Weekly update on Kremlin disinformation efforts

Open Call to Democratic Parliaments

On 18 September 2016, the Russian authorities have held “parliamentary elections” on the territory of unlawfully occupied and illegally annexed Crimea and Sevastopol in breach of the international law. Thus the absolute majority of the seats in the new Russian State Duma (229 out of 450) are illegitimate. Therefore, we call on parliaments of democratic states to stop cooperating with Russian State Duma. Sign the open call here.

According to the Russian daily Kommersant, Vladimir Putin wants to merge the Foreign Intelligence Service with the Federal Security service into the Ministry of State Security. According to Andrei Soldatov from the Foreign Policy, such a move would mean a resurrection of the Committee for State Security – the KGB.

The Russian-sponsored TV Channel RT is going to be investigated by the British Office of Communications for breaching accuracy and impartiality rules by providing inaccurate information about the fracking company Cuadrilla. Meanwhile, RT offered Nigel Farage, among several other public figures, his own television show. It seems Nigel Farage has been discussing several options, for example working as a reporter during the US Presidential elections, but nothing has been agreed so far.

Anti-Bellingcat team strikes back

A new group of bloggers emerged in Russia in an attempt to disprove the MH17 investigations; mostly focusing on undermining the credibility of the open-source investigations of the Bellingcat group. But according to the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, the independence and impartiality of the Russian bloggers, calling themselves the Anti-Bellingcat, is questionable. One of them is Mikhail Malyshevskiv, an advisor to the chief constructor of Russian arms manufacturer Almaz-Antey, a state-owned company producing the missiles for the BUK complex and participated in the attempt of the Kremlin to discredit the official Dutch investigation. The co-author Yuri Kotenok is a head of the press department of the Russian Institute of Stratefic Studies; a government think-tank founded by Vladimir Putin as well.

Information War Monitor for Central Europe: August 2016; published by GLOBSEC Policy Institute

The new re-branded edition of the Information War Monitor aims to provide a bi-weekly overview of disinformation and propaganda existing in the media discourse in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. The European Values Think-Tank is a proud contributor and we are going to incorporate a shortened version of the Information War Monitor into our newsletter so that you can stay in the loop on the most important disinformation campaigns in Central Europe. The full report can be found here.

Central European heads of states to attend Kremlin-funded conference

The attendance of the President of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, at the Dialogue of Civilisations forum was announced via Parlamentní listy. The news was further promoted on a Twitter account of the presidential spokesman:

Tweet by Czech president Zeman spokesman: “We can expect a lot of rage: Milos Zeman is going to the event of Putin's acquaintance Yakunin again. Along with him Fico and Orban”
Tweet by Czech president Zeman spokesman: “We can expect a lot of rage: Milos Zeman is going to the event of Putin’s acquaintance Yakunin again. Along with him Fico and Orban”

Mainstream and alternative media wrote about the possibility of Miloš Zeman, Viktor Orbán, and Róbert Fico participating at the Rhodes Forum; which is organised by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute which is founded by an oligarch close to Putin, Vladimir Yakunin. He is a Russian businessman, former president of Russian Railways, friend of Vladimir Putin, and a former high-ranking KGB official. He was placed onto the US sanctions list in the wake of the Ukrainian conflict.

Immigrants threatening the citizens of Central European countries

As Hungary slowly prepares for the referendum on the plan of the European Union to relocate refugees in Europe using quotas, its government started an “information campaign”. Huge influx of immigrants to Europe, the rising of crime rates, sexual assaults, or terrorism are the primary narratives used by disinformation outlets. While some media outlets state that “mosques are in fact military bases” and Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán called migrants “poison”, the liberal politicians are portrayed as wanting terrorism. Czech president, Miloš Zeman, has become the voice of the Hungarian anti-immigration propaganda. Among other things, he recently stated that the “current migrant wave is rooted in the craziness of the Americans”.

The pro-Kremlin outlets in Central Europe continue to disseminate the antagonistic narrative of immigration and highly praised the Hungarian referendum. The more obscure ones copied the rhetoric of anti-immigration parties. In some cases, these outlets were used by extreme right-wing parties to spread disinformation on the alternatives to the EU, to promote the alleged plan of the Netherlands to leave the EU, and to cooperate closely with Russia. Some of the most influential pro-Kremlin disinformation media outlets also spread the notions of continuous “Islamization” of Europe or “biased labelling of Russia” as an aggressor.

Putinversteher of the Week

We use this weekly opportunity to award the Putinversteher of the Week to highlight the most obvious attempts, intentional or not, to go on Kremlin’s hand and assist it with spreading its view all over Europe. We believe it is necessary to appreciate in this ceremonial way that without these little helpers, Russian disinformation campaign could never reach its present lengths.

As Newsweek reported, a forum called “Dialogue of Nations” organized by the Anti-Globalist Movement would be held in Moscow at the end of September. Among the honorary members of the movement is also Bashar al-Assad; the Syrian president and the Vladimir Putin’s ally. The official aim of the forum was to unite independence movements and to discuss supporting a multipolar world. Among the expected guests were groups seeking independence from their countries irrespective of their ideology from Texas, Catalonia, Venice and Lombardy, Scotland, Hawaii, or even California. However, the exact list of attendees has not been published before the forum actually took place. According to The New York Times, a representative of the Republican Sinn Fein showed up at the event.

Peter Kreko, director of Political Capital Institute from Hungary, told Newsweek: “The Important thing is what the movement fits perfectly to the general strategy of the Kremlin to encourage secessionist movements throughout Europe and encourage referenda.” We do not take a stance on separatist movements and do not claim they should or should not get together and discuss common issues, but to do so under the auspices of a movement supported by the Kremlin should not be the road to take in any case. Moscow would never support separatists trying to be independent from Russia; it only supports rebels who might want to join it. This is why we would like to give all the eventual attendees of the forum our weekly prize: Putinverstehers of the week.

Video of the Week

Roland Freudenstein from The Martens Centre shows in this video how to deal with conspiracy theories in 60 seconds. It is a commonly known fact that one of the best ways of how to deal with trolls and propaganda is by humour and this video is very successful in that area J’

Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare

Michael Ledeen wrote an article for Forbes about a former highest-ranking Soviet bloc intelligence officer who came to the West, General Ion Mihai Pacepa, and his views on the US presidential election and the Russian threat.

Erik C. Nisbet and Elizabeth Stoycheff explain the reasons behind the high level of support for Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy amongst the Russian public for The Conversation.

Lincoln Pigman discusses in the European Security Review the best ways for the European Union to counter the Russian Information War. Among other things, he mentions that to try to shut down the pro-Kremlin outlets is not an effective method. According to him, it is far better to get inspiration from the EEAS and NATO, which commit significant resources to strategic communications and to promote honest journalism.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values think-tank, which aims to unravel and confront instruments of Russian hybrid war which is focused against liberal-democratic system. Find out more at www.europeanvalues.net/kremlinwatch/.