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Kremlin Watch Monitor October 24, 2016

Weekly monitor of pro-Kremlin disinformation effort in Europe. We follow best European analysts, best counter-measures and trends.

NATO STRATCOM Summit un Prague

During the NATO STRATCOM Summit organized by the European Values Think-Tank in Prague, the Czech Minister of Interior Milan Chovanec said that a 20-member within the Ministry is going to tackle Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic, including on social media.

From left to right: Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, General Petr Pavel; Minister of the Interior of the Czech Republic Milan Chovanec; Executive Director of the European Values Think-Tank Radko Hokovský

Russian hacker arrested in Prague

A Russian hacker, suspected of pursuing targets in the US was arrested in Prague, according to the Police. The New York Times reports that the raid was conducted in collaboration with the F.B.I. The LinkedIn social network might have been one of his targets. The man is going to remain in custody and the court will examine whether to extradite him to the United States. The Russian Embassy in Prague called for him to be released.

The State Security Department of the Republic of Lithuania and the Second Investigation Department under the Ministry of National Defence issued the National security threat assessment. Among other things, it states that “the greatest intelligence threat to Lithuania will be posed by activities and cyber espionage of Russian intelligence and security services” and that “information and ideological policy will remain one of the key measures that Russia uses to strengthen a favourable perception of historical and political processes and to divide Lithuania’s society.”

Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, drew attention on the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign when he said during the European Council that “we can’t discuss EU-Russia relations without taking into account the propagandists and cheerleaders of President Putin, populists who are operating on both sides of the Atlantic, including within the institution which I preside. They cooperate across borders, practically and financially, yet they insist that our citizens and societies must retreat and cower in fear behind closed borders and walls.”

RT’s Bank Accounts Frozen

The bank account belonging to RT was frozen by the British NatWest bank. Margarite Simonyan, the editor-in-chief, wrote on her Twitter account that all RT’s bank accounts in the UK have been closed. The bank did not disclose any official reason for the decision to stop providing these services. Russian MPs and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned this step as a “trampling on freedom of speech”, however, the British government denied having anything to do with it. The British RT is known to have breached the UK broadcasting rules 13 times.

Putinversteher of the Week

We use this weekly opportunity to award the Putinversteher of the Week to highlight the most obvious attempts, intentional or not, to go on Kremlin’s hand and assist it with spreading its view all over Europe. We believe it is necessary to appreciate in this ceremonial way that without these little helpers, Russian disinformation campaign could never reach its present lengths.

The readers of the Kremlin Watch Monitor voted and their opinion has been heard. Let us introduce the next Putinversteher of the Week chosen by you.

Source: Flickr.com; Creative Commons

Chris Nineham, the deputy chairman of the Stop the War coalitiondedicated to “preventing and ending the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere”, appeared in the Today programme on Radio 4. The discussion turned to Syria and the possibility of demonstrations in front of the Russian Embassy in London in order to make Russians stop bombing the city of Aleppo and all the civilians living there.

According to him, such demonstration would “contribute to increasing the hysteria and the jingoism that is being whipped up at the minute to go against Russia… being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.” He also claimed that “anyone who has a responsibility for peace or the future of the planet quite frankly needs to mobilise against that and that means opposing the West.”

Vote for the next Putinversteher now!

Information War Monitor for Central Europe

You can read the whole report published by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute zde.

World War III over Syria?

In mid-September, the Russian Federation and the United States managed to agree on a ceasefire in Syria, but the deal was severely violated right after it had come into force. In general, the conflict in Syria, not just the latest breach of ceasefire, is differently interpreted by mainstream and alternative media, the latter of which tend to spread the Russian stances on the situation and present them as more credible. While it is true that the United States conducted an airstrike which hit Syrian troops instead of the fighters of the Islamic State, the difference between the United States and Russia is that the US openly admitted their mistake, apologized and launched an investigation in order to prevent further repetition of intelligence failures. On the other hand, Russia tends to deny any kind of accusations, distort or place an embargo on any kind of information if such incidents occur on their side.

Furthermore, in the case of Syria, propaganda outlets describe Russia as the one nation helping the legitimate Syrian regime’s fight against “terrorists”, even though they fail to mention that that regime is highly oppressive. Fringe media in Central Europe do not show the evidence on al-Assad’s regime torturing its own citizens or its use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs. Instead, pro-Russian propaganda uses the Syrian conflict as evidence for the effects of democracy export, which contributes to the rise of terror groups. Fringe media spread false information claiming that the Americans caused the formation of ISIS and protect terror groups; not to mention its hostility towards Russia. Such narratives are used to assert that Russia’s intentions are peaceful, and to convince the populations of NATO member states in the CEE region that they are being subjected to a warmongering nation which causes a distraction and is openly hostile towards Russia.

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Hillary Clinton getting advice from the dead

Pro-Russian propaganda disseminated almost the exact copy of Donald Trump’s campaign messages regarding Russia and, in line with the presidential candidate,  tried to convince readers that the US would only cooperate with Putin in destroying ISIS in the case that Trump would win the elections. Alternative websites however did not mention that the latest effort to solve the Syrian conflict failed because of Russian bombs hitting a UN aid convoy in Aleppo; something the Russians deny vehemently. The pro-Kremlin outlets also depict Hillary Clinton as a candidate unsuitable of being president, without mentioning that the majority of Americans think she is up for the job. Hillary Clinton, contrary to Donald Trump, follows mainstream policies that pro-Russian propaganda identifies as a syndrome of the “West”, and thus Hillary would be a fervent critic of the Putin-regime’s actions in both Syria and Ukraine and a supporter of the democratically elected Ukrainian government and its efforts to westernize the country. Donald Trump with his isolationism and little concern for authoritarian leaders would be a much more favorable counter-part to Moscow. Trump’s reluctance to stand fully behind the United States’ European allies could also help Russian and populist efforts to dismantle NATO and the European Union and so ultimately serve Russian interests in Ukraine.

Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare

Fredrik Wesslau comments on what the far-right and the far-left political parties in Europe supporting Vladimir Putin’s policies have in common in his article for the ECFR.

Czech Disinformation Corner

Let’s begin this section quite untraditionally with good news. Together with the Association for International Affairs, Stopfake.org started the Czech version of its web portal focusing on debunking of disinformation concerning Ukraine. We are glad to have an ally in our effort to deal with disinformation in the Czech media space.

And now for the latest trends on the Czech disinformation websites:

Ukraine: Old disinformation concerning the investigative report on the MH17 crash keep appearing. Nevertheless, they are debunked enough by the investigative report itself. The aim is to question the report, unsettle the public, and to help Russia save face.

Besides this, general disinformation about the conflict in Donbas appeared:

  • American snipers arrived to Donbas,
  • The army of Ukraine breaches the ceasefire,
  • Kiev plans to give part of the territory to Romania,
  • The EU Commissionaire for enlargement Verheugen called the Ukrainian government fascist.

Czech Television: The pro-Kremlin media attack the Czech Television and the Czech public broadcaster, systematically and long-term. Last week we heard that the Czech Television supports certain political subjects or that it is connected to the media empire of Zdeněk Bakala. It also allegedly supports the creation of a coalition against Andrej Babiš, a Czech politican and the Deputy-Prime minister.