They also follow an uptick in rhetoric from Russian officials and nationalists discussing the lack of sovereignty in another EEU member, Kazakhstan.

Now part of the Eurasian Union, Kyrgyzstan and its journalists are in for more rhetoric like that Kiselyov seems to enjoy crafting so much. Instead of the punchy media sphere Kyrgyzstan’s come to enjoy over the past few years, Kiselyov wants to hitch the Kyrgyzstani journalist scene to Russia’s “single information sphere” – with all the realities, and threats of disappearance, it will provide.