“Structures, narratives and self-identification: RT’s framing of Russia’s identities in the multipolar moment”

Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody, The University of Manchester. RANEPA Workshop: “Concepts and Post-Communist Identities: The Power of Perspective”, St. Petersburg, 18-19 October 2017.


Since at least the mid-1990s, the Russian political elite has been concerned with securing Russia’s international relevance in what is perceived to be an inevitable long-term shifting of global power, towards the ultimate emergence of a multipolar system. With this in mind, the past ten years or so have seen significant Russian investment in the conceptual development of a ‘rising power’ identity institutionalised within various geopolitical initiatives, and backed up by a complex of narrative conventions. The ‘rising’ power agenda has been enthusiastically adopted and adapted by a host of globally underrepresented economies, demonstrating significant global resonance of the structural critiques of the global political economy that the ‘rising’ power project entails. Yet, as an elite-led project, there are limitations to the successes that the initiative can expect without a broader appeal and some degree of public acceptance of the core principles of this vision.

This paper explores the role of the RT TV network in promoting the core features of the ‘rising’ power project as articulated by Russia. It approaches RT as a potential consensus-building tool aimed at creating the conditions of possibility in which the structural critiques of the ‘rising’ power project can achieve a greater audience. The paper introduces the overall output of RT, before presenting an in-depth analysis of some of its relevant in-house documentaries. It finds three ways in which RT’s documentaries bolster the Russian political elite’s perspective on the global political economy: 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 the ‘rising’ power project, and Russia’s hopes within it. It 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.