Kremlin Watch Monitor May 2, 2017

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

New publications

How do European democracies react to Russian aggression?

The 124-page overview reviews shifts in strategic and policy documents of EU28 Member States following Russian aggression against Ukraine.

You can find the Full Study here.


  • Russian aggression against Ukraine has led to EU28 sanctions, while the aggressive policies of the Kremlin such as militarily threatening specific EU countries, or using hostile influence tools such as disinformation, and support of European extremists and radical leaders has alienated many European countries.

  • Thirteen EU countries are highly concerned with the Russian disinformationthreat, and are therefore participating in at least one of the three allied projects (EEAS East STRATCOM, NATO STRATCOM CoE, Finnish CoE on Countering Hybrid Threats).
  • The game-changer in this situation will be the next German government coalition which can shift European efforts to counter and mitigate the Russian aggression in both ways – it can either appease the Kremlin and effectively kill the EU28 response (potentially, if a “red” coalition is in place), or follow-up on the principled position held by the Chancellor Angela Merkel to devise a full-government policy on every level of the Kremlin aggression (from Ukraine to disinformation threats) and become the full-time prime defender of the liberal international order.
  • The group of 14 countries clearly concerned with Russian aggression is missing a leader.The United Kingdom is on its way out, Germany still does not feel as an openly hawkish defender of the principled response, and Poland is missing out on the chance to be a genuine, legitimate and a well-respected leader of this pack because of the unconstructive behaviour of its government.
  • The position of the most reliable Kremlin friendly is now held by Italy, expressed for example by openly vetoing expansion of sanctions following Russia-sponsored atrocities in Syria. It might change after the French presidential elections, where Moscow might get a highly influential ally.

20 SPECIFIC CONCLUSIONS are available in a well-printable SUMMARY.

The activity of pro-Russian extremist groups in Central-Eastern Europe

The European Values think-tank was one of the co-authors of the research of the Political Capital (Hungary) covering Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, focusing on the violent ramifications of Russia’s regional influence. The case studies conducted in each of the countries describe how the Kremlin’s strategy supports fringe, extremist or paramilitary organizations in order to undermine bilateral ties with Ukraine and the United States, and destabilise the region after 2014.

The research highlights that these organizations are posing a national security threat throughout the region by keeping their secessionist, revisionist, and ultranationalist cross-country historical grievances dating back to World War II alive.

The summary report is available HERE.

The Czech country report is available HERE:

Weekly Update on the Kremlin Disinformation Efforts in Europe

Information operations on Facebook

Several fake Facebook profiles of Russian embassies in the Czech Republic and Slovakia emerged recently, often ridiculing Kremlin’s actions and statements. Moscow complained about the profiles to the operators of the social network, accused the accounts of being part of the information attack on the Russian Federation and requested them to be blocked. Facebook didn’t fulfil the Kremlin’s wishes and blocked the real account of the Russian embassy in Bratislava instead.

Soviet embassy in Czechoslovakia “IN SHORT: The 64th humanitarian aid column left for Donbas.”

Instead of fighting against openly impersonating websites and comical projects, Facebooks wants to step up in dealing with false accounts participating on “well-funded and subtle efforts by nations and other organizations to spread misleading information and falsehoods for geopolitical goals”.

State of play in Montenegro

The Parliament of Montenegro approved its decision to become a member of NATO, despite the disinformation campaigns and other hybrid means used by the Kremlin in order to prevent it. What it might mean for the future of the Balkans is discussed by John R. Schindler in Observer.

The role of the Kremlin in the attempted coup which has taken place not so long ago in Montenegro is the focal point of a new Bellingcat analysis. Here are the main findings:

  • One of the coup suspects had contact with propaganda news outlet which has ties to Ukrainian separatists and focuses on Serbia and Montenegro’s links to Russia.
  • Montenegro Organisation of Russian Speakers is taken over by Russian State-backed leadership and has links to Kremlin supporting motorcycle gang – the Night Wolves.
  • Coup suspect Ristic is a leader of organization dubbed as “ultranationalist” by Russian State media, yet Deputy Chairman of State Duma Zheleznyak cooperates with it.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

Analysing indicators of Russian aggression in the Baltic states;

created and published by IHS Jane’s Military & Security Assessments Intelligence Centre

Full study available here.

Ahead of Russian military exercises in September, with the Russia-Belarus relationship deteriorating and with ambiguities in the US commitment to NATO, the Baltic states are anxious about Moscow’s intentions. In order to assess the probability of a future Russian invasion of the Baltics, we can lay out a series of both non-military and military indicators which would presumably be triggered on the pathway towards a worst-case scenario of invasion. Some of these indicators have already been at least partially triggers, the most significant being “media attacks on ‘anti-Russian policies‘ and disinformation campaigns” (non-military); and “creation of new large military formations and reserves” and “snap and scheduled exercise including enhanced electronic warfare” (military). There is already a strong presence of Russian military forces in or near the Baltic, and in case of invasion, these forces would probably prevail – at least initially – over NATO.

Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare

In the spring volume of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence official journal, James Rogers and Andriy Tyushka describe the Russian anti-hegemonic offensive seeking to desynchronise political developments in the regions close to Europe, to distort European perceptions of reality, split the Atlantic democracies from the European continent and saturate the vacuum with false and fictitious narrative. You can also find chapters analysing the influence of Russian academic, political and public spheres on the politicisation of information warfare, or examining the role of botnets in propaganda dissemination during the Crimean war and the Dragoon ride.

The Media Development Foundation published a media monitoring report summarizing the anti-Western messages spread by the media, political parties and civic society in Georgia during 2016. Apart from other findings, it seems that the number of messages targeted against NATO increased, corresponding with a decrease in public support of the organization.

Marta Kowalska and Adam Lelonek from Centrum Analiz Propagandy I Dezinformacji predict the goals of Russian propaganda in Poland for this year. They warn against the lack of political actions of the Polish government and consequently against further deepening of the political crisis and weakening the political position of Poland in Central Europe and on the international scene.

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Disinformation outlets have a favourite French presidential candidate

You can read the full Information war monitor, summarizing latest disinformation trends in Central Europe, co-authored by the European Values think-tank, Globsec Policy Institute and Political Capital here.

The French presidential election is the main topic of discussion and one of the most important political events of the year 2017. Various public opinion polls and personal background information of the candidates have been brought to light before the first round and presented daily. Automated bots, social media trolls and disinformation outlets focused their activities on France as well.

Marine Le Pen’s visit to Moscow, her meeting with President Putin in March, as well as her party’s loan from a Moscow-based bank dating back to 2014, clearly indicate who is Moscow’s favourite candidate and the first choice for the winner of the French presidential election. This is supported by Russian media coverage of the French election campaign, which underscores the Kremlin’s preferences. It is also possible to observe similar preferential treatment in Central European disinformation outlets.

There is no doubt who is the favourite candidate of pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets in Central Europe. In the past months, Marine Le Pen had more coverage in these outlets than any of the other three presidential candidates. Not only did she outnumbered her opponents in the volume of articles she was mentioned in but disinformation outlets in Central Europe hardly ever portrayed Le Pen in a negative way. A great example of this favouritism is the coverage of Sputnik in the Czech Republic. This website disseminating dismaying and distorted information published 68 articles with the tag of Le Pen while 29 articles were tagged in connection with François Fillon and only 4 articles with the tag of Emmanuel Macron. Thus, Marine Le Pen was mentioned over twice as much as François Fillon and 17 times more than Emmanuel Macron.

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