Kremlin Watch Monitor May 16, 2016

Dear readers,

A complaint on the Czech Television, a decent public broadcaster, was submitted last month. On its nearly 500 pages, it contains a very detailed and elaborate summary of the allegedly unbalanced reporting on Ukraine over the past two years. Our Kremlin Watch Team and a part of the Czech security forces believe it is a part of organized pro-Kremlin disinformation efforts the democratic institutions are facing in the region.

If you noticed any similar attack on (public) media in Europe, please let us now via e-mail ([email protected]). Thank you very much for any potential inputs.

Jakub Janda

Head of Kremlin Watch Program and Deputy Director of European Values Think-Tank

Weekly update on Kremlin disinformation efforts in Europe

  • The Czech Republic will set up a specialized centre for fight against terrorism, extremism and propaganda, Czech Ministry of the interior announced. It should have staff of approximately 30 experts and also serve as a national STRATCOM team. This measure is one of our recommendations since we are the official consulting body for the Czech government within the framework of Review of National Security. We will publish a Czech strategy against disinformation in June, together with the Czech Ministry of the Interior.
  • After Russia tried to influence the debate on Sweden’s security policy through public statements, it resorted to covert activity. According to leaks in the Swedish press, the Swedish state security police (SAPO) expressed its worries about an increase of Russian espionage activity. It could be related to the upcoming Swedish parliamentary debate about ratifying a “Host Nation Support Agreement” which would make it easier for NATO troops to use Swedish territory, ports, and bases for exercises or emergencies.
  • Live presidential debates of the Libertarian and Green Parties were hosted by Russia Today America, supposedly in order to reach wider audience. The popularity of the RT network is undeniable but is it really more important than the fact that its main goal is to undermine Western democratic institutions?
  • The European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the decision by Crimea’s Russia-backed authorities to ban the Crimean Tatars’ representative body amid reports that access to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Crimea news website had been blocked in the region. The resolution calls for the Crimean Supreme Court’s decision to ban the Tatars’ Mejlis a “systemic and targeted persecution”.
  • The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee also held a public hearing on the EU strategic communication to counteract propaganda against it spread by third parties. Video footage is available here.
  • Brexit, migration, Barack Obama’s visit to Europe, and NATO criticism were the topics that dominated in the pro-Kremlin media at the end of April, according to the new Information war monitor for Central Europe issued by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute to where our Kremlin Watch Team contributes.
  • For anyone who might be interested, the U.S.-European Media hub at the U.S. Tri-Mission in Brussels is looking for an information specialist whose job would be to support the Department of State’s broader efforts to communicate authoritative, accurate and timely U.S. policy information to the Russian-language media throughout Europe and Central Asia. The deadline for applications is May 31, 2016. You can get more information here.

 Facebook post of the week:

Kremlin Watch reading suggestions

Eyes Wide Shut: Russian soft power gaining strength in Serbia – goals, instruments and effects; by the Serbian Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies

The increased interest of the Russian Federation in the Western Balkans developed in parallel with Russian preparations to react to developments in Euromaidan in Kiev, the war in East Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea. In Serbia there is a noticeable trend of increase in organizations advocating for Serbia’s direct cooperation with Russia, and the abandonment of Serbia’s proclaimed strategic path towards the European Union. They receive unusual and disproportionately large media space but they are also slowly, yet certainly, becoming the “legitimate other side” in public debates. Their program documents often fail to advocate explicitly for separation of powers, rule of law, and respect for individual and collective freedoms, human rights, and secularism. Great confusion and damage has already been achieved. Despite the dominantly more positive attitudes towards Western lifestyles, young people have positive expectations from a supposed alliance with Russia. Most of them support the presence of Russian military bases in Serbia and also support Russian foreign policy. The Russian soft power is a perverted concept of the Western soft power but it is also very tempting for Serbians without long-term experience of life in democracy.

Fog of Falsehood: Russian Strategy of Deception and the Conflict in Ukraine; by Katri Pynnöniemi and András Rácz from The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Conclusions based on case studies of eight European countries show that, with a few exceptions, the influence of Russian metanarratives on the mainstream media in Europe remains largely limited. When the Russian position was represented beyond the level of being quoted, this happened due to the already established political preferences of the given news channel, and not because the Russian metanarratives were strong enough to transform the views of the media. While most journalists and editors of the examined mainstream media channels were generally conscious about keeping Russian metanarratives at bay, they were much less aware of the importance of the distinctive vocabulary and terms used. There is no reason to underestimate Russia’s strategic deception capabilities but it is good to remember that their success is dependent on the targets’ vulnerability to self-deception. A higher level of public knowledge, as well as the readiness of the decision-makers to listen to those  who possessed the needed knowledge, could have prevented a series of mistakes and missed opportunities.

Euroatlantic Experts on Disinformation Warfare

  • Anne Applebaum and Edward Lucas brilliantly sum up the Russian disinformation effort and what Europe has done so far to counter it in the Washington Post.
  • Felix Kartte describes for Politico what message Russia sends to Georgia via its propaganda techniques and how successful it is.
  • Masha Gessen writes for the New York Times about the Kremlin propaganda’s take on Poland concerning the ride of the Night Wolves.

 Tweet of the Week

Current state of pro-Kremlin scene in the Czech Republic

  • The Night Wolves ride and the criticism of NATO decision to send troops to the Baltic countries and Poland have been the biggest topics in the Czech pro-Kremlin media. One of the websites claimed that “NATO got used to live in a grey zone of international law like some terrorist groups do”, another one ironically commented that “NATO very calmly and not at all provocatively places another 4,000 troops to the Russian border but Russia provoked it by having its own army on its own territory.”

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