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Policy Analysis

Policy Notes 57

Russia's Arabic Propaganda: What It Is, Why It Matters

Anna Borshchevskaya and Catherine Cleveland

Also available in العربية

December 2018


The Middle East is an expanding nexus of Russian influence, a challenge to both regional stability and U.S. interests. In light of this, a thorough understanding of the subtleties of Moscow’s strategies, including information manipulation, becomes vitally important. Although many excellent studies have focused on the Kremlin’s disinformation efforts in the West, few have examined its Arabic-language efforts in depth. Indeed, in many ways it appears that Arabic-speaking audiences have been prioritized over Western audiences in terms of Russia's propaganda efforts. 

This study explores the tactics Moscow employs to reach its target audiences, focusing primarily on RT Arabic and Sputnik Arabic. Both outlets rely heavily on social media, demonstrating how the Kremlin has exploited the growing Arabic-speaking youth bulge to lay a foundation for long-term influence; developments in the Middle East media landscape have provided fertile ground. Furthermore, RT and Sputnik provide substantial coverage of major regional issues in Syria, Iran, Egypt, Israel, the Gulf, and the West, along with Russia’s internal politics. The study examines the coverage of each of these areas, and concludes with policy recommendations.

THE AUTHORS

ANNA BORSHCHEVSKAYA is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Russia’s policy toward the Middle East. A doctoral candidate at George Mason University, she is also a fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. Her analysis is published widely in venues such as Foreign Affairs, The Hill, The New Criterion, the Middle East Quarterly, and Forbes. She is the author of the 2016 Institute monograph, Russia in the Middle East.

CATHERINE CLEVELAND is a Washington Institute senior fellow and editor of Fikra Forum. She recently received a master’s degree in Middle East Studies from the University of Chicago.