Weekly monitor of pro-Kremlin disinformation effort in Europe. We follow best European analysts, best counter-measures and trends.
Jakub Janda, Head of the Kremlin Watch Program, is a co-author of a new study published by the Political Capital Institute called “The Weaponization of Culture: Kremlin’s traditional agenda and the export of values to Central Europe.” The study aims to examine subtle channels of soft power in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. Besides desktop research, authors of the study conducted more than 20 interviews with experts, and members of the NGO sector.
Weekly update on Kremlin disinformation efforts in Europe
- New Europe reports, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) is hiring six new staff members to combat disinformation campaigns by Russia and the Islamic State. According to Mikael Tofvesson of the MSB, false information about subjects including NATO, immigration, and terrorism is spread on a daily basis in Sweden.
- Vladimir Medinsky was appointed a new Russian culture minister, and quickly labelled as a new propaganda minister by his critics. Medinsky is publicly known for believing that Soviet army has never really invaded Poland or the Baltic states during the World War II.
- Donald Trump claimed at the Wednesday news conference that as president he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and lifting the sanctions against Russia. In the same breath he also suggested Russia should hack Hilary Clinton’s email server to “find the 30, 000 emails that are missing.”
- Turkey joined the ranks of fighters against media freedom with its decision to close dozens of media outlets including news agencies, television channels, radio stations, and newspapers following the failed coup attempt on July 15. Amnesty International called this move a “brazen attack on press freedom.”
- After a year of collecting fake news published by pro-Kremlin outlets in Europe, EEAS East StratCom Task Force published a review of its activities alongside a master-table containing all the disinformation stories reported to them so far.
Putinversteher of the Week
With the new month ahead of us and the disinformation campaign still active, we present to you for the very first time the unlucky winners of our special award:
We would like to use this weekly opportunity 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.
And the first Putinversteher of the Week goes to…
Thierry Mariani and 10 other French Republican Party MPs who visited Crimea while breaching Ukrainian law.
The most interesting bits from their trip:
Michel Voisin, the head of the French delegation in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly: “The information coming from the media can be true as well as fake, so every lawmaker should have his own independent vision of such issues as the situation in Crimea.”
Thierry Mariani: “Crimea’s reunification with Russia reflects the will of the majority of the Crimean people.”
Thierry Mariani #2: “It is better to be a Tatar in Crimea than a Russian in Latvia. But Europe prefers to forget about it.”
According to Sergei Aksyonov, the pro-Russian leader in Crimea, the visit was “a recognition by the foreign MPs that the sanctions against Russia are ineffective.”
One of the MPs even managed to kiss the Monument to Russian invaders in Crimea.
Kremlin Watch reading suggestions
“Where Putin’s Russia Ends: “Novorossija” and the Development of National Consciousness in Ukraine”; by André Härtel from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
Until the events related to the annexation of Crimea and “Euromaidan” took place, the ethnic and national consciousness in Ukraine had its own specific character. After the collapse of the USSR, ethnicity and nationalism were once again the part of Ukrainian politics, but their influence on politics was low due to the economical topics which were more important and because of the mentality brought from the Soviet times.
Consequently, ethnicity and nationalism adapted to the situation and Ukraine started to practice “amorphous” national identity in regards to its domestic and international policy, which tend to approach the West and the East alike. After Euromaidan, the members of the Party of regions lost their power which created a power vacuum in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea filled with Russian influence. Annexation of Crimea caused the “effect of unification” which contributed to the creation of civil society. This civil society is not primarily based on ethnicity or language but on joint identity connected to the existence of independent Ukraine. This helped to turn down the idea of “Novorossija” by the majority of citizens living in Eastern Ukraine.
“Boosting the Party’s Voice: China’s Quest for Global Ideological Dominance”; by Mareike Ohlberg from Mercator Institute for China Studies
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) perceives itself to be in a disadvantage against the West concerning the ideological confrontation. The main message China attempts to spread domestically and globally is that its regime is the best fit for a prosperous and highly developed nation. This includes generating theories and ideas to counter Western concepts in a broad range of areas of society and governance. Part of the motivation is to prevent the younger population seeking education abroad from being “won over” by the Western thinking.
Therefore, CCP offers seminars for government officials and journalists in developing countries and funds foreign universities in order to win over the scholars. Furthermore, it expands its global media presence by building up its official flagship media like CCTV, using its private companies to buy up foreign media companies, and seeking cooperation agreements with foreign media. And it is reasonable to expect that the CCP will continue to spend massive resources on this ideological offensive for a long period of time.
What can Western countries do about it? The proposals include higher degree of transparency for university and think-tank funding, drafting Codes of Conduct for governments, businesses, societal organizations, and other actors dealing with China. Strategies for how to respond if an individual member is denied a visa to China should also be included. Finally, the West should resist Chinese attempts to twist dialogue formats into new directions to accommodate authoritarian reinterpretations of key concepts by being ready to condition or cancel dialogues.
Euroatlantic Experts on Disinformation Warfare
Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare
- Taras Kuzio discusses in the New Eastern Europe the connections of both US presidential candidates to Ukrainian oligarchs.
- Una Bergmane from the Foreign Policy Research Institute focuses on the debate about Russian propaganda in Latvia.
- James Bruno suggests several measures which could be used to deal with Russian harassment of US diplomats in the Washington Monthly.
Current state of pro-Kremlin scene in the Czech Republic
The military coup attempt in Turkey unleashed a series of speculations about the background of the event. So far, these speculations are not based on any relevant evidence and the mainstream media present them that way. The pro-Kremlin outlets, on the other hands, and unfortunately also several politicians, do not keep their distance from those theories. We distinguish three main lines of argument:
- President Erdogan was behind the coup:
This is the most spread conspiracy theory in the Czech Republic. According to its proponents, President Erdogan infiltrated the army with his provocateurs who caused the coup resulting in several hundreds of casualties and over two thousands injured in order to consolidate his political power and get rid of his opponents. (1, 2, 3, 4)
- The US secret services knew about the attempted coup…
…but did not inform Ankara about it due to the fact that it suited them. According to Sputnik commentary, the United States hoped that the coup might reverse the warming of relations between Turkey and Russia. This should be “proven” by their claim that the US allegedly did not support the legitimate government till after the plotters were clearly defeated. This theory can be easily disproved just by looking at the US Foreign Ministry Twitter account.
- The coup was directly organized by the United States…
… for the Protiproud website, and so has been every political event in the past. According to this most extreme conspiracy theory, the US were behind the terrorist attack on Atatürk Airport this June, which was supposed to be a warning for the Turkish government not to get close with Russia, Syria, and Israel, as such policy would make encircling Russia and the following “Eastern haul” too difficult.