Sputnik and the "Information War": Projecting Russia in the Digital Age

  • Lucy Birge

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis presents the first comprehensive analysis of Russia's radio-cum multimedia international broadcaster, Sputnik's English language radio and social media output and a selective scrutiny of social media audience responses, asking whether Sputnik has a distinctive function within Russia's external projection strategy. How does Sputnik depict official discourse on Russian identity? (RQ1); how does Sputnik respond to disruptive media events? (RQ2); how does it present itself within the wider global media ecology? (RQ3); how do audiences engage with Sputnik? (RQ4). Deploying theories of strategic narratives, the hybrid media system and disruptive media events, I examine Sputnik's coverage of the centenary of the Russian Revolution (1); the Salisbury poisonings (2); the arrest, detention and legal proceedings involving WikiLeaks's founder, Julian Assange (3); and the COVID-19 pandemic (4). I argue that Sputnik complements the subtler manoeuvrings of RT by acting as "defending attacker" in Russia's outward projection strategy, combining incendiary critiques of Western actors with the direct projection of Russian foreign policy initiatives. Thus, unlike RT, which focuses on undermining Western establishments and "mainstream media", it serves as the unadulterated "Voice of Russia". Russian state-aligned media actors have a keen awareness of the technological and structural dynamics of the global media ecology and Sputnik attempts to tailor media content to different audiences. But Sputnik's low audiences conflict with Western perceptions of its threat, which is consistent with Russia's communications strategy: to "perform" disruption, seemingly without achieving it, but thereby to provoke Western establishments into raising Sputnik's profile by reacting to its "defensive attack".
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorVera Tolz-Zilitinkevic (Supervisor) & Stephen Hutchings (Supervisor)


  • identity discourse
  • alternative media ecology
  • disruptive media events
  • memory politics
  • foreign policy
  • interstate conflict
  • Russian politics
  • strategic narratives
  • hybrid media system
  • soft power
  • public diplomacy
  • Information War
  • Russia-West relations

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