The image of the EAEU in the US and UK media: expert analytics

30 November 2021

The EMSC editorial board spoke with the director of the Eurasian Media Studies Center of the Faculty of Journalism of Lomonosov Moscow State University Dr. Olga Vikhrova about the image of the Eurasian Economic Union being formed and broadcast to the audience of the US and UK media today.

What is the image of the Eurasian Economic Union in the Western media?

An image is a purposefully formed stable identity of a territory.  No systematic work on its construction has been carried out since the founding of the EAEU until the current 2021. No strategic planning documents or specific regulatory legal acts regulating this problematic field have also been adopted by the EEC, thus so far, we can only talk about the image of the integration association in the foreign media. 

What is this image?

There are two main thematic dominants in the American news media, neither of which corresponds to reality.

The results of a content analysis of 15 leading online media in the USA for 2014-2020 showed that most of the materials about the Union or mentioning it are characterized by a negative emotional tone. At that the EAEU is presented to the audience not as an economic integration association, but as a personal project of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, focused on the restoration of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian domination in the post-Soviet space. The authors of a number of publications even claim that other republics join the Union under constraint, against their will.

If we talk about the second thematic dominant, then in the rest of the materials, which are characterized by a negative narrative, the viability of the Eurasian Economic Union as such is questioned. 

To summarize, the American media present the Eurasian Economic Union as an integration association disputable from the point of view of viability, established on the initiative of the President of the Russian Federation with the aim to reconstitute the Soviet Union, consisting of powerful and solely dominant Russia, as well as the republics that joined under its pressure.

What kind of media are you talking about when you mention negatively laden materials? Are there “front-runners” in this anti-Eurasian rhetoric?

If we are talking about the mentions of the EAEU in the US news, then the negative tone prevails in the materials of NBC News (100%), The Washington Post (75%),The Guardian (73,7%), New York Times (66,7%), BBC News (62.5%), Fox News (50%) and Mail Online (45.5%). At the same time, it is important to understand that we are not talking about huge numbers, the total number of mentions is extremely small. For example, if we are talking about NBC, the total number of materials for seven years is only 3 pieces, by The Washington Post – 8, The Guardian 29,New York Times – 3, BBC News – 16, Fox News – 10 and Mail Online – 11.

As you can see, the “front-runners” in terms of the ratio of the number of materials and negativity are the British media, which are included in the rating of the most popular news media in the United States on a par with the American ones and therefore equally influence the formation of the audience’s perception of the integration association.

At content analysis of the British media materials for the same period, one realizes that the rhetoric of the United States is much softer and less harmful, if this term can be appropriate in the context of information warfare at all. The American journalists, along with the British ones, actively use emotional and evaluative vocabulary, but it is safe to say that the “degree of aggression” in the Western media is inversely proportional to the territorial remoteness from the countries of the Union. You will not find in the American media such materials as “The gangster’s games: By endorsing Putin’s murderous and corrupt regime, the Olympic movement has allowed itself to be hijacked by evil – as it once was by Hitler” or “The 6ft 7in boxing champ fighting to halt Vladimir Putin’s blood soaked new war on the West” (both materials by Daily Mail).

Does the rhetoric of the American and British media coincide, since we are talking about the latter?

Only partially. In most news materials in the UK, the Eurasian Economic Union is characterized as a “Kremlin project” created to counter the European Union. The integration association is called not only a “rival of the EU” and “an entity in opposition to the EU”, but even a “counter-model of the EU”. The already familiar to us horror story about the re-creation of the USSR is in second place in the British media. Interestingly, against the background of the rest of the British media, The Guardian is absolutely harmless, offering only 48% of the materials with a negative emotional tone from the total number of publications about the EAEU. The average indicator of The Daily Mail Online, The Independent and The Sun is about 52%, of the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Telegraph and BBC News – over 65%, and Channel 4 News demonstrates 100%. At the same time, the total number of materials is also very small and amounts to 94 pieces.

Has the image of the EAEU been transformed in the Western media from 2014 to the present?

No, since 2017, the Eurasian Integration Union has not actually been present in the information space of the West. The number of mentions is currently negligible. The number of materials mentioning the EAEU in the United States from 2014 to 2020 decreased from 45 to 4, in the British media – from 36 to 2. The exception is a one-time increase in the number of materials in the American media, observed in April 2019. A wave of interest from journalists was caused by the positive assessment of the Russian President Vladimir Putin of the prospects for the integration of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese initiative “One Belt, One Road”, as the head of the state said during his speech at the same-name international forum in Beijing.

Is the lack of systematic work aimed at construction of the image of the EAEU in foreign media due to the lack of practical need for this?

In the context of building international relations, it is extremely important to have accurate data on what characteristics the image formed by the media has in the minds of representatives of various audiences. A negative attitude towards the EAEU countries, which can be formed by a mass audience amid the international information confrontation with inaction or insufficiently coordinated countermeasures to form an image on the part of the states themselves, can lead to stagnation of various industries (starting with tourism), negatively affect exports, the attractiveness of the single labour market, and serve as a barrier to increasing foreign investment. 

Strengthening the positions of the EAEU on the world stage, both in terms of expanding trade and economic relations with third countries, and from the standpoint of maintaining geopolitical stability in the region, should be accompanied by purposeful work on information support for Eurasian integration, focused not only on the information space of the participating countries, but also on external media markets. And if attention has been paid to raising awareness of the population of the member countries about the EAEU in the last two years, which is confirmed by the inclusion of an item on ensuring broad access of the population of the countries to information about the Union in the Strategy for the Development of Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025, the issue of working with foreign media space remains open.