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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
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Moscow’s strategy to carve up Europe

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 14:46

By Janusz Bugajski, for CEPA

Moscow’s strategy toward Europe is reminiscent of carving a hunted game. It exploits and exacerbates the vulnerabilities of targeted states, and widens any lingering disputes between them. The Kremlin has targeted at least four portions of the continent: Anglo-Saxon Europe, Western Europe, Central Europe and the Orthodox Balkans—with the remainder of Europe’s east to be directly devoured by Russia.

A primary focus of subversion dating back to Soviet times is to drive a permanent wedge between the continental European states and the “Anglo-Saxon” countries—the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Moscow views the former as more malleable, corruptible and exploitable, and the latter as more likely to challenge Russia’s revisionism.

After a brief interlude following the election of Donald Trump, the Kremlin has refocused its sights on promoting transatlantic rifts. Its propaganda depicts the United States as a hegemon that limits the sovereignty of all European states and pushes them into conflicts along Russia’s borders, including the one with Ukraine. In this schema, Britain is depicted as an American puppet that has now been untethered from the continent following its Brexit decision.

The second carving strategy is to expand fissures between Western Europeans and Central Europeans and to foster various bilateral disputes. Former Soviet satellites, particularly Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are depicted as nationalistic and incurably Russophobic, thus preventing rapprochement between Brussels and Moscow and blocking business opportunities in Russia for Western European companies.

In addition, EU skepticism is encouraged in all targeted countries, based on nationalism, populism and conservatism. Kremlin propaganda outlets castigate the degenerate nature of European liberalism, the lack of national sovereignty, recurring financial crises in the Eurozone, failed multiculturalism, uncontrolled immigration and an inability to combat jihadist terrorism. In contrast, Russia is depicted as a Christian bastion against Muslim extremism. All these themes help Moscow influence a “fifth column” of movements and parties inside the EU that include radicals of diverse political persuasions.

A third Kremlin carving maneuver encourages a neutral bloc to emerge across Central Europe. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia lie at the epicenter of Russia’s campaign to subvert NATO states from within, with Poland increasingly in Russia’s crosshairs. Having failed to keep these countries outside the Alliance, Putin’s officials calculate that politicians and governments can be bought or blackmailed to serve Kremlin designs, transforming Central Europe into a zone increasingly alienated from Washington.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico are depicted as sympathetic leaders who can be enticed to distance themselves from NATO. Ministers in several countries, including Poland, are also probed for their susceptibility to Russian financial overtures. Following the Czech Republic’s 21 October elections, Andrej Babiš—a Moscow-friendly businessman and leader of the ANO party—could become the next Czech prime minister and draw the country closer into a Kremlin orbit. Moscow also endeavors to pull Slovenia and Croatia away from Western institutions through energy contracts and opaque investments, thus completing a long wedge of influence between Ukraine and the Adriatic that could disable NATO operations in the event of war.

Moscow also favors links between the Central European wedge and traditionally neutral Austria. It views the “Slavkov Triangle” association between the Czech Republic, Austria and Slovakia as a useful tool to undermine the Visegrad Group and help lift sanctions against Moscow. This strategy also contributes to isolating Poland from other Central European states. Bilateral disputes are exploited throughout the region to undermine state integrity, including the position of the Polish minority in Lithuania, whose leader reportedly maintains close relations with officials in Moscow and has campaigned for territorial autonomy.

A fourth carving opportunity for the Kremlin is in the Balkans, where its goal is to create an Orthodox bloc and shield the region from American influence. Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria are earmarked as the core of this portion of Europe. Greek governments have a long tradition of pro-Moscow sentiments. Bulgaria is perpetually prone to Russian influence through numerous political and economic entanglements. And Serbia values Russia as a counterpoint to EU and U.S. pressure in rejecting the independence of Kosova. Moscow miscalculated by failing to overthrow Montenegro’s government, reinforcing its determination to join NATO. Nonetheless, it continues to target both Macedonia and Montenegro through its broad arsenal of subversion.

Moscow is now fixated on keeping Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosova outside of NATO so it can deepen its political, economic and informational inroads. The Central European and Balkan wedges will also contribute to isolating Romania, which— much like Poland and the three Baltic countries—is resolutely anti-Kremlin and pro-Washington.

The last portion of the European carcass are the former republics of the Soviet Union that Moscow either intends to absorb into its economic and security structures, or transform into permanently neutral satrapies. These include Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. With Europe preoccupied with its internal divisions and its unsettled relations with the United States, the Kremlin calculates that it can achieve most of its objectives without resorting to any significant military actions.

By Janusz Bugajski, for CEPA

Janusz Bugajski is a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington DC and host of the “New Bugajski Hour” television show broadcast in the Balkans. Bugajski has authored 20 books on Europe, Russia, and trans-Atlantic relations and is a columnist for several media outlets. His recent books include Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks (co-authored with Margarita Assenova, 2016); Conflict Zones: North Caucasus and Western Balkans Compared (2014), Return of the Balkans: Challenges to European Integration and U.S. Disengagement (2013), Georgian Lessons: Conflicting Russian and Western Interests in the Wider Europe (2010), Dismantling the West: Russia’s Atlantic Agenda (2009), America’s New European Allies (2009); and Expanding Eurasia: Russia’s European Ambitions (2008).

Categories: World News

Giving pro-Kremlin propaganda a helping hand

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 13:52

By Corina Rebegea, for CEPA

The Kremlin’s disinformation machine is widely opportunistic. It stirs up existing emotions within various groups in society to bring them more in tune with Kremlin-backed narratives. A relatively cheap investment for the propaganda apparatus, it successfully creates confusion, sometimes panic—cultivating conspiracies and mistrust in the Western system of values and governance. In Romania, this opportunistic behavior is part of a two-pronged approach and has become a typical tactic. On one hand, Kremlin-endorsed narratives and tropes get multiplied with the help of sensationalist, fringe and sometimes even mainstream media. On the other, pro-Russian media outlets and Facebook groups stimulate or amplify fringe anti-American, anti-EU and anti-NATO voices and messages that do not necessarily originate in the Kremlin’s disinformation laboratories. In both cases, a wide range of media outlets and social media groups lend a helping hand to Russian propaganda.

A recent example of the amplifying effect is a petition launched on 30 August to declare Hans Klemm, the U.S. ambassador to Bucharest, persona non grata. This demand came just as a mainstream party politician posted a similar message on Facebook. Sputnik News Romania jumped on the opportunity, presenting the petition as a unique development in NATO. Pro-Kremlin as well as conspiratorial or nationalistic social media pages have been rolling messages and articles bashing the Klemm—sometimes in very offensive terms—for being the “governor” of the “colony” Romania. Some other mainstream voices, from both media and political spheres, have joined the choir thereby creating an artificial media event for official Russian propaganda channels to report as a major development in Romanian society.

The same collection of voices is evident when it comes to other causes that oppose everything from vaccination and homosexuality to capitalism and globalization; the list goes on and on. These causes have a common thread: they contradict religious and traditional values—views that are presumably inherent to Romania’s national fabric —and represent open, democratic, Western values. These voices portray EU membership and adherence to Western ways of governance as incompatible with Romania’s national structure. Often, it is almost impossible to track the origin of a certain narrative, but pro-Kremlin disinformation is extremely active in aligning with other fringe groups and promoting what is typically a counter-reaction to so-called Western decay (by promoting progressive values) or aggressive behavior (by installing military bases and staging exercises).

The noise created by online media—especially social media—gives Kremlin propagandists the perfect camouflage for pouring gas on the fire if a provocative narrative is already circulating by accentuating, or inserting new elements in pre-existing narratives. It also creates confusion between paid propaganda and disinformation agents—useful idiots with vested political agendas who understand how to manipulate certain narratives in their favor—and regular media consumers who happen to favor the same points of view.

This confusion minimizes legitimate criticism—towards both the West and Russia—making criticism seem irrational or hysterical, while creating the appearance of a polarized society. Needless to say, the main beneficiaries are Kremlin’s paid agents of influence, sockpuppets and trolls who can claim legitimacy and credibility by hiding among regular media consumers.

The petition against Ambassador Klemm is a clear case of dissimulating Kremlin-backed, anti-Western narratives by piggybacking on domestic political debates and conspiracies. It also shows how ubiquitous propaganda techniques like scapegoating or card-stacking end up in the disinformation ecosystem, whether or not Kremlin-sponsored outlets employ them.

While opportunistic disinformation tactics are hard to combat, breaking the vicious circle that encourages Russian propaganda can start with exposing the paid agents of a foreign government. By tracing the money and structure behind disinformation campaigns, ordinary citizens will be able to see they do not follow alternative opinions, but rather are victims of manipulation.

It would also help to avoid using the language of propaganda, such as “Romania, a U.S. colony.” Opinion leaders, especially good-faith critics of the United States or the West, should be mindful of the vocabulary of disinformation they may unwillingly perpetuate and help consecrate in the public discourse.

By Corina Rebegea, for CEPA

Corina Rebegea is Director of the U.S.-Romania Initiative and Fellow-in-Residence. She holds an MPA degree from Syracuse University as a Fulbright scholar, an MA in Human Rights from the University of Manchester as an OSI/Chevening Fellow and a BA in Political Science from the University of Bucharest. Corina works on democracy and rule of law issues, good governance and public sector leadership, as well as broader issues of transatlantic security cooperation.

