Distracting the audience is one of the goals of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign. One of the techniques how to do this is to force us to ask the needed irrelevant questions – and drain our energy in trying to find the answers to them.
An easy, fast and effective way to create disinforming content is to manipulate statistics and figures. And since the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign’s main goal is to sow discord (and not to maintain credibility), being caught red-handed is not an issue.
This week, we saw how distorted figures were used as parts of larger pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns. Let us highlight them here.
MH17. The Russian Defence Ministry has had a crucial role in producing fabricated evidence for the needs of the disinformation campaign on MH17, and this week was not an exception. After the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team published its new report on the MH17 downing last week, one of the responses of the Russian Ministry of Defence was to claim that the missiles from year 1986 – that downed the MH17 – were disposed of after 2011. This was reported by Sputnik and Russia Today and widely spread by the Russian-language media.
But the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign proved its ability to debunk itself: In fact, as noted by Bellingcat, the the Buk manufacturer Almaz Antey used one missile from 1987 in their MH17 test in 2015, which means it was 28 years old and should have already been decommissioned. Diverting the audience towards heated discussions about numbers blurs the facts provided to us by the JIT: that flight MH17 was shot down by a missile that was launched by a BUK-TELAR from an area controlled by pro-Russian fighters, that it was brought in from Russia and taken back to Russia and that it originates from a unit of the Russian army from Kursk.
Alarm as EU’s economy on the brink of collapse. During this week, Russia’s Defence Ministry was active on another front. Its TV Channel Zvezda reported how the European Parliament has informed about “total unemployment” in the EU. In fact, 1) the European Parliament’s research presented the unemployment rates among young people in each EU member state; 2) there has been a significant improvement in the past few years (in spring 2013, the youth employment rate peaked at 23,8 % and then declined sharply to 16,1 in 2018); and 3) huge imbalances persist between EU Member States. The lowest rates were observed in the Czech Republic (5.8 %) and Germany (6.6 %) while the highest were recorded in Greece (43.7 %), Spain (36.0 %) and Italy (31.5 %).
State-controlled Russian TV continued to spread multiple theories regarding the Salisbury attack and referred to “another oddity: the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons OPCW says that 100 grams of nerve agent were used in Salisbury”. In fact, the OPCW stated already a month ago that it had wrongly referred to grams in the comments to New York Times, when the quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams.
The question presented in the headline – how many non-existent apples go into two apples? – has confused mathematicians for hundreds of years when they have sought the answer to the nature of zero.
It seems that the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign doesn’t have to waste time on such pondering. It is able to create as many non-existing pieces of any kind of fruit as fits its purpose.