Thursday

30th Jun 2022

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

Become an expert on Europe

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

... or subscribe 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.

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?

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

News in Brief

  1. Russia threatens Norway over goods transit
  2. Russia urges Nato not to build bases in Sweden, Finland
  3. New president for European Committee of the Regions
  4. Gas flows from Spain to Morocco, after Western Sahara row
  5. BioNTech, Pfizer test 'universal' coronavirus vaccine
  6. UK sanctions second-richest Russian businessman
  7. Hungary permits emergency supervision of energy firms
  8. Bulgaria expels 70 alleged Russian spies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  3. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  5. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers

Latest News

  1. If Russia collapses — which states will break away?
  2. EU Parliament interpreters stage strike
  3. EU's post-Covid billions flowing into black hole
  4. Nato expands and reinforces on Russian flank
  5. EU Commission says it cannot find messages with Pfizer CEO
  6. EU ministers sign off on climate laws amid German infighting
  7. EU presidency still looking for asylum relocation pledges
  8. Finland and Sweden to join Nato, as Erdoğan drops veto

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us