Categories: World News

Historian Anne Applebaum Details Stalin’s War Against Ukraine: ‘I Believe It Was Genocide’

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 17:05

The true number of famine victims has been difficult to calculate, Anne Applebaum says, because the Soviet system tried to cover up the famine immediately after it happened.

By Natalya Golitsina, for RFE/RL

The latest book by Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War On Ukraine, sheds new light on one of the seminal events in Ukrainian history – the deadly famine of 1932-33 that Ukrainians call the Holodomor. Some 4 million Ukrainians were killed in a famine that was engineered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to eliminate a perceived threat to central Soviet power.

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Natalya Golitsina spoke with Applebaum about this tragedy and the role it continues to play in Ukraine’s relations with Russia.

RFE/RL: What caused the Holodomor?

Anne Applebaum: The Holodomor was created deliberately by Stalin. There was, in 1932, the beginnings of broad Soviet famine that was caused by collectivization and the grain-requisitions policy. By the autumn of 1932, Stalin decided to make use of this crisis, to use it in order to target Ukraine specifically. And at that time, as my book shows, there were a number of measures taken that specifically affected Ukraine: blacklisting of particular farms and towns and villages, a cordon around the border so that people were unable to leave Ukraine, special measures against Ukrainian cultural institutions and the Ukrainian language. And these were all undertaken at the same time.

I do believe that was intended to kill more people in Ukraine and that it did so and that the Ukrainian Communist Party and the Soviet Communist Party knew that this was happening. Yes, it was an intentional famine.

Historican Ann Applebaum: “The Holodomor, because it was repressed and because you were not allowed to speak about it, became part of a kind of underground culture in Ukraine.”

RFE/RL: And Stalin was responsible?

Applebaum: Stalin is personally responsible, but a lot of other people were also responsible, too. The famine was carried out with the help of Ukrainian bureaucrats, the Ukrainian Communist Party, as well as by Russians and Soviet leaders who came into the country from outside.

In order to carry out a famine like this – remember, it involved removing the food (not only grain, but also other kinds of food) from people’s homes — in order to carry it out, they needed many people. So I would say there was a wider social responsibility.

RFE/RL: Why would Stalin target Ukraine in this way?

Applebaum: Stalin was afraid of counterrevolution and he was particularly afraid of Ukraine. He remembered that during the Civil War era, there had been a major peasant rebellion in Ukraine. And in 1932, he knew there had been an armed uprising in opposition to collectivization in Ukraine. And he also knew that there were many people in Moscow who were upset more generally about collectivization and about its impact.

Actually, in the autumn of 1932 when they passed the decrees that were designed specifically toward Ukraine, one of the decrees they passed was an end to [the 1920s-era policy of] ‘Ukrainization’ – that is, language and culture, the propagation of Ukrainian identity. This was seen as somehow counterrevolutionary and dangerous and they sought to end it. He was afraid that this would harm him. So, the famine, along with a crackdown on Ukrainian intellectuals – these two things together were an attempt to make sure there would be no counterrevolution coming from Ukraine.

I think that for Stalin, Ukraine represented an idea. The idea of an independent Ukraine was a challenge to central Soviet power that could potentially undermine the Soviet state. This is what he believed. I think he also believed a sovereign Ukraine would find allies, would ally themselves with Poland or other countries and they might not be loyal to the Soviet system. For him, it was very important to eliminate this Ukrainian idea. He believed it was a challenge to the Soviet idea.

And I should say that if you step back and look at it, he may have been right because, of course, the revival of the Ukrainian idea that happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ultimately leading to an independent Ukraine in 1991, did help undermine the Soviet Union. It was a challenge and a real threat to Soviet power – and [Stalin] sought to eliminate it in any way.

RFE/RL: How many people died as a result of the Holodomor?

Applebaum: Over the last several years, a team of really good Ukrainian demographers has gone back through the archival material and has looked at local birth and death records. And the number they have come up with is that 3.9 million — nearly 4 million people — died in Ukraine. So-called excess deaths. In other words, more than the number of people who would normally have died. So we can say that that is the number of people who died.

The numbers have been difficult to calculate because the Soviet system tried to cover up the famine immediately after it happened, even going to the extent of covering up and hiding a census that was taken in 1937, which showed large numbers of deaths. But this team of Ukrainian demographers recently has come up with, I think, finally, very good numbers.

RFE/RL: There has been much debate over whether the Holodomor should be considered an act of genocide. Where do you stand on that?

Applebaum: I’m very happy to call it a genocide, according to the original definition of the word genocide as it was invented by Raphael Lemkin, who was the lawyer who came up with the term. I think it fits perfectly into his definition of genocide.

I know it is more difficult to do so in international law because of the way that international law was written and in particular because the UN Convention on Genocide was created with the help of the Soviet Union, which was very anxious not to include Ukrainian famine and other Soviet crimes. I know that legally it can be more difficult to do it, but, yes, of course, I believe in essence it was a genocide.

RFE/RL: Why didn’t the Soviet Union seek international assistance during the famine as it did during other famines in the 1920s?

Applebaum: The Soviet Union didn’t ask for assistance in 1932 and 1933 partly because Stalin didn’t want the world to know that collectivization, which he was trumpeting as a great triumph – he didn’t want people to know that it was a real disaster. He didn’t want people inside the Soviet Union to know and he didn’t want people abroad to know.

I think that for Putin, Ukraine represents a challenge a little bit the way Ukrainian sovereignty was a challenge for Stalin.”

But, of course, the second reason was that he was using this general famine to target Ukraine. He wasn’t interested in saving people. He wanted the peasants, as a group, to be weakened and he didn’t want people to survive. So there was no effort to collect international aid.

RFE/RL: How were the grain requisitions carried out?

Applebaum: It is important to note that the famine was not just the result of grain requisition, although that was the most important part of it. Brigades of activists came through Ukrainian villages and they took not only grain but everything else. They took all other kinds of food – vegetables, beets, potatoes. There were meat quotas they had to fulfill. They took everything they could out of people’s homes. It was a crude and violent operation.

In the course of doing so, they would beat people up and throw them out of their homes. They would attack them and torture them in order to get them to… They believed the peasants were hiding grain and food. And, of course, sometimes they were. So they would torment people in order to get them to give up the grain and the food. It was a very violent and chaotic operation. But the long-term effect of it was that people were left with literally nothing. They would have no food in their houses at all.

RFE/RL: How widespread was cannibalism in Ukraine at this time?

Applebaum: Cannibalism wasn’t common, but it did happen and there were many incidents of it that were reported to police. They knew about it, the authorities knew about it, and they would have passed it on to higher levels. It is important to note that even then, even when there was no food at all, cannibalism was never considered normal. It always evoked reactions of horror. Cannibals were often arrested.

People began speaking again about the famine right at the time when Ukrainian independence became something that was possible again.”

There is some evidence that cannibals were later on even kept together in the [gulag] camp system. There were reports of people who saw them on the Solovetsky Islands a little bit later on. It was, if not common, it was there and in almost every one of the famine districts there were incidents of cannibalism. And there are descriptions in the archives and in people’s memoirs.

RFE/RL: Did Ukrainians fight back, resist during the Holodomor?

Applebaum: There was initially resistance to collectivization. And then there was resistance to requisitions. People hid their grain. Later on, when the famine began, there was very little resistance because people were simply too hungry and not able to resist anymore. But there were also some Ukrainian peasants who collaborated and helped carry out the requisitions.

This is an important point to remember because it is an indication of just how effective propaganda and terror were in convincing people to do terrible things. People were afraid of being deprived of food. They were afraid of the violence. They wanted to save their own families and their own children, so some local people did help the activist brigades carry out the requisitions and carry out the food searches. In effect, the Ukrainian peasantry was divided between those who suffered and those who sought to find ways of surviving themselves.

RFE/RL: Why is the Holodomor such an important chapter in Ukraine’s history and such an integral part of Ukrainian national identity?

Applebaum: The Holodomor, because it was repressed and because you were not allowed to speak about it, became part of a kind of underground culture in Ukraine. People spoke about it behind the scenes and passed the story of it from parents to children. The Ukrainian diaspora began to speak about it and write about it and even commemorate it, particularly after they were able to leave the country in large numbers in the 1940s and 1950s. It became a kind of symbol of Ukraine’s untold history. It is a way in which Ukraine’s history is different from that of Russia, and it is being denied.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visits a monument to Holodomor victims in Kyiv in November 2016

In the late 1980s [came the Chernobyl disaster] and immediately afterward many Ukrainians began saying, “Look, this is something that has happened to us before. We had this famine disaster and that was also kept secret.” People began speaking again about the famine right at the time when Ukrainian independence became something that was possible again. Although I think there are other reasons why Ukraine sought independence, it was an important motivation for people, a memory of something terrible that had happened and that had been silenced. One of the motivations for people to begin speaking again about Ukraine and Ukrainian sovereignty was to talk once again about the famine.

