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The following background brief was prepared by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Research and Analysis Department in March 1982. The brief gives an overview of Soviet propaganda directed to Western Europe. The suggested principle aims of Soviet propaganda being to portray NATO as a threat to world peace, to cause division amongst NATO members and other European countries, to create fissures in the alliance between Europe and the United States, and to shape the Nuclear disarmament debate in the Soviet Union’s favour.

Soviet Propaganda Organisations

Background Brief

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London

This paper has been prepared for general briefing purposes. It is not and should not be construed or quoted as an expression of Government policy.


March 1982


The Soviet leadership attaches great importance to persuading world opinion of the validity of Soviet opinions and policies, and regards propaganda as an important adjunct in its task of promoting the "world revolutionary process".

This cause is not affected by detente or peaceful coexistence. The USSR spends huge sums on propaganda and related activities - much of it devoted to attacking or undermining the Western Alliance.

Within Europe, Soviet propaganda concentrates on the following objectives:

  • to portray NATO as aggressive and its leaders as warmongers;
  • to stir up public opinion against NATO in present and prospective members of the Alliance;
  • to stimulate disagreement within the NATO alliance and above all turn its European members against the United States;
  • to portray as a "myth" the evidence of the Soviet arms buildup and external threat; and, currently,
  • to denounce as "interference in internal affairs" expressions of Western concern over Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and pressure on Poland.

Spain is warned of the allegedly damaging consequences to her of joining NATO, while Greece's less committed approach to the Alliance and to the European Community under her new Pasok government is welcomed. Neutralist tendencies are encouraged in all parts of Western Europe. Denmark and Norway are urged to support the idea of a Nordic Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone - though the Soviet leaders have made it clear that they do not contemplate any withdrawal of Soviet nuclear missiles from adjacent parts of the Soviet Union or Soviet nuclear submarines from the Baltic.

An immediate Soviet objective is to prevent the modernisation of NATO's intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe. Enormous efforts have been expended to frighten or cajole the West European governments into refusing new weapons on the grounds that they reflect a desire to acquire a first-strike capability, would upset an alleged existing East-West parity, would pose dangers to countries that allowed them to be stationed on their territory, and would "force" the USSR to take counter-measures. The double decision was finally taken at NATO's Ministerial meeting in December 1979 - to proceed with a programme of equipping Europe with Cruise and Pershing missiles, beginning in 1983, in response to the Soviet Union's deployment of large numbers of SS-20 missiles targeted on Europe, and at the same time for NATO to undertake new efforts to negotiate arms cuts with the USSR. The latter then responded with appeals to the European public over the heads of their governments so as to secure a reversal of the NATO decision and other moves towards "peace" and disarmament on Soviet terms.

Every increase in Soviet armed strength, including the deployment of the SS-20, with its three nuclear warheads, is portrayed as a defensive reaction to "imperialist" threats, while NATO's counter-moves are denounced as "provocative". The NATO decision was also described (to various audiences as appropriate) as exacerbating the nuclear threat to NATO's European members, laying an unacceptable burden on the economies of the poorer countries and "complicating" future disarmament talks.

Shortly after the resumption on 12 January 1982 of the bilateral Soviet-US talks in Geneva on Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF), President Brezhnev met representatives of the Socialist International's Council on Disarmament and outlined a scheme of arms reductions. Based on the current Soviet line at the Geneva negotiations (which are supposed to be confidential), it was clearly meant as a fresh attempt to influence public opinion in Western Europe by presenting the USSR as the country most concerned with peace. Rejecting President Reagan's "zero option" (no deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles if the USSR withdraws and dismantles all its SS-20s), Brezhnev suggested a two-thirds cut in medium- range missiles in Europe by 1990 - "parity" (which Brezhnev falsely claims exists already) being maintained by the two sides at all stages of the negotiations. The "offer" was elaborated on in a widely-disseminated statement by the official news agency Tass on 9 February, which stressed that the USSR also envisaged the inclusion of French and British missiles and missile-carrying aircraft and US aircraft - a condition already rejected as inequitable by the United States because its result would be to remove much of the US intermediate-range nuclear forces from Europe while leaving intact the most dangerous Soviet system.

Prime targets

The Federal Republic of Germany and Britain are in the forefront of the Soviet Union’s anti-NATO propaganda, and every effort is made to take advantage of anti-nuclear and unilateral disarmament movements in these countries and to replay their publicity material. Britain's forthright stances on Afghanistan and Poland (and earlier on the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia), as well as on human rights in the Soviet bloc, probably account in part for the Soviet leaders' use of events in Northern Ireland as a stick with which to beat successive British Governments. Soviet propaganda persists in representing the problem as a "colonial" one whose solution demands the withdrawal of British troops and the granting of "democratic rights" to its people, and ignores the fact that the majority of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland wish to remain in the United Kingdom. Soviet comment blamed government policies and "connivance" at racial discrimination for the 1981 disturbances in Brixton and Liverpool. Unemployment in Britain is presented as calculated government policy; one Moscow Radio commentary for Britain (15 October 1981) was entitled "Tories' Approval for Deliberate Wrecking of the Economy".

