It pays to remember that propaganda is nothing more than government sector marketing, and as such, you’ll often find many of the same tactics employed by fast food and soft drink commercials in use through international level perception management campaigns. Some nations, like China, invest heavily into America’s entertainment sector and use their own regulations as leverage to exert influence over how they’re represented in the media. Other nations, like Russia, seek celebrity endorsements to help engage with audiences that may not otherwise be interested.
Betty White told you to have a Snickers, Dwayne Johnson peddles Under Armor, Dennis Rodman champions North Korea’s Supreme Leader, and now Steven Seagal officially represents the interests of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced via Facebook on Saturday:
Stephen Sigal was appointed special representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry on issues of Russian-American humanitarian ties. The task is to contribute to the further development of Russian-American relations in the humanitarian sphere, including interaction in the sphere of culture, art, public and youth exchanges, and so on.
This is a sociopolitical position, not involving a monetary reward. The very case when the people’s diplomacy meets with traditional diplomacy. In international practice, it is possible to draw parallels with the functions of the UN Goodwill Ambassadors.”
This, of course, isn’t the beginning of Seagal’s friendly relationship with the Kremlin. In November of 2016, Seagal followed in the footsteps of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst and was recruited by Moscow to speak out in favor of Russia’s military annexation of Crimea two years prior. Seagal became an outspoken supporter of the endeavor, despite its humanitarian issues and violations of international law, and was awarded for his efforts with his own Russian passport. He was quoted by the Moscow Times as saying that America’s opposition to the annexation was “idiotic,” and going on to say Putin’s “desire to protect the Russian-speaking people of Crimea, his assets, and the Russian Black Sea military base in Sevastopol … is very reasonable.”
Seagal’s pseudo-citizenship was bestowed upon him in a ceremony that included receiving a Russian passport that was approved by Vladimir Putin himself — after the government-owned media made a point to release stories about how Seagal’s fame and new foray into politics was in keeping with famous Americans of the past like former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saying Seagal was “no less popular or authoritative in the world today.”
Russia did point out that Seagal’s new role within the Russia government is an unpaid one, emphasizing the point that Seagal will be tasked with engaging the United States diplomatically. However, even that benign-sounding level of responsibility belies Seagal’s seeming formal disassociation with the United States. As a representative of the Russian government acting to engage the United States, that means Seagal not just Russia in this new endeavor, but the interests of the Russian government. There is now a bipartisan agreement that Russia has actively worked to meddle with U.S. perceptions of the 2016 presidential election, the 2018 midterm elections, and even one another in recent years — and Seagal is now voluntarily serving as a representative of that same national entity.
In fact, there’s an argument to be made that using an “American action star” in an effort to increase goodwill for Russia among a specific demographic of the American people is nothing more than a continuation of the hybrid warfare tactics Russia has employed to simultaneously sow the seeds of discord among the American people while working to develop larger and more powerful weapons of mass destruction and using cyber warfare tactics to gain access to the U.S. power grid. All of these individual elements, as well as a dramatic uptick in Russian nuclear attack sub activity near America’s east coast over the past year, have been developing along the same timeline but are rarely discussed in the same breath. When listed one after another, however, Russia’s efforts to undermine American security and its faith in its own elected leaders seems clear.
In an interview published days before this announcement, Seagal announced his interest in becoming a formal Russian citizen “sometime.”
Feature image: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S. actor Steven Seagal shake hands after visiting an oceanarium built on Russky Island, in the Russian Far Eastern port of Vladivostok. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, that Russia has awarded Russian citizenship to Seagal. | AP Photo/Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik