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Kremlin Watch Monitor December 22, 2016

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

New Publications

Our Jakub Janda argues in the Observer that Angela Merkel is going to be the next target of the Russian disinformation campaign. Here are the 6 tools Russia can use:

  • Massive disinformation operations
  • Undermining the deal between Turkey and the European Union
  • Cyber-attacks
  • Abusing of the Russian minority
  • Support to European far-right, far-left, and extremist groups
  • Economic operations

You can also read two more of his recently published articles concerning how the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign works in the case of the Czech Republic (Observer) and what the West can do about it (The Atlantic Council).

Weekly update on Kremlin disinformation efforts

The counter-propaganda bill sponsored by Senators Rob Portman and Chris Murphy was passed in the U.S. Senate last week, and is now waiting to be signed by President Obama. The two priorities of the bill are developing a whole-of-government strategy for countering foreign propaganda, mainly through the Global Engagement Center, and also to leverage expertise from outside the government; for example, by funding different kinds of organizations from the civil society or the private sector and experts with experience in identifying, and by analyzing disinformation techniques.

Carter Page, the allegedly former foreign policy advisor for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, held a press conference at the Sputnik headquarters. It was preceded by a presentation on the topic of “potential strategies in the era of global economic stagnation, security threats, and fake news.” The main point of Mr. Page was overcoming these issues by closer cooperation with Russia; especially in Syria, on the war against terrorism, and on economic growth. During the presentation, Mr. Page presented Rex Tillerson as the new Secretary of State, even though in that time this information had not been made public in the United State.

Facebook announced it is going to put “flags” on false news. The stories are going to be fact-checked by third party organizations which have committed to the International Fact Checking Code of Principles. The users will be able to post anything they want regardless of any label but will be warned that the story they are posting had been disputed and such news might also “appear lower” in the algorithmic News Feed on the Facebook home page, according to Facebook Vice-President Adam Mosseri.

Disinformation case from Germany: The Stop Fake reported that Russia’s news agency TASS manipulated the speech of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It changed and added a few words in his statement at the Ministerial Council in Hamburg where he also spoke about the Minsk agreement. TASS changed the incentive of the speech considerably, putting Ukrainian and Russian commitment to fulfilling the agreement on the same level and suggesting Ukraine considers the truce a recommendation. The TASS story had also been published in its Russian and English versions.

After James Cook language school, the Czech bank Česká spořitelna decided to withdraw its advertisements from disinformation websites. In a press release, the company stated: “We believe that our responsibility towards society crosses borders of the banking world and that it can serve to people as a compass which can safely guide them through the sea of information in the media. That is why it is not acceptable for us to support sources of unfounded and sometimes even intentionally false information. For this reason, our advertisements will not appear on disinformation websites.”

Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare

The latest news about the Russian disinformation campaign in the West launched a new wave of ideas how to face these issues. Some of them vary significantly in their approaches. Here are a few examples:

Jeffrey Gedmin and Gary Schmitt suggest in their article for The Washington Post that the United States should push back with the help of law. Foreign ownership of broadcast companies or licenses may exceed 20 or 25 percent in the U.S., only if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determines that allowing it is in the public interest, and because the strong tradition of the freedom of speech and a very light stance of the United States on foreign broadcasters, this is also the case of RT. The authors believe that the new Donald Trump administration should insist on the FCC to either broaden its assessment of the public interest to include equal access of U.S. broadcasters to the respective foreign information space or Congress should mandate it through amendments to the Communications Act.

Mark Galeotti argues in his article published by The New York Times that the best defense is in fact deterrence, making Vladimir Putin scared of failure. According to him, this can be done for example by teaching the public media literacy, ensuring that various private and state institutions have better cyber-security defenses, but also by clearly declaring what the United States will do in case of specific political attacks. Also, Mr. Galeotti emphasizes the importance of pointing out every single time Russia fails or overreaches in its activities.

Max Boot takes the approach of fighting fire with fire in his article for The Foreign Policy. He suggests that more sanctions imposed on the individuals responsible for the cyber-attacks, leaking communications between Vladimir Putin and his associated or releasing the details about Mr. Putin’s overseas bank accounts would do the job. He argues that “the United States needs to improve their skill of hybrid war.”

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Czech Disinformation Corner

Injustice in Europe: During last week, the pro-Kremlin servers covered several topics related to the European Union and NATO. The focus was for example on the election of Alexander Van der Bellen as the Austrian president which was described by the so called military analyst Martin Koller as the victory of globalists and a threat to the Czech Republic.

Closer cooperation of the Czech army within NATO allegedly means allowing U.S. spy drones tracing the territory of the Czech Republic and might end with a forced attack on Russia.

People in Need in need: The expulsion of the People in Need organization from the Donetsk People’s Republic also got attention. The official statement of the separatist authorities is that the organization participated on creating a corrupt environment, but according to the Czech pro-Kremlin narrative it was all about the spying activities paid by the organizations like National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society Fund.

Totalitarian regime in the United States: The events in the United States are portrayed similarly. The pro-Kremlin servers have obviously still not recuperated from the surprising election of Donald Trump as president, since they all claimed that under the influence of backstage manipulation and intrigue this is impossible to happen. In order to keep at least an impression of continuity, they are for example resorting to claims that Donald Trump will be prevented from taking the presidential office or perhaps even murdered. Let’s talk about it in four years.

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