Why did Putin build a monument to victims of Soviet repression? | Vera Tolz & Precious Chatterje-Doody


On October 30th, 2017, President Vladimir Putin took the unusual step of personally unveiling a monument to victims of political repression in central Moscow.

Whilst some commentators see this as a long-overdue recognition of Soviet-era state terror, others have dismissed it as a distraction from political repressions ongoing in Russia today. But making such a politically-charged statement is clearly a potentially risky strategy.

Professor Vera Tolz and Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody discuss the motivations behind the move, and its implications, over on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog.

Did RT Influence the 2016 US Elections? | Rhys Crilley


The US Department of Justice recently obliged RT to register under the ‘foreign agents’ (FARA) law, and whilst RT has complied, the network has also stated its intention to challenge the ruling.

But as Dr Rhys Crilley points out in his recent piece for E-IRRT’s coverage of the US election wasn’t particularly unique. Furthermore, there is no reliable evidence as to the impact it may have had.

In fact, the FARA furore over RT’s overt operations may be deflecting from more pressing issues of the Russian state’s covert operations, and allegations of collusion at the highest levels… Read more



Will Alex Salmond’s RT show make him a Kremlin tool? | Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz


Over the past week or so, the British political and media establishment has expressed widespread criticism of the decision by Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland, to front a weekly political chat show on RT.

Salmond himself, by contrast, has taken pains to stress his editorial independence, and the independence of the  production company producing the show.

So what is the truth of the matter?

Professors Stephen Hutchings and Vera Tolz discuss the Salmond-RT “marriage of convenience” in their recent piece for The Conversation.


Reframing Revolution: how to mark (or not to mark) 100 years since October | Mollie Arbuthnot

How should the centenary of the October Revolution be commemorated? Attitudes to the Soviet past have been contested in contemporary Russia, but the approach of October 2017 made this a pressing question. A public celebration was clearly unthinkable, but letting such a significant date pass totally unnoticed also seemed unacceptable. This post offers some observations from the ground in St. Petersburg and Moscow last week.

In St. Petersburg there was a light show on Palace Square, on the evenings of the 4th, 5th and 6th of November. This ‘Festival of Light’ (the second to be held in the city) was part of the celebrations for National Unity Day, but the main show was entitled ‘1917-2017’ and was dedicated to the events of 1917. (The fact that Unity Day was originally invented to replace Revolution Day on the 7th further muddles the idea behind this year’s festival).

The light show was projected across the facade of the General Staff building, opposite the Winter Palace. It wasn’t very long (about 15min) but quite impressive as a spectacle, and when I was there on Saturday evening there was a big crowd.

The narrative started with 1917 New Year celebrations, followed by food shortages and protests, the February Revolution (visually represented by a speeding train, pictures of the Imperial family, and letters between Nicholas II and his wife about his abdication). A printing press produced an explosion of newspapers, Lenin appeared briefly, and there was a striking depiction of the storming of the Winter Palace, with soldiers and revolutionaries charging forwards from the arc of the General Staff building, out towards us in the crowd.

Lenin projection Palace Square

Lenin briefly appears as part of the light show to mark the Centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution

There was no mention whatsoever of the Soviet Union or anything that happened after October 1917. The show ended with a globe and some abstract light effects (with the voiceover announcing that Russia ‘will emerge through all its trials new and newly-great’) and, finally, the Russian flag.

The ending felt oddly abrupt. This erasure of the Soviet Union hasn’t gone unnoticed: the comments on YouTube videos of the show suggest that some viewers felt that it left a noticeable hole in the story, and that the leap from 1917 to 2017 wasn’t handled well. On the square, however, the show produced a big cheer.

There was also a light show at the Aurora ship, which I didn’t manage to see, and I had read about a planned historical re-enactment of the storming of the Winter Palace to go with the light show, but there was no sign of this on Saturday.

Almost every museum, gallery, and library in St. Petersburg seems to have put on a special exhibition or display related to the Revolution.

As for Moscow, 1917 has been conspicuous by its absence. On Tuesday morning, the day of the centenary, there was a parade through the centre of town, officially for the 76th anniversary of the 1941 military parade for Revolution Day, held during the Battle of Moscow. I missed the parade itself but went to Red Square afterwards. There were tanks and various pieces of military hardware on the square, as well as a lot of people in period costume, for visitors to look at / take selfies with. This was also a popular event: there was quite a crowd there and the atmosphere was fairly jolly, with children playing on the tanks and people singing various songs (Katiusha did several rounds). Visitors could even participate by dressing up and posing in special booths, with banners and props, as the stars of a Soviet propaganda poster.

The whole thing seemed, to me, like a fairly obvious attempt to deflect attention from the revolution’s centenary whilst simultaneously creating a public space for people to express patriotism and nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and as far as I could tell this seems to have been quite effective. The Lenin mausoleum was closed and largely ignored.

With the exception of one woman in St. Petersburg trying (without much success) to give out copies of Pravda, I haven’t seen any protests or attempts to challenge the narrative of these public events.



Mollie Arbuthnot headshot smallMollie Arbuthnot is a PhD student in Soviet visual culture at the University of Manchester. She is currently based in St. Petersburg and Moscow, researching propaganda posters produced for Central Asia in the 1920s and 30s.

Reframing Russia Project Launches in London

On Thursday 12th October the Reframing Russia project launched in London. Ran by scholars from the University of Manchester and the Open University, the project is funded by the AHRC and provides new, inter-disciplinary insights into the post-Cold War global media environment through an in-depth case study of one of its most controversial actors, RT (formerly Russia Today).

The project investigates RT’s audience strategies, its ability to reshape journalistic value systems and its efforts to shape the post-Cold War world. The project analyses how RT’s broadcasting modes, social media engagement practices and institutional culture help to mediate and legitimise the Kremlin’s foreign policy agenda and reshape Russia’s external image.

The project launch took place at the Frontline Club and saw leading experts and commentators come together to discuss: What is Russia’s role in the global ‘information war’?

The discussion began with a keynote talk from Professor Ellen Mickiewicz of Duke University on Russia’s role in the global ‘information war’.

This was followed by an expert roundtable discussed RT, the ‘information war’, and their thoughts about the Reframing Russia project.

The participants included:

  • Prof. Ellen Mickiewicz, Duke University.
  • Mary Dejevsky, The Independent.
  • Prof. Tomila Lankina, London School of Economics.
  • James Nixey, Chatham House Russia and Eurasia Programme.
  • Prof. Ben O’Loughlin, Royal Holloway, University of London

The discussion has been summarised in a storify that can be viewed here:

Alternatively, read the storify summary of the discussion here.

The event was a great success and we would like to thank all those who participated in the discussion and everyone who attended the launch.