Russian military creates 'information force'
The Russian defence ministry has said it was creating a new propaganda unit, while trolling Germany over its defeat in World War II.
Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, who is on an EU blacklist over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, told the Russian parliament on Wednesday (22 February) that “information operations forces have been established that are expected to be a far more effective tool than all we used before for counter-propaganda purposes”.
“Propaganda should be smart, competent and effective,” he added.
He also said that he would build a replica of the German parliament building so that Russian children could practice storming it the way that Russian soldiers stormed the real one after Berlin fell in 1945.
“We are building a replica of the Reichstag in Patriot Park. Not a full-sized one, but something that allows the Young Army to storm a specific target, not just any old place,” he said.
The Young Army, formed in 2015, in which about 42,000 children aged 10 and upwards take part, gives weapons training and organises military drills in the Patriot Park complex some 50 kilometres outside Moscow.
Shoigu added in his speech that “96 percent” of Russia’s strategic nuclear missile systems were “in permanent readiness for immediate … launch”.
He said its military budget was €54 billion a year and that it had 384,000 contracted servicemen.
By comparison, the combined military budgets of EU states is about €200 billion.
Shoigu’s speech did not mention Ukraine because Russia does not admit to being a party in the conflict, but he hailed its operations in Syria as a success.
He described its bombing campaign in Aleppo, which included deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals that amounted to war crimes, as a “liberation” of the city.
He added that the “dissipation of Syria” had been “prevented” and that the “chain of colour revolutions replicated in the Middle Eastern and African countries” had been “interrupted”.
Speaking to Russian media on Wednesday, Russian MPs Vladimir Shamanov and Viktor Ozerov said Shoigu’s new “information force” would defend Russia against cyberattacks.
Leonid Ivashov, a retired colonel-general, also said: “We must … force the West onto the defensive by conducting operations to expose its lies.”
Russia already spends around €1 billion on state media each year.
British, French, German and US spy chiefs have issued warnings in recent months that Russian hackers and propaganda outlets would try to sway the outcomes of elections in France and Germany this year.
The EU foreign service has also allocated extra funds to a Russian counter-propaganda unit.
Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry, on Wednesday, launched its own version of the EU’s myth-busting service.
Its new webpage contains links to stories from media such as The New York Times or Bloomberg on issues such as Russia’s recent violation of a missile treaty with a red stamp on them that says “FAKE. This material contains data not corresponding to the truth.”
It does not say on what grounds the stories were labelled as being incorrect.
“First they put out some fake news, without facts. Then that goes viral, and forms public opinion. And then, a couple of months later, they issue a clarification, but by then the damage is already done,” Russian foreign ministry spokesowoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday announcing the new initiative.
Her description corresponded precisely to Russian propaganda methods, such as its circulation of a recent fake story that German Nato troops in Lithuania had raped a local girl.