Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

EU diplomats launch Russia 'myth-busting' weekly

  • Top Russian media are reporting the kind of stories you'd expect to see on amateur websites (Photo: Asteris Masouras)

Ukrainian operatives are going to shoot down a US jet in Syria and blame Russia; the US is planning to destroy Russia in a nuclear strike; Western firms implant microchips in office workers to make them subservient; Americans wish they were ruled by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The fake stories are among dozens of others propagated by Russian TV and news agencies in the past month, and brought to light by StratCom East, a new communications cell in the EU foreign service in Brussels.

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They sound like the kind of conspiracy theories you might find on amateur websites.

But they were reported as fact by Russia’s leading state media: Channel One; Kommersant; NTV; and RT.

EU states launched StratCom East in summer to “challenge Russia's ongoing disinformation campaigns.”

The unit, led by a British former EU official, and containing experts from member states, including the Czech Republic, published its first weekly newsletter, Disinformation Review, on Wednesday (4 November).

It said: “Its objective is to show the European public the high amount of such disinformation attacks that target the European audience every single day.”

It also aims to “expose the number of countries targeted ... to explain to the European audience the breadth of this problem.”

The material was collected by StratCom East’s “myth-buster network” of over 300 journalists, bloggers, NGO activists, and government officials in Europe.

It also launched a Twitter account to promote its work.

Other Russian reports said: the CIA murdered Russian dissident Boris Nemtsov; the US is planning to shoot down a Finnish plane and blame Russia; Poland plans to occupy western Ukraine.

They also said Saudi Arabia is feeding Islamic State (IS) the same drugs that Western spies fed to Ukrainian activists in the Maidan revolution in Kiev.

Trend of the week

The “trend of the week”, in most weeks, was to link Ukraine and Syria.

Several stories claimed Ukrainian nationalists are fighting alongside IS against Russia in Syria, or, that IS militants are fighting alongside Ukrainians against pro-Russia forces in Ukraine.

The stories were published mostly in Russian, Ukrainian, and English, but also in Czech, Finnish, Georgian, and German.

Propaganda scholars say they’re more likely to be believed inside Russia or in Russian-language enclaves in ex-Soviet states, where Russian media have a near monopoly.

But a recent survey by US pollster Pew noted that big chunks (25 to 30 percent) of the population in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain also nod to Russia's line.

Commenting on the Russian content, one EU diplomat told EUobserver: “I’m afraid the list of Russian lies and hatreds is much longer than the table attached … It's horrible. In comparison to the Russian propaganda machine, old Soviet propaganda looks like children’s stories.”

A second EU diplomat said StratCom East has spent most of its time overcoming objections from malcontent member states, who say EU institutions shouldn’t do counter-propaganda.

“I think this [the weekly review] is progress, given the sceptical attitudes,” the contact said.

Russian attention

The EU project has attracted Moscow's attention despite its modest scale.

For its part, the Russian embassy to the EU is promoting an event, to be held in the EU capital on 20 November, entitled: Russian World War II and the Information of the 21st Century.

According to Russian news agency Tass, it will bring together media, diplomats, and leaders of Russian diaspora groups to debate “combating anti-Russian propaganda in the West.”

Tass cited Sergey Petrosov, whom it called the executive secretary of the Belgian Federation of Russian Organizations, as saying StratCom East is part of “a larger information war launched by the West.”

He said the Russian diaspora "is one of the most important goals of Western propaganda in the war, as a possible conductor and relay … of anti-Russian content to the territory of the Russian Federation."

An internet search didn't find any information on Petrosov or the federation.

Tass also cited Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladmir Chizhov, as saying: “The EU's attempts to strengthen propaganda against Russia confirms the success of Russian media.”

EU myth-busters set for budget upgrade

One year after its launch, East Stratcom, the EU’s “tiny” counter-propaganda cell, has created a 20,000-strong following and could get a €1 million budget.

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