A curious example of Soviet interference in Britain's internal affairs occurred in 1980 when the Soviet-controlled International Union of Students tried to provoke opposition to the government's educational policy by sending hundreds of unsolicited posters, inscribed "Fight the Cuts - Education needs adequate Financing", to British universities.

The Soviet Embassy in London, too, is very active; it offers free books and other publications to teachers and schools throughout the country. Examples include a collection of Brezhnev's speeches on disarmament and The Great Vital Force of Leninism by Boris Ponomarev, the Soviet party Secretary responsible for relations with foreign Communist Parties, who made his career as an official spokesman under Stalin.

NATO variants

Soviet publicity in the other NATO countries has concentrated on exploiting local and national issues, such as the residual fears of German "revanchism" in the Netherlands, pacifist traditions - eg among church groups, scientists and the medical profession, and concern at the high cost of defence. Whatever the present tensions between the Soviet leaders and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) concerning the Soviet Union as a "model" for other Communists, Soviet comment, like the PCI's, is particularly concerned to distance Communism from left-wing terrorism in Italy, denying that the terrorists have ever received arms or training in the Soviet bloc.

The Soviet attitude to France has undergone a number of modifications since the Presidential elections which brought the Socialist M Mitterrand to power in May 1981 and the subsequent parliamentary elections which showed further setbacks in the French Communist Party's strength. President Mitterrand's firm support for the Western Alliance and condemnation of Soviet policy towards Poland and Afghanistan have clearly caused dismay in Moscow.

In Portugal, the Communist Party (PCP) is staunchly pro-Soviet but this has had mixed effects on its fortunes. Soviet propaganda focussed on Portugal early in 1982 when the Communist-backed trade union Intersindical tried to organise a general strike on 12 February (the first for 48 years and in the event largely ineffective) - probably with the aim of creating economic chaos and forcing the President to dissolve the Assembly, thus preventing changes in the Constitution. Moscow Radio in Portuguese (eg on 8 February) described popular support for the forthcoming strike as a sign of the people's wish for a "truly democratic alternative" to the existing Government and of their protest against its policies. When the former Socialist Prime Minister, Mario Soares, had earlier in the month accused the USSR of trying to destabilise the Iberian peninsula, the Soviet Embassy in Lisbon responded with a statement (6 February) that Soares seemed to be "mentally ill and in need of a lengthy period of treatment". After protests from the Portuguese Foreign Ministry, the Soviet Embassy issued a "clarification" which referred to a "translation error" and withdrew any mention of Soares. The effect on the Soviet image was nevertheless damaging.



Press and radio

The official Soviet news agency Tass is one of the largest in the world. It is assisted by the Press agency Novosti or APN, which produces mainly features. Whereas Tass is directly attached to the Government (Council of Ministers), Novosti is ostensibly "public" and therefore unofficial, like its sponsors, the Union of Journalists, Union of Writers, Union of Societies of Friendship and Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, and All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge. All in practice are official mouthpieces. Broadcasting and television are controlled by a State Committee responsible to the Government. Radio Peace and Progress, which is mainly aimed at Third World countries, uses Moscow Radio's facilities but is described as an unofficial organisation representing the voice of Soviet "public opinion"; it is often highly inflammatory. Moscow Radio's World Service in English, now broadcasting world-wide for 24 hours a day (the same as the BBC World Service), is the main overseas channel, with additional services for specific audiences - in Europe, English for the UK (one hour a day), French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek and Turkish.

The Soviet Union produces numerous publications for distribution free or at subsidised rates abroad. Some 22 publications are available on subscription in Britain, covering a wide range of political, social and cultural topics. Soviet embassies in West European capitals also distribute free a range of publications - for example Soviet News in Britain. The London Office of Novosti also supplies numerous pamphlets, while its correspondents often contribute letters or articles to British and other European newspapers putting the official Soviet view on an issue in dispute. (But Western journalists and individual letter-writers are never allowed access to the Soviet Press.)

Parties and "fronts"

The Communist Parties of Western Europe, like the Communist-controlled front organisations, became too well-known as instruments of Soviet policy to be really useful adjuncts of the Soviet propaganda effort among non-Communists. The "Eurocommunist" trend in the mid-1970s improved the image of the three parties most affected - those of Italy, Spain and France - but even so they often echoed the Soviet Union's line on foreign policy issues, while criticising it over human rights and the treatment of dissidents; they proclaimed their own "national roads to Communism", but the goal remained that of a Communist model.

The USSR is thought to spend about $60 million a year on the front organisations, the most important, particularly in Western Europe, being the World Peace Council (WPC) and the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). The WPC is a major channel for the Soviet Union's anti-NATO agitation, and its 1981 Programme of Action called for "united mass actions by the widest range of forces, campaigns, conferences, seminars and symposia at national level" - all mainly directed at lobbying for disarmament on Soviet terms and opposing the deployment of new US missiles in Europe. The WPC gave great prominence to the Memorandum issued in November 1981 by seven former senior NATO officers - the so-called "Generals for Peace" - presumably judging that because of their former professional position they would impress public opinion more than people with obvious Communist ties. Similar efforts to win support for Soviet policies are being made through a range of professional and seemingly non-political groups.

[Source: TNA FO 973/227, transcribed by]



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