Having briefly browsed their website, I'm still not sure what exactly the Valdai Discussion club is. Who are its members, what do they do, and what role, if any, has it been playing in the Russian propaganda effort?

1 Answer 1


When government representatives talk formally to government representatives, that is known as Track I diplomacy. Track I stands opposed to Track II diplomacy, where people talk who are presumably connected to government policy, but not part of the government. These talks can be easier to organize than Track I talks because they are less formally binding. Think of ex-President Carter going to Korea.

In between Track I and Track II is what is sometimes called Track 1.5. Formal government representatives and people who do not formally represent their government meet somewhere and talk, and government representatives can say that they "didn't have a summit," they just happened to cross paths on the way to the coffee break. Two very well known events of this kind are hosted by the West. Hosting these events, and thereby managing the agenda, is a diplomatic/public relations/propaganda advantage for those who organize them.

  • The Munich Security Conference, initially a NATO-centered event. This is where Putin expressed his frustrations with the world order in the famous 2007 speech.
  • The Davos World Economic Forum, as the name suggests centered on economic policy, and including corporate leaders as well as governmental ones.

Russia has tried to establish their own format, with the first meeting at lake Valdai, where they can manage the agenda. Experts can meet Russian government officials in a less formal setting, and get a feeling for the attitudes of the Russian government, and vice versa. There is also the Petersburg International Economic Forum. Calling that "propaganda" is correct in a technical sense, but I think "public and informal diplomacy" would be a better term.

There is now an interstate armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia refuses to call it a war, which does not keep it from being a war. There is something just below the level of interstate armed conflict between Russia and the West since the West is helping Ukraine to defend itself against armed aggression.

All sides are trying to influence the public opinion in their own countries, in their opponents' countries, and globally. It is easy to say "they do propaganda, we do fact-based public information," and it might be helpful when it comes up whipping up public sentiment one way or another, but to keep the analysis in perspective it would be good to acknowledge that both are doing "media operations and public diplomacy."

I happen to have a clear opinion on who is the aggressor here, and if the Ukrainian people have a right to select their economic and military partners. And also that the spokespersons of one side are closer to reality than the others. But both sides are prepared to present facts and lies in a way that benefits them. Remember the Ukrainian strategic deception before their Kharkiv offensive? Using the term "propaganda" for Lake Valdai is an oversimplification.


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