A Russian government media campaign to attack U.S. officials reached a new level this week with the airing of a highly personal attack on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a KGB-linked television outlet.
U.S. officials said a “pseudo-documentary” on Clinton for her support of democratic revolutions was very unusual, even for the increasingly anti-U.S. policies of the Kremlin regime under newly reinstalled President Vladimir Putin.
The latest broadside came Monday on the Moscow-controlled Mir television channel, which produced a 25-minute report called “Basic Instinct Hillary.” It featured commentary by a Russian celebrity sexologist who mocked and insulted Clinton, claiming marital problems had prompted her to produce “cruel” U.S. foreign policies, including support for Russian democrats.
The report suggested that U.S.-Russia relations would improve after Clinton leaves office, as is expected in the coming months.
The Mir report criticized Clinton for her age, called her the devil, and described her as a “political cyborg.”
The harsh attack indicates that Obama administration efforts to reset relations with Moscow through conciliatory policies have failed, observers say.
“The vile personal attacks on Ambassador Michael McFaul and Hillary are now followed by Putin's refusal to come to the G-8 summit in Camp David, opting for a China visit as his presidency's diplomatic debut,” said Ariel Cohen, a Russia specialist with the Heritage Foundation.
“And if this wasn't enough, Obama's retaliatory cancellation of his participation in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation hosted by Putin demonstrates that the ‘reset’ policy is in its deepest crisis so far,” he added.
Officials said the report is part of a vintage Cold War, KGB-style disinformation and propaganda campaign by Moscow.
In addition to Clinton, pro-Putin forces on state-controlled television and the Internet have targeted Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia.
The television channel that aired the attack, part of a series called the “X Files,” is connected to a government think tank called the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, currently headed by Leonid Reshetnikov, a former deputy director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), successor to the Soviet KGB political police and intelligence service.
Officials said the institute is known to collaborate in producing the “X Files” series and similar anti-U.S. programs.
The KGB directed a global program of disinformation against the United States that relied on forged documents and planted newspaper propaganda primarily in underdeveloped nations. One particularly odious disinformation program, according to U.S. officials, was the campaign to assert that the United States created the AIDS virus as a weapon against Africans.
The recent Russian propaganda effort has sought to show the United States as a covert force behind revolutions such as the Arab Spring. Moscow believes that Russia is the main target of the U.S.-led pro-democracy movement.
The television program stated that Clinton was cruel for supposedly enjoying the “murder” of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The demonization appeared to be directed at blaming Clinton while holding other U.S. officials, including President Obama, blameless for U.S. policy toward Russia.
For example, it claimed that Clinton undermined Obama’s legacy and his Nobel Peace Prize.
And in a departure from other recent propaganda attacks on the United States, the latest report sought to play down McFaul’s role in U.S. policy by claiming that the ambassador was following Clinton’s orders to launch the democratic protest movement in Russia.
Mir television is a Russian-language station that is funded by Moscow and other former Soviet governments, and reaches up to 60 million cable subscribers and 1 million Internet viewers.
Putin in the past accused Clinton of backing pro-democracy protests in Russia. He has claimed the West is planning military action against Russia, which he has used to bolster the military.
The Russian leader is quoted in the report saying that Clinton signaled Russian activists to oppose the government.
Yevgeny Khorishko, a Russian Embassy spokesman, said he had not seen the report and therefore had no comment.
A State Department spokeswoman also declined to comment.
It could not be learned whether the State Department will file a formal protest with the Russian government over the report.
The department protested Russian harassment of McFaul, the ambassador, in March. Russian officials criticized McFaul for meeting opposition representatives and for comments he made noting that the United States would not cave to Russian demands on missile defense. For days earlier this spring, he was shadowed and harassed by Russian television crews, who apparently were able to learn his schedule by hacking his emails and intercepting his phone calls.
“We have been making clear at all levels, frankly, that we expect our ambassador, we expect our embassy to be able to conduct their work free from harassment, free from intimidation,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said April 2. “The Russians have consistently, on the government side, pledged to investigate individual incidents. And we are working with them on those issues.”
Heritage Foundation Russia expert Ariel Cohen said the report highlights the deep-seated mistrust of the United States among former KGB officers who rule Russia today that dates to the Soviet era.
“Some of them feel that the USSR lost, and resent the defeat, while others are afraid the U.S. support of the ‘Orange Revolution’ or the ‘Arab Spring’ scenario developing in Russia,” Cohen said. “Such a popular outburst may not only send those in power to the opposition, but also deny them multi-billion [dollar] property holdings which they acquired, often in corruption-ridden ways.”
Cohen said the Russian leadership perceives the United States as supportive of the democratic political wave stretching from the former Yugoslavia to Georgia to Ukraine.
“Government-funded [National Endowment for Democracy] International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute and USAID funded Russian NGOs are viewed as the enemies of the regime,” he said. “Putin called the protesters ‘bands of monkeys’ who ‘beg by the doors of Western embassies like jackals.’ In the Russian historic context this may mean exile to Siberia, prosecution, and incarceration for treason, if not worse.”
Moscow also is unprepared to deal with the expansion of social media.
“Many protests were organized through Facebook, Twitter, and blogging,” he said. “This somehow was viewed as nefarious American social engineering.”
“To give to Russia’s ‘principal adversary’—America—a face, they chose Hillary, but her predecessor Condi Rice was as passionately hated—and vilified and mocked.”