RFE/RL: You discussed earlier how Ukraine presented a challenge to Stalin. Is there something similar going on now with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Applebaum: I think that for Putin, Ukraine represents a challenge a little bit the way Ukrainian sovereignty was a challenge for Stalin. Ukrainian independence represents a challenge for Putin as well, particularly a Ukraine which is pro-European, which is democratic, which believes in freedom of speech and the rule of law. These are all ideals…the kinds of values and ideas that threaten Putinism because Putinism is an oligarchic autocracy that would be in trouble if there was complete freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the rule of law.

A Ukraine which embodies European values is a genuine ideological challenge to Putin. I wouldn’t say to Russia itself because I think Russia and Ukraine should be close neighbors. If they both shared the same values, they would have valuable exchanges and trade and so on. But Putin’s political system does feel challenged by these values and that explains both his attitude toward Ukraine and his invasion of Ukraine.

By Natalya Golitsina, for RFE/RL

Categories: World News

Derailing Moscow’s disinformation machine

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 16:59


By Donald N. Jensen, for CEPA

For all the impressive research on Russian information operations in recent years—we have excellent studies of Kremlin troll farms, and how Russia disseminates its narratives on mainstream and social media—surprisingly little work has been done on how the bureaucratic machinery of Kremlin information operations actually works. Do its activities proceed from a grand strategy or are they opportunistic? Is there an interagency process for formulating strategy toward a specific country? How does the government apparatus adapt to change? Above all, how much do Russian President Vladimir Putin, or the people immediately around him, control how these operations are conducted? These questions are of more than academic interest, since their answers provide clues to the Kremlin’s points of vulnerability as the West devises polices to push back.

Mark Galeotti’s recent study of Russian influence operations is an excellent start in addressing this challenge. Putin is by no means in charge of everything, he concludes. Galeotti says Russia’s active measures campaigns are characterized by bottom-up initiatives from a variety of actors. But they are also driven by the broad guidance and encouragement of the Kremlin, and the hope of political and economic rewards if successful. Many of these initiatives come to nothing, or are simply part of the diffuse, low-level “static” with which the Russians try to jam Western public and political discourse. They may be counterproductive or even derive from misunderstandings of the Kremlin’s interests—although, even then, they will typically at least have the secondary benefit of cluttering and confusing the information space.

Among Galeotti’s other findings:

  • Russia carries out and encourages “active measures” in Europe to destabilize and confuse governments and societies. But these efforts are often opportunistic and shaped by local conditions. There is no grand strategy beyond weakening the EU and NATO, and creating a more conducive environment for itself.
  • The Kremlin’s initiatives involve a wide range of actors, from officials and the media, through military threats, to business lobbies and the security services.  Russia pursues different priorities in different countries, depending on the correlation between the strength of countries’ national institutions and their vulnerability to Russian influence.
  • Nonetheless, the Kremlin strives to coordinate certain operations across platforms. If there is a command-and-control node, it is within the Presidential Administration—perhaps the most important single organ within Russia’s highly de-institutionalized state.

A crucial subset of Russia’s active measures is its information war capability, especially its ability to influence media narratives in target countries. That said, Galeotti argues, the role of information operations is often misunderstood and overstated, perhaps precisely because it is by definition public, and also because it is easy to assume causation where one might not exist. It is not, he states, as though Russian propaganda made every Euroskeptic or even NATO-skeptic that way. Even so, disinformation—the spread of often false or distorted news—and a deluge of alternative opinions meant to drown out the realities are undoubtedly central elements of Moscow’s information operations. In part, this is the realm of foreign-language media such as RT and the Sputnik online news agency (in 30 languages). Russian-language television is widely available outside the country, and a plethora of newspapers and sites exist online.

Without giving up hope of persuading Moscow to change its policies, Galeotti suggests, Europe must nonetheless address its own vulnerabilities, “fixing the roof” rather than simply hoping the rain will stop. Among other things, he says, this includes addressing democratic backsliding in parts of the continent. His recommendations:

Comprehend the challenge: Broaden European understanding of security in this hybrid war and invest more in effective analysis and intelligence on the ground. Watch the Kremlin’s Presidential Administration in particular, and identify individual curators and their methods.

Contain the chaos: Address the counterintelligence gap by agreeing to a minimum level of spending for EU member states. Seal chinks in the EU’s armor by educating national populations to be more critical of disinformation, and by countering democratic backsliding in certain member states.

Deter diffuse threats: Make consistent but asymmetric responses to Russian active measures; any arm of the Russian state is fair game. Name and shame individuals behind active measures and designate Russian organizations acting with hostile intent as “foreign agents.”

By Donald N. Jensen, for CEPA

Donald N. Jensen is a Senior Adjunct Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis where he edits the StratCom weekly Editor’s Note. Jensen is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. A former U.S. diplomat, he writes extensively on Russian foreign and domestic politics, especially Russia’s relations with Europe.

Categories: World News

Total Defense: How the Baltic States Are Integrating Citizenry Into Their National Security Strategies

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 10:30

Total Defense: How the Baltic States Are Integrating Citizenry Into Their National Security Strategies

Marta Kepe and Jan Osburg

Russian aggression in Ukraine and military exercises at the borders of the Baltic states, as well as a string of information and cyber operations, have raised fears among Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania about their security. Due to their shared borders with Russia, the Baltic states are the NATO members most exposed to Russia’s threats. As small countries with little strategic depth and limited human and economic resources, they are increasingly adopting a “total defense” approach to national security, which includes enabling civilians to be able to protect themselves and to also support their nation’s professional armed forces in case of a conflict. U.S. and NATO forces therefore also need to plan for effective engagement with local civilians as they prepare their forces for deployment to the Baltic states in times of crisis.

Baltic Armed Forces are Outnumbered and Outgunned by Russia’s Military

The total population of the Baltic states is 6.2 million. Their combined territory is only 173,291 km2 (or 107,678 square miles) and a leisurely drive through the widest point between Russia and the Baltic sea would only take around 7 hours. Despite their size, all three Baltic countries have committed to spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense, with Estonia having reached this aim in 2015, and Latvia and Lithuania close to the target in 2017 with 1.7% and 1.8% respectively. However, their small economies and populations, and their past focus on developing expeditionary rather than territorial defense capabilities due to their accession to NATO in 2004 and the economic crisis of 2008, mean that even with the best of efforts there are limits on how much the Baltic states’ militaries can be grown.

Currently, all Baltic armed forces combined comprise around 22,000 troops, with 448 heavy artillery pieces but no tanks or warplanes. The Russian conventional capability in the Western Military District alone is assessed at approximately 300,000 troops, while the total Russian conventional capability is estimated to be around 845,000 troops, 5,436 heavy artillery pieces, 2,550 tanks and 1,389 warplanes. Thus, it is obvious that the Baltic states’ military capabilities are no match for Russia’s forces. While NATO has deployed one battalion to each of the three Baltic states as part of the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) effort and has made additional pledges to support the security in the region, augmenting NATO forces to the degree needed for thwarting a full-scale Russian invasion is likely to encounter opposition due to costs and political reasons.

The Promise of Asymmetric Approaches

Considering the unequal character of the Baltic and Russian forces, an asymmetric strategy that encompasses a whole-of-society approach to national defense holds promise to augment the defensive and deterrent capabilities of the countries under threat. The primary goal of asymmetric defense is to defeat the adversary’s will to engage in – or continue with – aggression by denying benefits, increasing costs and influencing their perception of both costs and benefits. Resistance to invasion and occupation would also send an important political message to Allied governments, namely that the local population does not accept the new rulers and is putting their lives on the line to defend their national sovereignty.

Such “total defense” actions go beyond conventional military activities. They encompass efforts of civilian branches of government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the general population, thus enhancing conventional defense and deterrence measures. A total defense approach may be particularly helpful in situations where there is no clear threshold for the ‘start of hostilities’, and, if deterrence should fail, can also help to buy time until sufficient NATO reinforcements can arrive. Civilian engagement in particular can be part of deterrence in the form of raising popular support for the defense of the state, strengthening societal resilience and increasing threat awareness as well as letting civilians contribute their skills, talents and resources or serve as watchful eyes. Including civilians requires strategic alignment and communications between and among defense planners, civilian authorities, NGOs and the general population.

Baltic Steps Towards “Total Defense”

The Baltic states are very aware of the role society plays in their national defense. This is illustrated by the renewed interest in asymmetric approaches, which have been included in strategic-level government documents. The three states also host NATO centers of excellence that contribute analysis and support to NATO’s strategic communications, cyber defense and energy security capabilities. Furthermore, the Baltic states have been encouraging their populations to be involved in national defense and contribute to societal resilience by educating their populations on the role of the armed forces, national defense, and security threats, and by advising civilians on how to act in case of crisis and war. However, beyond those basics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania differ in their approaches to defense policy and capability planning. Likewise, their approaches on working with citizenry as key parts of deterrence and defense also have significant differences.

The Estonian implementation of total defense is an all-inclusive approach that encompasses the participation of all sectors of society, including government institutions, the private sector and civil organizations. Its main goal is to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the country under any circumstance. While doing so, it also aims to increase the confidence of the people in the Estonian government and their will to defend Estonia. A key part of this approach is ensuring a resilient and cohesive society that is the glue that holds together defense, security and foreign policy and related capabilities, and ensures the availability of human resources and their readiness to actively respond if necessary.

