Lukasz Wenerski and Natalya Krivoruchko

Lukasz Wenerski and Natalya Krivoruchko

Despite the repeated statements by EU leaders about the need to fight back the Russian propaganda, the Kremlin media continues its “brainwashing”.

Politics, Religion, World War II, “lost” territories, “American spies”, “rightfulness” of the Crimea annexation and the war in Ukraine – the is an incomplete list of topics raised by the workers of the Russian “information machine”. The example of Slovakia, however, as the ones of Hungary and the Czech Republic, shows the vast opportunities of the Russian propaganda in shaping public opinion in support of Russia. Like other countries in the region, Poland is exposed to the Russian propaganda, but in comparison with neighboring countries here it is less visible, allowing the country to remain the source of anti-propaganda in the information discourse of the Central Europe.

The article attempts to analyze the activities of the Russian propaganda in Poland – a country that both at the high level and at the level of ordinary citizens supported Ukraine during the “Revolution of Dignity” and continues to initiate projects aimed at Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures of the EU and NATO.

Main trends

According to sociologists and experts in the field of information, the aggressiveness of the Russian propaganda began to increase along with Maidan, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine. However, it should be emphasized that the Russian propaganda was active before. During the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs brought accusations against the Georgian authorities that they allegedly promoted ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia. The apotheosis was also the statement of the then Prime Minister Putin that “… Georgian soldiers used tanks to crush children and the elderly, burnt people alive.” After that, the RTR and other Russian media began to use the following thesis: “the Georgian leadership are fascist”, Georgian soldiers “shoot ordinary people.”

Such attempts to legitimize the authority in the eyes of the people and the leaders of the EU countries were made during the “orange revolution” in Ukraine in 2004, and during the gas dispute with Kyiv in 2011. There is a tendency here: as soon as Russia’s relations with Ukraine and other countries, unprotected by the “umbrella” of NATO, enter the stage of the crisis, the Kremlin starts to use its entire propaganda arsenal against these countries.

Recent events in Ukraine gave Russia an opportunity to expand its propaganda methods and tools. While in previous years, the Russian news machine employed mostly Russians, now part of the “Inform-machine” is in each of the countries. “Russian mercenaries” appeared in many European countries. For example, in Poland it is mostly either members of the radical organizations or people who are doing it for the big money.

It is difficult to imagine the scale of Russia’s information war in the Visegrad countries. However, at this stage, its historic goal is clear for all — dividing the society and politicians in matters of assistance to Ukraine, the spread of fear of the Russian “omnipotence” as well as the creation of the myth that living in Europe without Russian energy resources is impossible.

Kremlin propaganda is destructive, it appeals to the emotions rather than to reason, induces to believe what people had never believed and do something people would never do, being in the normal emotional state.

Is there ground?

The results of a poll of “Pew Research Center” about the image of Russia, which took place from March 25 until May 27, 2015 in forty countries show that Poland has the highest number people with negative sentiment towards Russia. Eighty-seven percent of Poles said they would not support Putin’s policies in the international arena.

These results are also clear from the research of the Institute of Public Policy in Warsaw, 78% of Poles negatively evaluate the relations with Russia, 76% see Russia as a clear threat. However, the lack of support for the current policy of the Kremlin does not mean that Polish society cannot be subject to Russian propaganda.

In 2014, the Internal Security Agency published a report in which it confirmed the threat of large-scale consolidation of the Russian lobbyists in Poland. According to the editor of the report Maciej Sankowski, Polish citizens were being recruited both in business and among the youth. Poland may become the next victim of Russian aggression, either in the form of “little green men” or as “trolls” in the information space.

In public discourse, the comments of the Foreign Minister of Poland Grzegorz Schetyna are unambiguous: “Russian propaganda is financed directly from the state budget of Russia and whether Europe can defend itself is a big question.” The newly elected president Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz have also repeatedly stated the need to confront the Russian propaganda.

Experts think highly of the big potential of the Russian propaganda. The former head of the National Security Bureau of the Polish President, General Stanislaw Koziej believes that “hybrid warfare” waged by Russia does not provide for direct military aggression against Poland, as in this case collective NATO defense obligations may be applied. Russian activity in Poland is based on propaganda and subversion.

According to the journalist of the weekly “Do Rzeczy” Wojciech Wibranowski, Russian propaganda in the Polish Internet is a serious threat and should be considered as part of Russian agents’ activities. A similar point of view was expressed by publicist Martin Ray: “Pro-Russian organizations are mostly groups which do not understand what they are doing and what values they represent. Their representatives perform different kinds of tasks. At the moment, we are dealing with a small, but multilateral formation, which stands on the positions of support for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism.”

Former MEP Pawel Kowal believes that the expansion of the Russian media shows that the West is losing the propaganda war. Kowal says that “… together with the spread of the war atmosphere in the society, we will face the growth of the pro-Russian views of the Poles.”

Trolls and radicals

The Russian propaganda is spread on two main “fronts” — on the Internet and through staging of rallies and provocations of certain parties and movements. The activity of the so-called Russian “trolls” in social networks, blogs and specially created information resources manipulates public opinion and historical memory. The Newsweek has estimated that up to 80% of comments about Russia, posted on their site from abroad, are trolling.

