Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

Feature

Russian propaganda wins EU hearts and minds

  • Putinversteher: Kremlin is spending at least €643 million this year (Photo: de.sputniknews.com)

Kremlin media are shaping the views of a sizeable pro-Russia constituency in the EU, experts and officials warn.

The numbers show, according to US pollster Pew, that one in three Germans and one in four French people think the EU should relax Russia sanctions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Conspiracies, relativism, and lullabies (Photo: EUobserver)

Overall approval of Russian leader Vladimir Putin is down in Europe. But one in four Germans, especially in east Germany, do have confidence in him, in what they call "Putinverstehers", or, "Putin-understanders".

Almost half of French people also blame Kiev for the conflict in east Ukraine. Thirty four percent of Germans blame it. Twelve percent of Germans blame the West.

Bruce Stokes, the director of Pew, which published the survey on 10 June, told Globsec, a security congress in Bratislava last weekend, that the pro-Russia bloc is “a significant minority”.

Referring to Russian propaganda, he said: “There’s some evidence this is having an impact”.

Peter Kreko, the head of Political Capital, a think tank in Budapest, added: “Considerable parts of the population in several member states are sympathetic to Russia”.

“In Greece, more people sympathise with Russia than the EU. In Italy, France, Hungary, and Slovakia, there’s a sizeable chunk of people who are buying the Russian narrative.”

PR budget

Yevhen Fedchenko, a Ukrainian academic who runs stopfake.org, a propaganda-debunking website, said one reason for Russia’s success is the size of its PR budget.

The Kremlin, by its own admission, is spending at least €643 million on media this year.

“It began with Russia Today after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine [in 2005]”, Fedchenko noted.

“They’re adding new, so-called media every year. Few people talk about Sputnik [a Russian website and broadcaster]. It’s growing every week, with a new language, a new country. It uses local journalists and local languages, so that it competes with local information”.

He said Russian propaganda is becoming more sophisticated.

In the initial phase of the Ukraine conflict, media ran fake stories about Ukrainian atrocities, which were easy to debunk.

It later began disseminating conspiracy theories, for instance: that flight MH17 contained corpses and that Ukraine shot it down in a false flag operation.

Now it’s propagating relativism: The idea that no source of information can be trusted.

It’s also mixing propaganda with entertainment.

Fedchenko said Russia recently broadcast a lullaby show for children which used puppets to say why it was right to annex Crimea: “They’re explaining to kids why it’s OK to take another country’s territory”.

Article V

Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister, who also spoke at Globsec, compared it to “littering” of people’s minds.

“The littering of Oceans is discussed at world summits. But littering of minds is not being seriously addressed”, he said.

Lithuania fears that Russian aggression in Ukraine could be repeated in the Baltic states. But the same Pew survey noted that most French, German, and Italian people don’t want to defend a Nato ally against Russia.

“I’m not surprised”, Linkevicius told EUobserver.

“There’s a gap between European leaders and citizens. We have to do more”.

He added: "There’s solidarity in the alliance [Nato] and Article V of the Treaty [on collective defence] is not based on opinion polls ... If you did a similar survey in military circles, you’d get a different result”.

Its EU impact aside, the Kremlin narrative dominates in Russia, where state media have a near monopoly.

Inside Russia

Pew, which held interviews with 1,000 Russian people, says 61 percent believe parts of other countries belong to Russia and that dissolving the Soviet Union was a mistake.

“People, overwhelmingly, think that Putin is doing a good job, handling foreign policy, the EU, energy policy. Even on handling corruption”, the pollster’s Stokes said.

Anti-Western content is also making an impact.

Russians’ approval of Germany is comparable to Arab countries’ approval of the US after the 2003 Iraq war, Stokes noted.

For his part, Robert Pszczel, who was, until recently, Nato’s spokesman in Moscow, warned that the propaganda goes beyond defending Putin’s image.

“I saw the 9 May parade [a WWII memorial in Moscow] and I don’t have a problem with kids cheering when they watch their country's tanks go by … but I do have a problem when the biggest cheer, the kind you hear at a hockey match, comes when they see the Iskanders go by”, he told Globsec, referring to Russian missiles, which were recently repositioned to strike Berlin and Warsaw.

“You should see the billboards, five storeys high, saying [Boris] Nemtsov [a murdered opposition leader] is a traitor. Somebody paid for that. Somebody gave a permit for it”, Pszczel added.

“The question is what is this country up to? … It looks like a country preparing for war.”

Nato solidarity lacks public support

More than half of Germans, Italians, and French are opposed to honouring Nato's Article V in a conflict between Russia and a neighbouring Nato state.

Investigation

French eyes for a Russian tiger

Russian tanks are using French technology in Ukraine. But will Russia's new "star" tank, the T-14, also rely on EU-made kit?

News in Brief

  1. EU commission presents 43 new proposals
  2. EU asylum agency to expand operations in Greece
  3. EU set to repatriate citizens from coronavirus-hit Wahun
  4. German Left MEP resigns over former far-right membership
  5. Sassoli defends 'renewed approach' for enlargement
  6. UK approves limited role for Huawei in 5G network
  7. Cases of coronavirus in France and Germany
  8. Report: EU court seeks authority on post-Brexit deal

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Opinion

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EPP to keep Orban's Fidesz suspension
  2. EU not prepared for 2015 repeat, warns migration chief
  3. Selmayr did not want top job, says predecessor
  4. EU states wary of MEPs leading future conference
  5. Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states
  6. In Orban's Hungary, the law is not for everyone
  7. 'Brexit is not going to go away,' warns EU's Barnier
  8. Belgian spy services launch internal clear-up

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us