Latvia, on the other hand, has started integrating total defense into its national security strategy. The strategy focuses on resilience – increasing Latvia’s ability to resist hybrid threats that may be economic, political and technological in nature, to counter information warfare and, like Estonia, to increase social cohesion. As outlined in the 2016 State Defence Concept, civil-military cooperation is part of the national security approach and brings together state administrative institutions, the general public and the National Armed Forces. According to the Latvian Constitution, the ability of the population to engage in individual and collective resistance is regarded as an indivisible part of the national identity and civic confidence, forming the foundation of state defense against any aggressor.

Lithuania’s total defence approach has been in place since the early 1990s and has been inspired by the examples of the Nordic countries and Switzerland. Here, total defense is understood as an approach to national defense that includes not just the National Armed Forces and Allied forces, but also the mobilization of all national resources towards defeating an invader, along with active resistance by every citizen that is in any way legitimate under international law. Lithuania has also used the concept of ‘comprehensive security’, which stands for the cooperation of military and civilian institutions and interoperability of military and civilian capabilities. Moreover, Lithuanian strategic documents specifically allude to the concept of civil resistance, which is understood as the citizens of Lithuania, either as individuals or formed into small units, engaging in activities against aggression and occupation. The Ministry of National Defense (MOND) has supported this effort by publishing extensive practical recommendations on how to prepare for and act in emergencies and war, issuing a brochure with focus on resilience in 2015, and issuing a third volume focusing on resistance in 2016.

Public’s Readiness to Engage in National Defense

Each of the Baltic states has a proud history of civilian participation in armed and unarmed resistance. However, popular engagement in civic activities and NGOs is generally low. The passivity of the post-liberal societies and a potential lack of understanding within the society that citizens’ action can make a difference may be contributing to this relatively low level of civil engagement. Participation is also hampered by the divided information space between Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and local Russian-speaking populations, with differing attitudes towards history, and dissimilar cultural and political identities. Likewise, the differences in regional development and the consequent social and economic inequality, and a perceived detachment of the society from policy-making processes, adds difficulties to engaging with society, specifically in times of crises.

Nevertheless, a substantial amount of the Baltic populations is willing to actively defend their countries. For example, armed resistance is regarded as necessary by 77% of the respondents to an Estonian Ministry of Defence opinion poll, with 56% of the respondents willing to take an active part in the defense of Estonia. The number of those ready to actively engage in defense is reported at 39% in Lithuania and 33% in Latvia. Based on the Baltic states’ current population levels, this would amount to more than 2.5 million people across the three countries ready to take up arms to defend the independence and sovereignty of their countries – a number twice the order of magnitude larger than the active-duty military.

Conscription and Training of Civilians

Increased civilian participation in defense can be fostered through engagement with existing social and professional organizations, and with individuals at all levels of society.  Conscription, in addition to its role in generating active-duty military forces, may also be regarded as part of civilian engagement and training for defense. It increases the human resources available for mobilization, boosts general preparedness for emergency situations, and can increase appreciation of one’s country and its armed forces. Estonia has continued conscription since the early 1990s and Lithuania reinstituted a form of conscription in 2016, only eight years after it was abolished it in 2008.

Conscription in Estonia is for a term of 8 to 11 months and aims to provide the conscript with the knowledge needed to contribute to the military in wartime. While only men face compulsory military service, since 2013 women are also allowed to serve in the program. Similarly, Lithuania has a nine month long conscription program, with a large percentage of the around 3,000 conscripts a year participating in the program as volunteers. Latvia is the only Baltic state that does not currently have any form of conscription as it was suspended in 2006.

The most recent development in the Baltic states aimed at increasing the ability of civilians to respond to crisis, protect themselves, and help support national defense is the effort of the Latvian government towards the reintroduction of national defense and civil defense courses in schools. If implemented, this initiative will increase the population’s knowledge on how to recognize threats and respond to them. Furthermore, it may increase Latvian youth’s interest in serving in the professional and voluntary forces and elevate the general level of support for civilian resistance in case of conflict. Currently, only 13 schools in Latvia offer national defense courses on a voluntary basis. If implemented, the new national defense courses would be offered to high schoolers (grades 10–12) and would include learning about the national defense strategy, the armed forces, individual security and survival, international humanitarian law and acquiring various practical skills, for example mastering obstacle courses or identifying and avoiding mines. The program may also involve marksmanship training, individual combat skills and improving general fitness levels. Civil defense classes would provide students with knowledge on how to act in dangerous situations and teach first aid skills.

However, having a body of conscripts and networks of civilians with defense-related skills is not enough. These skills and networks need to be exercised.  Accordingly, the “Siil” integrated national defense concept exercise, held in 2015 in Estonia, was the largest exercise in Estonia’s history. It involved 13,000 reservists, members of the Estonian national voluntary defense organization (“Defence League”), conscripts, professional military and Allied forces. More recently, Lithuania integrated a partial mobilization exercise, Lightning Strike 2017, with participation of reserve troops. In addition, some training and exercises for senior government officials, politicians, representatives of educational institutions, NGOs and journalists have been held in the Baltics states, with the objective of informing them about and training them for various civil crisis situations. Such training also contributes to building the interpersonal and interorganizational networks needed for the effective implementation of a total defense system. This means giving people from different backgrounds and professional networks the opportunity to connect with each other and thus create both formal and informal social and communication networks. One example of such training is the Estonian National Defence Course that has been held since 1999. It brings together a wide variety of participants, including Estonian politicians, military, government and local government representatives as well as individuals working in the private sector and NGOs. Nationwide emergency response capabilities are also regularly tested in exercises such as the Estonian Contingency Employment Exercise (CONEX). This exercise was used to explore the options for legal measures in resolving crisis situations (e.g. large scale cyber incidents, mass poisoning, disruption of electricity supply, mass disturbances or attacks on key infrastructure) and involved NGO and private sector representatives. Held in 2015 in conjunction with the Siil exercise, it helped review strategic level response procedures and identify potential shortcomings in legislation.

Conclusions

The Baltic states’ thinking about national defense increasingly encompasses civil society, starting from the leveraging of civilian infrastructure to the participation of civilians in national defense. The Latvian Minister of Defence illustrated this by saying:  ‘We suggest changing the paradigm of state defense from the idea that a fighter is only a soldier with a weapon in his hands and the support of Allied soldiers, to the conviction that every patriot of this country may give an invaluable contribution to state defense.’ If done correctly, this promises to provide a sustainable addition to defense and deterrence, and thus help prevent further aggression in this region. Furthermore, any small-unit warfare that may take place in the Baltic states in the case of invasion would require local society support regarding logistics, information and other resources. It is therefore paramount that the citizenry understands their role in defense and are ready to support their own as well as allied troops.

Notwithstanding the differences between the Baltic states, below are some recommendations for Allied activities that can help the Baltic states in their approach to strengthening the national defense of the countries that form the Eastern border of the Alliance:

  • Support national efforts to educate their citizens on national security issues, thus increasing their willingness and interest to participate. Facilitating open discussions about national defense that involve the government sector, armed forces, the private sector, NGOs and members of the society will increase awareness of defense and security among the general public.
  • Augment national efforts to educate their citizens on what to do in time of crisis or war, by providing support to publications, television and radio programs disseminating such information.
  • Advise the Baltic states on best practice regarding how to increase interagency cooperation between their ministries of defense and armed forces cooperation, and their ministries of interior, NGOs and general society.
  • Participate in the design and execution of multi-institutional defense and resilience exercises that include the participation of civil society.

These recommendations are aligned with recent developments within NATO. Resilience, civil preparedness and civil-military readiness were all discussed during the last NATO Summit in Warsaw in 2016. Furthermore, NATO has increased its interest in the state of civil defense and civil resilience measures.

When implemented correctly, these combined, whole-of-government efforts promise to enable a sustainable defense to and deterrence against aggression directed at NATO’s easternmost members.

By Marta Kepe and Jan Osburg, for Small Wars Journal

Marta Kepe is an analyst at RAND Europe working on defence, security and infrastructure; specifically, she focuses on a range of European and transatlantic defence and security issues. She specialises on European conventional and unconventional defence, European and transatlantic defence policies and planning, European defence industry and technology as well as NATO, EU and Nordic-Baltic security issues. Prior to joining RAND, she worked for the Latvian Ministry of Defence. Kepe’s previous experience also includes working on defence sector reform processes in the Western Balkans, security sector reform processes, international armaments and defence sector accountability respectively at the NATO Advisory Team in Kosovo, the United Nations and the National War College. She received her M.A. in security studies from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

Jan Osburg is a Senior Engineer at the RAND Corporation. Most of his work is in the areas of defense, aerospace engineering, emergency preparedness, and homeland security. Recent projects involved assessing the potential of unconventional warfare and resistance-based defense, the use of gaming environments for testing new operational concepts, and planetary defense. He has spent significant time as an embedded RAND analyst in Iraq and Afghanistan — six months with MNF-I in Baghdad in 2009, three months with CFSOCC-A in Kabul in 2010, and two months with the Asymmetric Warfare Group in Bagram in 2013. Osburg previously worked as a research engineer at the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology, where he led research projects that applied probabilistic methods and tools to the conceptual design of aerospace systems.

