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Presidential elections in the USA have been scheduled for November 2024. Throughout the war in Ukraine, the United States is one of the main allies of Ukraine. In the meantime, Russia's interest is to strengthen the split in American society and exacerbate internal political and social problems to distract it from foreign policy issues, in particular, allied support for Ukraine. Russia invests resources and efforts in conducting disinformation campaigns in the American media. In particular, it supports several persons, primarily conservatives, such as Tucker Carlson, who are supporters of Russia and advance theses consistent with Russian propaganda.
In this analysis, we research posts on several platforms in various social networks and image boards, including anonymous Telegram channels, Twitter accounts, Instagram pages, Facebook communities, and threads on 4chan and Reddit, posting in English and Russian. The sample includes sites with different coverage — from 4 thousand to hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
"Democrats are trying to bribe everyone"
Russian propaganda sometimes demonizes the Democratic Party, extrapolating all of Biden's defeats and shortcomings to this party, although the current president is a representative of only one of its wings. In particular, with the help of conspiracy theories, propagandists try to convince both Americans and the world that the Democrats will go to any lengths to win elections, even at the expense of innocent lives. For example, as per Russian propaganda, protests in the United States, new military campaigns, or several other crises are actually artificially created by the Democrats to get more votes. One example of such disinformation by the Russians is the spread of the thesis that billionaire George Soros is allegedly pouring vast amounts of resources into swaying Texas to the Democratic side. The message that Soros allegedly financed Black Lives Matter protests and "other projects to degrade civil society" in the United States is spreading both in Russian-language Telegram channels and in other networks, in particular, in English on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The propagandists also say that the strikes on the US base on the border with Jordan are allegedly a provocation by the Americans to "raise Biden's rating". According to them, everyone believes the States because "globalists [the USA] hold close all the media in the world." It is worth noting that Telegram, although not as popular as in Ukraine and Russia, is also used in the United States — as of 2023, it ranks fourth among messengers in terms of popularity, with almost 11 million monthly active users in the USA; and in the first nine months of last year in the US, the application was downloaded more than 21 million times.
"Trump is the undisputed election winner"
Russian propagandists continue to present Donald Trump as a messiah and claim that he has already won the November elections by a certain margin. Using these fakes, they promote Trump's candidacy not only in the English-speaking segment of social networks but also in the Russian-speaking segment. Moreover, they resort to the tactics used by Trump's political technologists in 2016 and 2020 — creating a hero image of the 45th US president. For example, the 45th president will save the world from arbitrariness and "democratic pedophiles", and due to this agenda, he managed to mobilize supporters of the QAnon conspiracy movement around him. This year, propagandists, especially in Russian-language Telegram channels, openly express fear for Trump's life to create a sense of the extreme importance of his work since this is precisely why the system allegedly wants to destroy him. However, even propagandists admit that "Trump's main competitor is himself" due to several court cases against him.
Propagandists also criticize the Western media for being critical of Trump's possible return to power. Accordingly, "They [the media] are using Trump to scare everyone, except children, at full capacity." Propagandists also praise Trump for blocking a bipartisan deal that would have unlocked new financial aid for Ukraine (in anonymous English-language Telegram channels) and any anti-Biden speech by Trump, emphasizing how he has "destroyed" or "humiliated" him.
"Biden is an incompetent leader"
Throughout Joe Biden's presidency, Russian propagandists have consistently tried to portray him as incompetent for such an important role and incapable of fulfilling it. According to them, his age is unsuitable, he behaves strangely, and his character is unbearable. Propagandists also use baseless accusations of pedophilia. At the same time, propagandists never mention the advanced age and eccentric behavior of Biden's political opponent. It could be another hint that the Trump administration would be a more acceptable option for Russia.
In this way, the Russians reinforce the sentiment in the English-speaking world, which exists among conservative Americans and is supported by people of progressive views, that Biden has not lived up to expectations of him as president of the United States. Yes, the economic situation in the country improved during his rule, but Americans do not necessarily consider this precisely the success of his administration. In particular, it is evidenced by the rating of support for Biden. According to propagandists, if Biden has such a low rating, he pursues the "wrong" policies.
Biden was also criticized for his recent call to the family of an American soldier who died in Jordan. Propagandists seized on the fact that Biden did not express his condolences precisely enough — he said that his son was in Iraq and he lost him. Biden's son did serve in Iraq but died later of brain cancer. However, propagandists spread the thesis that Biden told a fictional story about the death of his son as if the president said that his son had died in Iraq.
In addition, Russian propaganda constantly makes fun of his speech defects, physical defects, or curious moments (such as falling on the steps of an airplane ramp), explaining it as the American president's age-related "disability": "It is time to start pitying the old man. Please let him go."
"The USA cannot be the flagship of democracy, and soon it will not even exist"
Propagandists also spread the thesis that the existence of the United States will soon end. For example, any opposition to the threatening ideas of conservative Americans (for example, the fight against discrimination or systemic racism), according to the agitational propaganda’s version, leads to the collapse of the country. By saying so, propagandists are trying to copycat Hollywood —Russians are actively using a theory of "subliminal programming". This theory claims that the government uses pop culture to control society to promote specific changes and make them more acceptable. For example, the propaganda says that "The Simpsons" (a caricature cartoon series about an average American family — DM’s note) showed everything long ago, meaning that all events were planned in advance. In the same way, propaganda uses the teaser of Alex Garland's new American blockbuster about the near future of America with the telling title "Civil War". Propagandists have already called the trailer a predictive story on their sites, especially in the Russian-language Telegram, and said, "Whose side is Hollywood really on?". Thematic hashtags like #GoodbyeAmerica are often used to show how supposedly bad things are in the US.
