On 23 November, the European Parliament declared Russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism in response to Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. Sure enough, the resolution did not go unnoticed by pro-Kremlin disinformation actors…
Source — EUvsDiSiNFO — December 01, 2022 —
This week pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets focussed on two of their favourite tactics to manipulate the information environment. One is deflecting blame by accusing the West, particularly the EU, of the wrongdoings Russia itself commits. The other is recycling and repeating previous disinformation narratives to distract and confuse audiences. Let’s have a closer look at how both were employed to drive pro-Kremlin disinformation.
On 23 November, the European Parliament declared Russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism in response to Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. Sure enough, the resolution did not go unnoticed by pro-Kremlin disinformation actors. Already the day before the Parliament passed the resolution, some outlets started preparing the information environment. Once the resolution was adopted, the pro-Kremlin disinformation apparatus swung into action.
Cries of escalation
The disinformation narratives ranged from dismissing any legal bearing of the resolution to ridiculing the lack of its practical impact on Russia, to expressing feigned concern over the toughening European position vis-à-vis Russia. A chorus of pro-Kremlin voices decried the resolution as unprecedented hostility purposefully designed to escalate tensions with Russia. And, with the accustomed lack of decorum, some pro-Kremlin pundits went so far as to use a rather childish retort, calling the Parliament ‘stupid’.
One commonality in these narratives was the underlying allegation that Europe, not Russia, is to blame for any escalation or worsening of relations. This is a classic in the pro-Kremlin playbook of manipulation to deflect the blame of its own wrongdoings onto others. It also enables pro-Kremlin outlets to drive its favoured disinformation narrative accusing the West of trying to destroy Russia.
Yet all pro-Kremlin commentators tiptoed carefully around the uncomfortable truth – the reason for the European Parliament designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism is Russia’s heinous actions in Ukraine.
An offer you can’t refuse
Perhaps the most curious attempt to manipulate the information environment was pro-Kremlin disinformation channels on Telegram spreading a video showing an individual handling a violin case containing a sledgehammer with blood traces. The allegation was that the sledgehammer was sent to the European Parliament by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the notorious mercenary Wagner Group. Since Wagnerites have used similar sledgehammers to conduct unlawful executions, this video was clearly an attempt to intimidate.
One could laud the theatrics reminiscent of the seminal horse-head-in-bed scene from the classic gangster film Godfather. Except that there is no proof that such a delivery was ever made to the European Parliament. Still, that did not prevent Russian state-affiliated outlets from spreading the intimidating video, unfortunately leading to its amplification even on more respectable Western media outlets.
Never mind our terrorists, look at Ukraine
Of course, it would not be a truly fulfilled week for the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem if it did not expend considerable efforts to deride and denigrate Ukraine. In order to distract the world from the atrocious ‘de-electrification campaign’, a.k.a. missile attacks on civilian infrastructure across Ukraine, pro-Kremlin outlets redoubled their efforts to accuse Ukraine of war crimes, including resurfacing the unsubstantiated disinformation narrative of Ukraine shelling civilians in Donbas, and using the artificially boosted hashtag #StopKillingDonbass to propagate disinformation on social media.
Following this week’s theme of accusing everyone else of terrorism, pro-Kremlin outlets also accused Ukraine of this crime by spreading false allegations of the Ukrainian army harvesting children’s organs in Izyum and executing Russian prisoners of war in Makiivka. Invariably, for the Kremlin, Ukraine’s alleged proclivity for terrorism and attacking civilians targets is done with the blessing of the West.
Everything new is well-forgotten old
Another curious but familiar disinformation narrative spreading throughout pro-Kremlin disinformation is the unfounded allegation of clandestine, Western-funded biological weapons research laboratories in Ukraine.
And it is no coincidence that this old ‘biolabs’ disinformation narrative is being recycled and repeated concurrently with the start of the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention. It is yet another Kremlin attempt to hijack serious international events and derail their agenda by spreading manipulative and untrue information.
Pro-Kremlin disinformation is defined by repetition. This is not by accident, but by design. Repetition makes any lies sound more believable, so pro-Kremlin outlets often stick to recurring narratives, resurfacing them to distract from other issues. Cases in point include replaying accusations that Ukraine is a testing ground for American biological weapons or peddling conspiracy theories about the West genetically targeting Russians.
The Kremlin has a proven track record of accusing its neighbours of developing biological weapons. We have already explained the difference between biological research and biological weapons, but pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets remain unburdened by such nuances.
Also on EUvsDisinfo’s radar this week:
- Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets love to push conspiracy theories, so they continue to peddle various unfounded allegations against the West for sabotaging the Nord Stream pipelines. The latest example includes using a pretence for environmental concern at the COP27 Conference to accuse the EU of damaging the pipelines. This is clearly a part of a wider pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign to fill the information space with narratives alleging Western culpability for the Nord Stream pipeline explosions.
- Meanwhile, some Russian state-controlled outlets are trying to convince their audiences that the West is getting tired and losing patience with Ukraine’s alleged provocations and refusal to negotiate peace with Russia. This disinformation narrative intermingles the false claims that Ukraine is abandoned by the West and the unfounded statement that Ukraine is trying to provoke a direct clash between Russia and NATO. The truth is, however, that the West stands steadfast with Ukraine, its sovereignty and territorial integrity and will continue to provide support for Ukraine.
- In line with its favoured tactic of scaremongering, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem continues to push the narrative that Europe is facing an insurmountable energy crisis and will not survive the coming winter without Russian energy supplies. This narrative also plays into the Kremlin’s claims that the West is collapsing. However, EU member states have undertaken multiple counter-measures in order to increase EU security of energy supply, such as the ‘Save gas for a safe winter’ Europe is prepared to face this winter. EU underground gas reserves have been filled to more than 93% of their capacity, and Europe won’t be out of gas for the winter even without Russian gas.