Categories: World News

Russia’s state TV: Threatening Ukraine with nuclear arms and the defensive Zapad 2017

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 15:02

By EU vs Disinfo

  • Below you can find a summary of the main topics on Russia’s most watched state TV news channels past week.
  • The news shows’ agenda in Russia is carefully attuned to serve the Kremlin’s needs.
  • Therefore, following Russian state media sheds light on our understanding of how the Kremlin seeks to influence the Russian-speaking audience in Russia and beyond. Read our story here.
  • Our monitoring of pro-Kremlin disinformation also reveals that many of the themes set out in Russia’s most popular state TV news programmes find their way into European outlets.  
“USSR was the only country of real democracy”

TV host Vladimir Solovyov, 17.9.2017

1. Threatening Ukraine with nuclear arms

The lion’s share of prime-time content on Russian state TV news programmes this week was dedicated to the UN General Assembly in New York. It was presented mostly through the prism of war in Ukraine and the alleged “anti-Russian sentiment”  and “Russophobia” of the West.

One of the key themes was Russia’s plan to send UN peacekeepers to the contact line in Ukraine – a plan that has drawn criticism from Ukraine, the EU and the US – and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s own proposal for peacekeepers that would cover the whole conflict zone including the border with Russia.

The most extreme position came from Moscow State Institute of International Relations professor Oleg Barabanov on TV Centre. He alleged that the US pushes Ukraine towards a “major war” and called for Russia’s reaction. Russia has to identify “military targets” in Ukraine for strikes by Russia’s “tactical nuclear weapons”, he argued. The aim, he said, was to make it clear to the “enemies of Russia” that Russia is not afraid to use nuclear weapons.

Several examples of extreme targeting of Ukraine were present on this week’s TV talk shows. Ukraine’s “presidential clique” was accused of demanding “mass shootings”,”liquidation”, and “mass murder of the people” in Eastern Ukraine.

TV Channel Rossiya 1 reported on 18 September about “defensive” Zapad 2017 that “differs little in scale from a major military operation”.

2. Zapad 2017 exercise: The hysterical and aggressive West

Russia’s TV news continued to focus on Europe’s “hysteria” over the scope of the Zapad 2017 exercise. Reports followed Russia’s official position that the drill was a defensive exercise and the number of troops did not exceed 13,000. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite was accused of lying to the UN General Assembly when stating that there were 100 000 troops taking part and another report labelled her as a “so called president” (the same term being used for President Poroshenko).

There were some stories contradicting the official line. One report from an exercise in the Leningrad oblast, a region surrounding St. Petersburg, stated that the drill “differs little in scale from a major military operation”.

TV Centr took a few steps forward from the storyline of a “defensive Zapad 2017” and went as far as stating that Latvia and Estonia have territorial claims for Russia, that Poland has them for Ukraine, and Romania for Moldova. “This is aggression against Russia”, we heard.

The same concept of Russia as a besieged fortress was repeated on Channel One, which described Russia as being under military pressure “unprecedented in the last 500 years”, stating also that “military bases are converging on our borders”.

Rossiya 1 illustration for a report from Catalonia 17 September.

3. Catalonia emerging on the agenda

During the week, reports from Catalonia and its request for an independence referendum (considered as a violation of the law by the Spanish Government) started to appear. They concentrated on protests against the authorities in Madrid. TV Channel Rossiya 1 claimed that the Spanish authorities are taking extreme actions against the 1 October referendum.

The coverage on Catalonia was still moderate in quantity. On social media, pro-Kremlin accounts have been promoting hashtags “1oct”, “Rajoy”, “Catalonia” and”defenderlademocracia”.

4. “USSR was the only country of real democracy”

A talk show on TV Channel Rossiya 1 sketched the Russia’s point of view on democracy. The angle was formulated with the question: is democracy a “political system or an excuse to invade other countries”? TV host Vladimir Solovyov added that it was actually the USSR that was the” only country of real democracy”.  Guests’ views on democracy were negative: they either didn’t believe in it, or stated that Russia doesn’t need democracy “so that the West would like us” and accused the US of attempts to privatize democracy.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

StopFake #150 [ENG] with Paul Niland

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 14:21

The latest edition of StopFake News with Paul Niland. Fake record unemployment and labor migration, sky-high electricity costs.

Categories: World News

(U//FOUO) Asymmetric Warfare Group Russian New Generation Warfare Handbook

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 01:01

By Public Intelligence

The following document was originally made available by the website MultiBriefs.

Russian New Generation Warfare Handbook

Page Count: 68 pages
Date: December 2016
Restriction: For Official Use Only
Originating Organization: U.S. Army, Asymmetric Warfare Group
File Type: pdf
File Size: 2,341,074 bytes
File Hash (SHA-256): 06F68FFE2479DA61E398E30722FE733450C9A32C4503BA343363680A9EAA698E

Download File

(U) As the American Army fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, it became the best tactical level counter insurgency force of the modern era. America’s enemies, however, did not rest. Russia observed the transformation of the American Army and began a transformation of their own. This new military barely resembles its former Soviet self. Wielding a sophisticated blend of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), electronic warfare (EW) jamming equipment, and long range rocket artillery, it took the Soviet model out of the 1980s and into the 21st Century.

(U) Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan Revolution overthrew a corrupt Russian supported president and threatened to place a pro-European government in power on the very outskirts of the Russian Federation. In March 2014, Russia occupied Ukraine’s Crimea with SPETsNAZ units in a virtually bloodless operation. SPETsNAZ then infiltrated into the Donbas region, fomenting unrest and sparking a pro-Russian insurgency.

(U) Over the next few months, the Ukrainian military and volunteer militia fought back rather successfully. They pushed the separatists back to the very border with Russia. Then everything changed. Russian regular troops with heavy equipment attacked across their border and fought a series of encirclement battles resulting in hundreds of Ukrainian troops killed and the Ukrainian Anti-Terror Operation teetering on the brink of defeat.

(U) How do we combat this enemy? America has not encountered this type of conflict for nearly a generation and needs to transform to fight and win in complex maneuver warfare. Several factors contribute to potential challenges U.S. formations may face in such a conflict: It has been several years since we deployed large numbers of troops in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Our junior leaders, both officers and enlisted, have less and less combat experience. Our equipment has been designed to combat an insurgency, not an enemy with potential overmatch. How do we protect our troops from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), communications and GPS jamming, and layered air defense networks?

(U) This handbook attempts to examine the tactics used by Russia in Ukraine as the military component of their New Generation Warfare doctrine. We will attempt to describe their capabilities and applications of combat power. Finally, this handbook will present recommendations for U.S. Battalions and Brigade Combat Teams to counter these Russian methods of war. The war in Ukraine is still ongoing. The Russian Forces are still involved in Syria and continue to improve from their successes and shortfalls. We, as American Soldiers, must do the same. As the saying goes, “Only fools learn from their mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

(U) CYBER

(U) Russia’s developing capabilities have also incorporated the cyber realm. The U.S. dependence on computer networks and the amount of technology present even at the company level, create vulnerabilities to Russia’s new found capabilities. Contributing factors for increased cyber-attacks are their low risk to high pay off ratio and increasingly interconnected U.S. military networks. Everyday U.S. military functions, such as Web-based or computer generated administrative and logistical operations or activities. This creates a significant vulnerability to cyber intrusion and network degradation.

(U) Cyber-attacks can effectively shape the battlefield and require very little risk on the part of the perpetrator. Since U.S. formations operate under selfimposed restrictions, like ethical hacking and prioritizing protective measures over offensives in the cyber realm, they are limited in their capabilities compared to Russian counterparts.

(U//FOUO) Russia is also able to reach into its nonmilitary cyber expertise to complement their military capabilities. The Kremlin cooperates with criminal hacker groups and the Russian government employs thousands of professional hackers as part of their whole of government Information Operations strategy. This severely outnumbers U.S. military cyber capabilities and means that U.S. brigades could be subjected to cyber-attacks from pro-Russian sympathizers in countries not even involved in a conflict.

(U) As with the degraded communication environment, Cyber Meaconing Intrusion, Jamming and Intercept (MIJI) is a very real threat to U.S. formations.

By Public Intelligence

Categories: World News

Fake: 45% of Ukrainians Work Abroad; Record High Unemployment

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 11:59

Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda disseminated a fake story claiming that 45% of all Ukrainians work abroad and the country is struggling with record high unemployment. Official Ukrainian data and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) tell a completely different story. According to the IOM some 688,000 Ukrainians are currently international migrant workers, that is approximately two percent of the Ukrainian population. 1,643.000 are internal migrant workers, having moved from their homes to other places in Ukraine because of work.

Website screenshot tvzvezda.ru

Website screenshot iom.org.ua

Ukraine’s State Statistics Service tracks demographics and migrant workers movements. The Service’s annual analysis of migration movements shows that the number of Ukrainians leaving their country in search of work is getting smaller. In 2015 519,000 Ukrainians left the country to work abroad, in 2016 that number fell to 246,000.

According to Ukraine’s Labor Service and the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, at the start of 2017 some five million Ukrainians were working outside Ukraine.

Zvezda not only claims that 45% of Ukrainians are working abroad but also states that as of 2013 unemployment in Ukraine grew by 60%. This claim is also completely false. According to the International Labor Association the current level of unemployment in Ukraine is 9.7%, having gone up 2% since 2013.