Propagandists criticize everything and adapt to their needs, even the most minor scandals and information drives in the American media space — the demolition of monuments, the "cancellation" of media figures, the "uncertainty" of the United States in the role of a superpower (in this case, the propagandists manipulated an article in the Foreign Affairs magazine entitled "A superpower, who doubts itself"). English- and Russian-language anonymous Telegram channels, Instagram, and Twitter pages focus exclusively on negative trends in American society, dramatize them, and spread positive news only about people sympathetic to Russia. It can be classified as framing tactics — a selective coverage of events according to media owners' or authors' goals and personal positions. A clear example of framing is commenting on the news that the US Dietary Guidelines Committee is trying to "reclassify" potatoes from a vegetable to a grain because their inclusion in the column "vegetables" gives a false picture of the total consumption of vegetables by Americans (the committee believes that ketchup and french fries are not such a healthy food and one should eat other vegetables more). The propagandists reacted: "When there are many fools in the country, it is necessary to engage in education, not renaming."
"Aid to Ukraine destroys America"
Propagandists claim that the support for Ukraine will supposedly lead the United States to decline. According to them, because of Ukraine, America forgets about its own issues and harms itself. In this way, they appropriate the opinion of many average Americans that the United States has become too bogged down in foreign policy, leading to neglect of domestic policy. Yet, often, this opinion does not have a direct connection with the situation in Ukraine but describes the general involvement of the USA in conflicts around the world. Instead, Russia often narrows this focus exclusively to Ukraine.
For example, Russian propagandists commented on the recent National Strategy for the US defense industry, where the US government presented a plan for the development of the defense industry, pointing out the current problems of the industry, stating the "reduction of the US industrial base" because "weapons are going to Ukraine". According to propagandists, "the US military machine is not ready for a major war." Trump speaks in a similar style regarding Ukraine, whose words are quickly picked up by propagandists. Recently, his statements were reinforced by actual steps — blocking aid to Ukraine due to demands in migration policy. Trump uses the issue of assistance to Ukraine to solve his political issues, and Russian propaganda promotes the thesis that "Ukraine is unimportant" to Americans (herein, the positions of Trump and the propagandists coincide).
Propagandists are also trying to present Ukraine as a destabilizing and destructive element for the United States. In particular, it is done with the help of the thesis about the "Biden family’s corruption" — piling up primarily the already repeatedly used theme of the work of Hunter Biden, the son of the current president of the United States, in the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, at the time when the elder Biden was the vice president of the United States. This topic started to be discussed again in America as a component of Trump's election campaign. At the same time, former People's Deputy Andriy Derkach, who is on the US sanctions list, and whom Ukrainian justice suspects in treason and on whom the USA imposed sanctions for organizing an information campaign against Biden, gave an interview to Belarusian propagandists. Tucker Carlson recently came to Moscow to interview Vladimir Putin and promoted this topic.
In addition, propagandists spread not only in the States but also in Canada the statement that Ukraine is not worthy of American support because it is too corrupt. In particular, it is how the "Trumpists" in the American parliament, quoted by Russian and pro-Russian media and persons such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, explain their statements regarding Ukraine.
How the Russians' efforts could affect the 2024 presidential election and the United States as a whole
Russia's goal is to destabilize the US political system, reduce trust in democratic institutions, and increase division in society. Firstly, it tries to do this within the framework of already established processes. The main one is the presidential and parliamentary elections. Russia is trying to influence its outcome by tilting public opinion towards those candidates whose policies would be more favorable or predictable for the Kremlin. Therefore, Russia supports Trump information-wise, in particular, strengthening his image as an "anti-systemic candidate". Given how Russia interfered in the election of Trump in 2016 and how it opposed the election of Biden in 2020, it is likely that it will repeat its actions and increase its efforts during this election campaign.
These efforts will be aimed not so much at supporting a conditional "supporter of Russia", as Russian propaganda wrote about him in 2016, but with the help of the general changes in American policy that would make the country more vulnerable to further actions by Russia. Similar processes could be seen in how Russia tried to influence the results of the parliamentary elections in Poland in 2023.
By spreading the views destructive to the United States in the English-speaking segment of social networks, Russia is trying to deepen the division of American society. It creates a toxic political environment that slows down the constructive resolution of issues for the continuation of internal political struggles.
Russia is also instrumentalizing the split in the US political system. Even within the two leading parties, several currents have different views on several issues of the country's politics. In particular, it applies to the involvement of the United States in confronting Russian aggression against Ukraine. As a result, adopting several critical political decisions becomes difficult or impossible since the parties cannot reach an agreement among themselves. The situation is gaining a new focus before the presidential and parliamentary elections, which will be held simultaneously in November this year.
Destabilizing the socio-political situation in the United States is the goal of Russia's disinformation campaigns. For this purpose, it even supports circles ready to turn calls for aggression into action. Conspiracy theorists, supported in various ways by Russia, participated in an attempted coup on January 6, 2021, when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol. A change of regime or a prolonged political crisis in America would transform the role of the United States in international politics and free the place that representatives of non-democratic regimes want to occupy. Such a desire can be traced both in several propagandist messages and Russian officials' statements.
Russia's efforts to influence the US election set a precedent for other countries. Observing how similar disinformation campaigns work among American audiences, they adapt them to the local context of different countries and sway public opinion in many Western countries in favor of Russia.
Main page illustration credits: Detector Media