High hills, steep falls, sharp turns – entering the world of pro-Kremlin disinformation sometimes makes one feel like everything is on its head, definitely not where it’s supposed to be. Let’s embark on a journey through 2019, where we experience all the typical symptoms of a roller coaster ride, from pure amusement to a sense of insecurity. Hop on!
“Nothing New in the East”
As EU vs Disinfo wrote in January 2019, Ukraine was constantly in the crosshairs of Kremlin disinformation last year and it seems that the country will remain there this year as well. Apparently, the EU disinformation watchdog was right – Ukraine remained the most frequent target of the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns. There were hardly any surprises when it came to narratives used. Attempts at white-washing Russia’s troops and armaments involvement in eastern Ukraine, portraying the illegal annexation of Crimea as a democratic referendum, blaming the West for instigating the Euromaidan protests, and aggressively pushing the narrative about fascists running basically everything in Ukraine were all there this year – and EU vs Disinfo experts debunked them yet again.
Likewise, not much has changed in the disinformation campaign centered on the shooting down of Flight MH17, which took place in June 2014. Five years of lies later, pro-Kremlin outlets still repeat the same messages about lack of proof of Russia’s involvement and try to pin the blame on Ukraine, in spite of the robust body of evidence from the international investigation.
Even a roller coaster needs to change to a slower pace sometimes, before it gets to another hill. And as 2018 saw pro-Kremlin outlets struggling up the slope of disinformation targeting Sergei Skripal a, his and his daughter Yulia’s poisoning and the investigation, which clearly proved Russia’s responsibility, they seemed to have reached the peak of their manipulation abilities, as EU vs Disinfo counted over 150 false narratives about the case of Sergei Skripal a year after the poisoning. And then down the slope they went, repeatedly accusing the UK and Western countries, who voiced their support for the results of the British investigation, of Russophobia. That’s the most common accusation used by pro-Kremlin actors when confronted with evidence, be it the Skripal case, the foreign and military policy of different countries, the activities of the EU and NATO, and more.
The Russophobia ”argument” was put to use this year in the context of important historical anniversaries. Hold tight, as we’re taking a sharp turn into 1939, where, according to pro-Kremlin outlets, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and its secret protocol was just about non-aggression and not about dividing Europe into Nazi German and Soviet Russian spheres of influence; where Baltic States joined (sic!) the USSR in accordance with international law (and Lithuania even benefitted from the pact!); and while Poland started World War II.
Going Upside Down
Watch out now, your sense of balance may get heavily disrupted as we enter the land of the puppets.
The very interesting case in point is the EU, which has been a constant target of Russian disinformation. This year, the emphasis was put on the elections to the European Parliament. Pro-Kremlin outlets managed to portray the EU both as the tormentor and the victim. On the one hand, narratives about the EU’s Nazi roots and the EU colonizing and/or corrupting its member states were thrown into the information space. The message was clear: the EU is evil and its citizens should steer clear from having anything to do with it. On the other hand, the same EU was portrayed as weak and without any power or influence whatsoever, and the elections – as a scam. Contradictory as they are, all these narratives had the same purpose: to discourage Europeans from voting. Luckily for European democracy, however, these attempts proved wildly unsuccessful.
Not leaving the puppet land yet, the roller coaster takes us next to other narratives used under this thematic umbrella. The climate crisis made it to the headlines this year too, with stories both well-known – such as the ones questioning the human factor behind it or even its very existence! – and new ones, mostly focused on Greta Thunberg. The climate activist was subject to a crass disinformation campaign, trying to show her as the victim of the ”green faith” on the one hand and as a threat to the world on the other.
By the way, the first inventions that paved the way for modern roller coasters had the form of hills of ice and are believed to originate from Russia. Coincidence? Definitely. But a funny one.