Ukraine’s labor market has been impacted by the Russian annexation of Crimea and the invasion of the Donbas territories leading to more 1.5 million internally displaced people.

Categories: World News

Fake: Ukraine Has the Highest Electricity Prices in Europe

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 19:12

According to the Russian site Ukraina.ru, Ukraine has the highest electricity prices in Europe. Completely twisting a recent statement by Ukraine’s National Committee on Utility Regulation director Dmytro Vovk, Ukraina.ru simply replaced the word cheapest with most expensive.

Website screenshot ukraina.ru

The site comments.ua also reprinted this fake.

Website screenshot nerc.gov.ua

This is what Vovk actually wrote:

“For years we’ve heard sweet words from our politicians about consumer protection – as a result, electricity prices in Ukraine are the lowest in Europe. Our task is to guarantee stability and quality of service.”

According to a comparative electricity cost analysis by the European Statistical Agency Eurostat, Ukraine is in last place in terms of electricity prices. Ukrainians pay five European cents for a kilowatt hour of energy; Germans on average pay nearly thirty cents, Belgians 31 cents. The average price for electricity in Europe amounts to 17.7 cents per kilowatt hour, considerably more than what Ukrainians pay.

Website screenshot texty.org.ua

Compared to EU countries the price of electricity in Ukraine is cheap, but the percentage of their salaries that Ukrainians pay for utilities is higher than the European average.  In Ukraine, this percentage is almost 39%, in Poland it is 25%, and Germany – only 6%.

Categories: World News

Russian Disinformation a Means of Waging War against the US

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:28

A recent U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing entitled The Scourge of Disinformation concluded that disinformation is part of Russia’s hybrid war against the United States, an instrument with which the Kremlin meddles in America’s internal affairs.

Opening the hearing, Senator Cory Gardner pointed out that Russian disinformation poses a serious threat to the liberal international order and undermines the security and human rights of people in the OSCE region. Russia’s goal, he said, is “to sow fear, discord, and paralysis that undermines democratic institutions and weakens critical Western alliances such as NATO and the EU.”

Hearing participants presented examples of the success of Russian propaganda and confirmed Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

In her testimony, Fianna Strategies CEO Molly McKew described how fake stories and disinformation on Facebook were used to organize anti-immigrant protests in the US, how disinformation had been successfully used in Germany and the Middle East and how historical narratives had been manipulated and hijacked to sow discord between Ukraine and Poland.

McKew, an expert on information warfare and Russian disinformation policies, whose company advises governments and political parties on foreign policy and strategic communication said Russia’s information warfare is aimed to erode political will in the West, to sow doubt and division, discord and chaos, in order to spark political unrest, and make us question the validity of our systems and institutions.

All hearing participants agreed that the best way to confront Russian disinformation is  to challenge the scourge on several fronts:

  • provide objective, independent and professional news;
  • the US government should join forces in the fight against propaganda;
  • cooperation with EU and NATO allies, especially Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, in order to study and share knowledge and experience;
  • the creation of separate forces that will engage in defensive and reciprocal operations;
  • protect privacy, provide data protection for Americans on the Internet;
  • consider limiting propaganda on social media;
  • increase the media literacy of the population;
  • create more quality English-language resources that will not be based on Russian content.

John Lansing, acting Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an agency that oversees the work of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said the US should not resemble Russia in the battle against disinformation.

“In essence the Russian strategy is to destroy the very idea of an objective, verifiable set of facts.  In their world the death of facts is the first step towards creating the alternative reality that helps them gain and keep authority with no accountability.  If everything is a lie, then the biggest liar wins.” Lansing said.

According to polls most Americans consider themselves immune to propaganda and don’t think disinformation is a serious problem that affects them or their country.

Categories: World News

Can Forrest Gump Defeat Russian Propaganda in Belarus?

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 11:27

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Sometimes the simultaneous appearance of two stories apparently unrelated sheds light on issues more clearly than either of them does on its own. That is the case of two stories today from Belarus, one about Moscow’s promotion of Russophile books in that country and the other about the release of a Belarusian version of “Forrest Gump.”

Nasha Niva has investigated how money from the Kremlin has passed through the CIS-EMO, an apparently innocuous organization that stands for the Commonwealth of Independent States – Election Monitoring Organization, money to support books for Belarusians promoting pro-Russian attitudes (belaruspartisan.org/politic/395008/).

The CIS-EMO ostensibly was to be the counterpart of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, but its real purpose is to promote pro-Russian attitudes in former Soviet republics.  It has attracted attention for books likeHuman Rights Violations in Lithuania and The New Europe of Vladimir Putin (with Marie Le Pen on the cover).

Since 2013, this organization has been headed by Aleksandr Bedritsky of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI).  Among the books with a Belarusian dimension it has released since then are Belarusian Nationalism Against the Russian WorldBSSR and Weestern Belorussia, and The White Guard of White Rus, all of which are in Russian.

The CIS-EMO organization gets its money from the Russian state budget via grants for “the development of a humanitarian foundation of Russian-Belorussian integration and the countering of falsification of history.” Last year, it received some 500,000 rubles or about 45,000 US dollars (grants2016.oprf.ru/grants2016-1/operators/perspektiva/requests/zhurnal/rec6880/).

The Russian propaganda books are distributed in part for free but also sold in several Russian Orthodox Church bookstores in Belarus.  How many people read or are influenced by them is unknown, the Belarusian paper suggests. Also unknown is the number of Belarusians who are ready to accept their message.

But this weekend, a competing message will be offered in the Moskva Theater in Minsk when the Belarusian-dubbed version of the American film “Forrest Gump” will be shown to what are expected to be large and enthusiastic audiences who will demonstrate their interest by paying for tickets (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/9/17/263205/).

Indeed, in what is a kind of competition between the Zelig-like American film star and the kind of stick propaganda figures in books like The White Guard of White Rus, there is very little question as to who is going to win.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

One in Five Russians Would Vote for Fake Putin Protege

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 21:27

Vladimir Putin Kremlin Press Service

By The Moscow Times

Nearly one in five Russians would vote for a made-up Vladimir Putin protege in next year’s presidential elections, an experimental Levada Center poll cited by the Vedomosti newspaper said on Wednesday.

The Central Elections Committee confirmed this week that the next presidential elections, slated to give President Vladimir Putin his fourth term, will take place on March 18, 2018.

Levada’s experiment showed that 18 percent of those polled were ready to cast their ballot for a fictional “Andrei Semyonov,” Vedomosti reported. Another 15 percent said they were ready to support “Semyonov” having never heard of him.

Another 11 percent claimed to have heard of Semyonov, who the pollster suggested enjoys Putin’s support. Levada sociologist Karina Pipiya told Vedomosti they may not be lying on purpose but are either uninterested in politics or “are giving a socially approved answer.”

“But the two-thirds of Russians not ready to vote for this candidate are immune to majority pressure, and collective perceptions do not have a significant impact on their opinion.”

Pipiya said the experiment was conducted in August to gain an understanding of “how the authority of the incumbent president spreads to electoral attitudes.”

She said Levada plans similar polling experiments in the future.

Levada’s real poll cited by Vedomosti showed that 48 percent of those surveyed in August were willing to vote for Putin. Putin’s support grew to 60 percent among those who plan to vote next March.

A think-tank last month ranked Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as the most likely successor to Putin, followed by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

By The Moscow Times

Categories: World News

Pro-Kremlin disinformation in Germany: absent or present?

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 07:28

By EU vs Disinfo

After past examples of unbalanced coverage and attempts to influence elections (herehere; see also here), many observers were asking: what about the German general election on 24 September?

Already in January, the Disinformation Review reported an uptick in false reporting about Germany in pro-Kremlin media. Around the same time, observers highlighted how bot activity on social media had been redirected from the US to attack chancellor Angela Merkel.

The themes highlighted in pro-Kremlin media concern some of the favourite topics of pro-Kremlin disinformation:

– The refugee crisis (featured with statements like “The arrival of refugees in Germany was planned by the US with the intention of changing the German mentality and converting Germans into liberals and cosmopolitans”);

– The alleged resurgence of fascism: claims include “The aim of the German contribution to NATO’s presence in the Baltic countries is to be able to attack Leningrad” (sic!) or “the German government is supporting neo-Nazism in Ukraine”;

– The absence of freedom of speech in Germany;

– Mistreatment of children.

Angela Merkel has been a particular target, with fakes such as “Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler’s daughter” and “Merkel is the Führer of the Fourth Reich”.

Symbiosis of pro-Kremlin narratives, far-right, and bot networks

Researchers have identified what they see as some of the key outlets of pro-Kremlin narratives in Germany. They have also noted the links that exist between supporters of the far-right and pro-Kremlin media. DFRLab says that the use of bots to automatically amplify messages on social media has been confirmed: “The analysis shows that the most active amplifiers of these outlets do, indeed, include apparent bots, but they are not the most important factor. The signals are significantly boosted by pro-Kremlin activists, far-right users, and anti-migrant users, who have been known to work together to harass critics.” With bots coming as cheap as US$ 100, this is hardly a surprise.