Audience of the trolls is made of readers of the popular Polish portals onet.pl, gazeta.pl, wp.pl, and users of Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte, youtube. Their victims are young people who do not have their own opinions on certain events and have not developed a capacity to resist information trash.

Another motivation to engage youth in the “Russian projects” is monetary remuneration. The forums, which are made in contrast to the Russian propaganda, mention various figures – from 2 to 4 thousand zlotys. In addition, according to the chief editor of the Polish portal Eastbook, Krzysztof Nieczipor, trolling in favor of Russia is also conducted by the so-called pseudo-scientific organizations. According to Nieczypor, “we are talking about ex-members of ultranationalist groups, including the Nazi-wing.”

Analyzing the activity of Russian advocacy groups in social networks, it is not difficult to grasp their anti-Ukrainian essence. All of them appeared either shortly before the conflict in Ukraine or during the war. Obviously, the administrator of the group have in common pre-planned task and single manager. They distribute mostly the materials to undermine Ukrainian statehood. Poland is offered to the land of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil and Volyn, Hungary – Transcarpathia, Romania – Chernivtsi and Odessa…

Another example of the activities of the Russian “informants” in Poland was the launch on 20 February 2015 of the Russian news agency “Sputnik”. Radio and television broadcasts of this Russian propaganda channel is made on the frequencies of the radio “Hobby”, which is located near Warsaw. The Polish radio station relays the radio transmission of the “Sputnik” from 21:00 to 22:00 based on the contract signed several years ago with the radio station “Voice of Russia”. According to Putin, “the main task of the “Sputnik” holding is to create a vision of the world from the Russian point of view.” Materials of the “Sputnik” journalists are biased and one-sided, they call for a change in the borders of Europe, that raises the issue of the national security.

It should also be noted that the aim of the Russian propaganda is not only the manipulation of information and political influence. It creates new parties — for example, “Zmiana”. Its leader, a former activist of “Samoobrona” Mateusz Piskorski, does not hide his pro-Russian views and “readiness to combat the fascist regime in Ukraine.” According to Piskorski, in the Polish Parliament now operate only the “party wars”, which, in his opinion, are spreading negative rhetoric against the neighboring Russia and Belarus.

The Kremlin propaganda is also spread during the so-called cultural events. A good example is the last year’s two-week exhibition “Odessa Khatyn May 2, 2014” in the center of Warsaw. Exhibited were about 60 pictures of dead human bodies. Captions made in Polish and English, said that we see the victims of “extremists”, “neo-Nazis”, “fascists” and “Bandera activists”. Ukrainian citizens who visited the exhibition were surprised by the distortion of events in Odessa, but when they wanted to contact the organizers of the “event”, they were given Russian phone numbers.

Offense is the best defense

One of the means of the Russian propaganda is accusations of Poland and Poles in russophobia. It is particularly interesting to hear these promises from the Polish citizens, such as for example a journalist Andrzej Krakauer or Jerzy Urban, whom “Sputnik” refers to as the “Nestor of journalism.” Headlines of the articles by these journalists speak for themselves: “What scared Mrs. Kopacz – Russian propaganda or pluralism and freedom of expression?”, “It smells of hatred and gunpowder in the East,” “Ukraine has always been, is and will be part of Russia”, “Should Russia be feared? “, etc. It is interesting that such materials are systematically translated by popular in Russia and Ukraine Internet resource Inosmi, which becomes the main source of information for people who do not speak Polish, English, French and other languages. Another “expert” working for Radio “Sputnik” is a certain Andzej Zapalowski, former member of parliament for the “Solidarity” and MEP.

As the General Kozej noted in one of his interviews with the Newsweek, “negative image of Poland in the Russian society is created deliberately. An example of such activity was the recent announcement of the Iskander missiles moving to the Kaliningrad region from the Polish borders.

Can it be counteracted?

As one of the instruments of the so-called “hybrid war”, the Russian propaganda in Poland only partially copes with its task. This is counteracted by the negative attitude of the majority of Poles, mobility of the Polish government and the diplomatic corps in resisting provocations. However, the activities of the Russian “information machine” make us think about the need to develop adequate “antidote”. In the end, the use of electronic media in order to influence the Polish public is a threat to the security of Poland.

But it should be emphasized that the activities of the Poles should not be limited to the promotion of the fight at home. Currently, it is much more important to take measures to counter the Russian propaganda in the neighboring countries, which are subject to its devastating impact. An example is the recent initiative of Poland and the Netherlands to create a Russian-language TV channel to counter the Russian propaganda in the Eastern Partnership countries.

To that end, on September 10, Warsaw hosted a conference of representatives of 35 countries who agreed to support the independent media in the countries of the Eastern Partnership and the Baltic states, working against the Russian propaganda. During the discussions, there was an initiative to create a “center of excellence” for journalists whose work will be to verify the information published on the main sites of the EU. According to the Minister Schetyna, “against the language of propaganda and aggression we intend to use reliable information.”

By Lukasz Wenerski, Natalya Krivoruchko, Institute for Public Policy (Poland), specially for charter97.org