‘From domestic elites to transnational publics: RT’s re-framing of Russian identity for international audiences’

Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody, The University of Manchester

British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, Cambridge, 13-15 April 2018.

Russian political elites have long been sensitive to the importance of historical narratives in framing Russia’s national identity and its role in international relations. Since the early 2000s, Russian politicians’ narrative representations have increasingly narrowed around a key range of historical episodes (and interpretations of them), represented as demonstrating core truths of Russian identity, and defining the parameters for Russia’s interactions in the international arena. Most recently, this has involved an uneasy balancing of Russia’s established ‘great power’ identity alongside concerted efforts to represent it within the ‘rising power’ contingent, critiquing the inequities of contemporary global governance and opening possibilities for structural evolution more conducive to Russia’s developing interests. This paper explores the role of the RT TV  in representing Russia for international audiences. It approaches RT as a potential consensus-building tool aimed at creating the conditions of possibility in which the structural critiques of the international system can achieve a greater audience. The paper presents an in-depth analysis of the network’s output. It introduces the ways in which RT’s programming bolsters the Russian political elite’s perspective on the global political economy and Russia’s place within it: by selective topics of focus; using specific modes of representation; and by repeating favoured themes. The output of RT therefore consistently redefines the global political economy in ways coherent with revisionist objectives, and with Russia’s hopes within those. The output is also tailored to appeal to networked groups at opposing ends of the political spectrum, exploiting their common predisposition to anti-Americanism; sympathy for Russia; and scepticism of the mainstream media.