At the same time, there has been an unprecedented level of awareness of the threat of pro-Kremlin disinformation in Germany:

  • The country’s internal security service, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, has not tired of warning of potential interference in the election campaign, in particular following the hacking of the IT system of the German parliament in 2015.
  • The German office for IT security has hired a 180-strong team to stave off cyberattacks and hacking attempts.
  • Fact-checking initiatives have sprung up (faktenfinder.tagesschau.decorrectiv.org and Facebook has cooperated with investigative researchers Correctiv to fact-check suspicious posts. The Hamilton 68 dash board tracks disinformation in the German Twitter sphere.
  • Robust new laws against online hate speech and fake news approved just before the summer break will enter into force on 1 October. If social networks fail to remove content branded as fake, they can face fines of up to EUR 50 million.
  • German media have extensively covered the issue, contributing to a general awareness of the problem of fake news and disinformation.

Cases of disinformation relating to Germany are available in our database of disinformation here.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Kremlin narratives on Crimea resurface in German election debate

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 21:27

This article is part of ECFR’s Wider Europe Forum

By Andreas Umland, for European Council of Foreign Relations

For the future of Ukraine, what Germany thinks and does really matters.

Last month, the German election campaign saw an unexpected statement by the leader of Germany’s liberals, Christian Lindner. The chair of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) – a centre-right force hitherto known for its hawkish stance in support of international law and all-European integration – proposed accepting Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a “permanent provisorium”. But, while this was unusual, Lindner only expressed a view which can be heard among many politicians, diplomats, and journalists in Germany and other Western countries. In fact, Lindner has – at least within the German political context – not been the most accommodative towards Kremlin expansionism.

For instance, the former chair of Germany’s oldest party, the social democratic SPD, Matthias Platzek, suggested in late 2014 to “retroactively regulate, in terms of international law,” Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Alexander Gauland, the deputy chair of the new right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party, which is poised to enter the Bundestag, said this summer that “Crimea is ultimately ancient Russian territory and cannot go back to Ukraine” – thereby fully embracing the Kremlin’s irredentist narrative. The leader of Die Linke, Sahra Wagenknecht, had called for Germany to accept the result of the Crimea referendum even before it took place.

The FDP chair was thus relatively moderate in his assessment. Lindner merely stated that, in distinction to the Donbas issue, Crimea’s return to Ukraine is a long-term project. His seemingly pragmatic approach is not only a reaction to Moscow’s manifest unwillingness to return Crimea to Ukraine, and to the very high popularity of the annexation among Russians. Lindner’s approach is symptomatic of larger trends within the EU’s political establishment to go soft on Russian imperialism, and to do so by simply ignoring the actual situation on the ground.

As ECFR’s recent research has shown, there are a number of leading parties which are mainstream but which nonetheless regularly incline towards giving their backing to Russia. As Gustav Gressel wrote, “These parties fully embrace the Western model, open societies, free trade, political liberties, social modernisation, and a secular state. But they also promote closer ties or economic cooperation with Russia, easing sanctions at the earliest opportunity, or are equivocal when it comes to how the European security order should be arranged.” As such, on the specific issue of Crimea, the Kremlin-supported narrative is a particularly popular argument of Europe’s Russlandversteher (Russia-understanders) in business circles, armchair punditry, and radical parties.

One of the most critical early reports on the pseudo-referendum came from three representatives of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights at the office of the President of Russia.[1] One of the members of this official Russian state body had visited Crimea in April 2014. On the basis of this private field trip to the freshly annexed peninsula, the Russian Presidential Council’s report, referring to local interlocutors, estimated that the referendum’s turnout was not 83.1 percent, as officially reported by the Kremlin-installed authorities on Crimea, but rather around 30-50 percent. Support for annexation among those Crimean voters who did vote was not 96.77 percent, as had been reported by the Moscow-controlled authorities, but around 50-60 percent. The latter is a figure not far from the results of opinion polls taken before the annexation, is supported by analyses alleging plain falsification of the voting’s results, and partially confirms even lower estimates by the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars.

Even allowing for a considerably higher turnout and larger real support for annexation in the city of Sevastopol – base of the Russian Black Sea fleet – this would mean that significantly less than a third of the overall Crimean population actually voted in support of the annexation. This is far too little to even partially justify such a momentous change in Europe’s post-war borders. The Russian Presidential Council report, moreover, quoted Crimean experts who said that the “population of Crimea did not so much vote for joining Russia than for, in their words, a termination of ‘the rampant corruption and predatory coercion of the Donetsk appointees’ [i.e. members of the Yanukovych clan dispatched to Crimea in 2010-2013].” In one of the last reliable polls conducted, in mid-February 2014, a few days before Crimea was occupied by Russian soldiers without insignia, a mere 41 percent of the peninsula’s respondents (excluding the special-status city of Sevastopol) supported unification of Russia and Ukraine into a single state.

The various polls that have been conducted after Russia’s military and political takeover seemingly demonstrate large Crimean support for annexation. Yet, for various reasons, this apparently unequivocal public opinion data has limited validity for an interpretation of the events in spring 2014. The more recent polling results partially reflect the effects, on Crimea’s citizens, of the shrill defamation campaign against Ukraine in the Kremlin-controlled media – the only major source of mass information left. Some of the polls also do not address the familiar popular bias towards support for the status quo – an effect that had earlier favoured the peninsula’s continuance in Ukraine even among many otherwise pro-Moscow Crimean respondents.

Most post-annexation pollsters seem to ignore the considerable stakes involved, for their respondents, to say to strangers that they support Crimea’s return to Ukraine. After its annexation by Russia, Crimea has become Europe’s most problematic territory in terms of the protection of civil rights of citizens, in particular of the indigenous Crimean-Tatar population. Moscow and its Crimean proxies work to stigmatise any disapproval of the annexation and are ruthless in their persecution of political dissidents, and even of mere sympathisers with Kyiv, on the peninsula.

There are further reasons why reference to the Russia-organised pseudo-plebiscite cannot serve as justification for an accommodative approach to Russia with regard to Crimea’s annexation. The date of the referendum was changed twice, and there was neither time nor opportunity for Crimea’s citizens to publicly, pluralistically, and freely discuss the choices they would be given in the alleged plebiscite on 16 March 2014. Before the ‘referendum’, the OSCE had explained its unwillingness to send an observer mission to this procedure saying that “international experiences […] showed that processes aiming at modifying constitutional set ups and discussions on regional autonomy were complex and time consuming, sometimes stretching over months or even years […]. Political and legal adjustments in that regard had to be consulted in an inclusive and structured dialogue on national, regional and local level.”

These conditions were not fulfilled, which is why the OSCE and all other relevant election observer organisations refused to attend.

Voting took place under conditions of psychological pressure from visible Russian regular troops without badges (‘little green men’ or ‘friendly people’), and armed pro-Russian irregulars omnipresent across the peninsula. Curiously, no option was presented, on the ballot, for the preservation of the status quo, i.e. the valid Constitution of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea adopted in 1998. Crimean voters were only given the opportunity to vote either for joining Russia, or for the reintroduction of an older, invalid Crimean constitution of 1992. Moreover, both of these two choices were ambiguous in their formulation and content.

The first option promised Crimeans ‘re-unification’ (vossedinenie) with Russia. However, Crimea had never been part of a ‘Russia’ that was politically separate from the mainland territory of the post-Soviet Ukrainian state to which Crimea has belonged since 1991. Most of today’s Ukraine had, for approximately as long as Crimea, been part and parcel of both the tsarist empire and the Soviet Union, ie. those states which the word “Russia” in the referendum apparently implied. From 1783 until 1991, Crimea had thus only been united with an empire sometimes called ‘Russia’, and not with a Russian nation-state. The larger part of today’s entire Ukrainian territory once belonged to this empire as much as most of the area of the current Russian Federation.

Crimea belonged, within the tsarist empire, to the Tauric Governorate that included not only the peninsula, but also most of today’s southern mainland Ukraine. Both post-Soviet republics, the Russian Federation and independent Ukraine, are therefore successors to the ‘Russia’ to which the 2014 ‘referendum’s’ promise of ‘reunification’ refers. As the Crimean peninsula had not belonged to an exclusively Russian state, separate from mainland Ukraine before 1991, Crimea could not have been separated from ‘Russia’ in 1991, and ‘reunited’ with it in 2014.

Until 2014, Russia’s post-Soviet leadership had never officially questioned Crimea’s place in post-Soviet Ukraine. Indeed, it confirmed this in several agreements. The two most important treaties were the 1991 Belovezha Agreement on the dissolution of the USSR, under Boris Yeltsin, and the 2003 Russian-Ukrainian State Border Treaty, under Vladimir Putin. Both agreements were ratified by Russian parliaments (the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and State Duma of the Russian Federation) and signed into law by Russia’s presidents. If one still accepts Moscow’s “historic right” to Crimea, with reference to its annexation to the tsarist empire in 1783, one would have to also concede an as deeply grounded historic justification for today Russia to annex much of the territory of today’s mainland Ukraine – colonised for approximately as long by Moscow as the Black Sea peninsula. In addition, many other territories outside today’s Russian Federation could then be also up for grabs by Moscow – as they had belonged to the same ‘Russia’, to which the 2014 pseudo-referendum refers, for roughly as long as Crimea.

The referendum’s second option, promising a return to the 1992 constitution, was even more confusingly formulated, as there had been two constitutions in force, in that year, on Crimea. The voters were – either intentionally or accidentally – left in the dark as to which of these two alternatives to annexation their choice would actually refer – to the more confederal Crimean Constitution of May 1992, or to the more federal Constitution of September 1992? Had this second option won, it would have been left to the powerholders to choose among these two different basic laws. One even suspects that this unorthodox second option – rather than the more standard option to simply preserve the status quo – was presented on purpose to increase support for the one clear option left: annexation to Russia. The choice that Crimeans were offered in March 2014 was not so much one between Russia and Ukraine than a decision between clarity and limbo.

None of this information is exceptional, secret, or original. The facts listed above and an array of other revealing aspects of these events are well known in Ukraine and among experts within Western academia, governments, mass media, and civil societies. Yet the Russian narrative is still widespread of a perhaps somewhat roughly initiated referendum that, however, eventually led to a decision allegedly supported by the vast majority of Crimeans.

The full outcome of this month’s federal election in Germany is not yet clear. But it is obvious that Moscow will warmly welcome leading German politicians repeating its preferred lines. It hopes that they in time become part of standard Western discourse on Crimea’s annexation.

By Andreas Umland, for European Council of Foreign Relations

Dr. Andreas Umland is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, and editor of the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” published by ibidem Press at Stuttgart and distributed by Columbia University Press at New York. Eleanor Knott (London School of Economics), Dmytro Shulga (Renaissance Foundation Kyiv) and Frank Golczewski (University of Hamburg) made useful comments on an earlier draft of this text.

Read more on: Wider Europe Forum

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Monitor ǀ September 19, 2017

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 14:27

WANTED: Kremlin Watch Intern

European Values Think-Tank is looking for an intern for the Kremlin Watch Program.

SPECIFICATION:

  • Team work and independent activities in the
    Kremlin Watch team, which include:
  • Monitoring and cooperation on weekly Kremlin
    Watch Monitor in English language;
  • Involvement in the preparation of expert
    documentation within the area of disinformation
    campaigns;
  • Participation in the preparation and realization of
    the STRATCOM MiniSUMMIT.

Find out more about the opportunity on our website.

Weekly Update on the Kremlin’s Disinformation Efforts The Kremlin is a victim and is happy to pay for it

The UN Watch, a non-governmental human rights group, challenged the UN’s Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy for claiming in one of his reports that the Russian Federation is a victim of human rights violations due to the “unilateral coercive measures” imposed by the United States and the EU. According to the watch-dog group, Mr. Jazairy received $50,000 from the Kremlin for writing the report.

It’s official!

The Justice Department has allegedly instructed the company that runs RT’s American branch to register as a foreign agent, signifying that RT is being officially branded as an instrument of Kremlin influence. RT announced the news on September 11, but did not name the company in question. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is a statute from 1938, originally intended to combat Nazi propaganda, that requires Americans engaged in political work on behalf of foreign entities to disclose those relationships.

Facebook is a useful tool

Two explosive reports detail how Russian groups exploited Facebook to influence political attitudes in the US. First, Facebook representatives approached congressional investigators to testify that Facebook had discovered it had sold advertisements during the 2016 election to a shady Russian company aiming to target voters. The ad sales, about 3,000 in total and worth around $100,000, were traced to a Russian troll farm notorious for spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda. Second, The Daily Beast reported that Russian operatives using false identities created Facebook events “to remotely organize and promote political protests in the U.S., including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho.” These events are the first concrete indication that the Kremlin’s influence operations have moved beyond the mere propagation of fake news to the realm of stoking public action.

What can be done to make internet companies like Facebook and Google more responsible is the subject of one of our recent papers, co-authored by Jakub Janda and Klára Votavová. For a shorter read, you can also find their commentary on the Atlantic Council.

The EEAS East Stratcom Task Force has launched a new website, providing a user-friendly platform in three languages to look up disinformation cases in a searchable database, together with analysis of continuous and systematic disinformation campaigns. You can learn more about the new features in the following video:

Putin’s Champion Award

Our Expert Jury consisting of Jessikka Aro, Peter Kreko, Nerijus Maliukevičius, Anton Shekhovtsov and John Schindler, regularly votes on the dangerousness of several candidates you can nominate via e-mail or Twitter.

The 19th Putin’s Champion Award Recipient is

UN Special Rapporteur & former Algerian ambassador Idriss Jazairy

For reportedly accepting 50 000 USD for writing a manipulated report to show Russia as “victim of EU & USA human rights abuses”

U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers; (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Expert Jury ranked his Putin-supportive job with

4

(out of 5) mark.

The rating signals how much the recipient contributed to the interest of the Putin’s aggressive regime. It is calculated as an average of ratings assessed by the Expert Jury of this Award.

You can find more details about the award and the former recipients here.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

A Second Look at the Steele Dossier

It has been eight months since the leak of the so-called Steele Dossier, a private intelligence report containing allegations of ties between Donald Trump and Russia. The dossier was a past topic of interest in the American media. Now, a new article by a highly respected former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, John Sipher, offers a second intriguing look at it from an intelligence perspective.

The dossier, which was originally published by BuzzFeed, comprises a collection of reports produced by Orbis Business Intelligence, a private intelligence firm, of which the author of the dossier, Christopher Steele, is a co-founder. The reports, produced between June and December 2016, contain allegations of collusion between the Kremlin and key Trump campaign officials, as well as claims that Russians have compromising material on Trump that could be used to blackmail him. Even though the dossier’s publication triggered an uproar, the media repeatedly pointed out that the reports were “unsubstantiated”, and the topic slowly faded away. So, what news does Sipher’s article bring us?

With a 28-year career in the CIA, Sipher looks at the dossier from the perspective of someone who is familiar with the procedures that lead to the creation of such a document and is able to assess the dossier using his expertise. After a thorough examination, which takes into account events that happened after the dossier was leaked, Sipher concludes that information contained in it is generally credible. He points out, for example, that a lot of information learned in past months support the narrative that was presented in the dossier. Even though Sipher also considers certain parts of the reports to be incorrect or questionable, the core of the dossier is, in his view, now more reliable than before.

Good Old Soviet Joke

In the Soviet Union: “We have no problem with freedom of speech; however, freedom after speech still needs more work.”

Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare

CEPA reports on the continuous efforts of Russian-language pro-Kremlin media to persuade the population of the Baltic states that Western politicians support the Kremlin’s objectives in the region and criticise their domestic issues. Methods of misrepresentation and taking others’ words out of context are common manipulation and propaganda techniques.

The defence ministers of Sweden and Denmark co-authored an op-ed according to which they plan to cooperate more with respect to countering the threats of “hybrid warfare, including various forms of cyber attacks, disinformation and fake news, which can create uncertainty in societies” coming from the Kremlin.

Politico published an article examining the work of Ben Scott, a former technology adviser to Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2016 US presidential campaign. He is now part of a group of researchers fighting digital disinformation campaigns prior to the general elections in Germany.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.

Categories: World News

StopFake #149 with Lada Roslycky

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 16:47

The latest edition of StopFake News with Lada Roslycky. Among the disinformation debunked this week: President Poroshenko admits returning Crimea to Ukraine is unrealistic; Putin shatters atheism in five minutes; Ukrainians infecting Europeans with tuberculosis andwhat you really need to know about Russia’s government funded agencies RT and Sputnik.

Categories: World News

Stories about Russia “are so hot right now” — so BuzzFeed is partnering with Meduza for more substantive Russia reporting

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 14:36

Photo of paintings of Vladimir Putin by Nicolay Volnov used under a Creative Commons license

“There’s an enormous interest in Russia we really haven’t seen since the Cold war.”

By Shan Wang, for NiemanLab

You may have noticed: Interest in news out of and about Russia is high these days.

“In 2016 and 2017, for reasons that I’m sure are fairly obvious, there was a spike of interest in the U.S. in stories coming out of Russia,” Ivan KolpakovMeduza’s editor-in-chief, told me.

“Audience-wise, I think Russia stories are so hot right now, and there isn’t a huge amount of reporting coming out of there,”Miriam Elder, BuzzFeed’s world editor, said. Elder had been the Guardian’s Moscow bureau chief before joining BuzzFeed. “On our side, there’s an enormous interest in Russia we really haven’t seen since the Cold War.”

So BuzzFeed News is beefing up its Russia coverage by partnering with the Latvia-based online outlet Meduza, which has grown rapidly since its launch less than three years ago. (Elder said this isn’t necessarily the first step to a full Russia site for BuzzFeed, the way, say, BuzzFeed Deutschland is for Germany.)

The partnership is editorial, and resources will be concentrated on joint investigations. BuzzFeed is paying for the investigations it commissions with Meduza, according to Kolpakov, though the sites will trade stories and Meduza translate occasional stories of its choosing from BuzzFeed, free of charge. Other exchanges: A Meduza reporter will sit in the BuzzFeed newsroom for a week to take in the BuzzFeed workflows; a BuzzFeed reporter will head to an annual conference Meduza puts on. Elder cited Meduza’s investigations on Russian cyber capabilities as one investigative topic of interest to both outlets.

“BuzzFeed has been a model for us in many respects, productwise and strategically,” Kolpakov said. (Since its earliest months of existence, Meduza has been following BuzzFeed’s growth, and interested in a more substantial partnership. It’s worked with BuzzFeed in the past informally on various exclusives, and Kolpakov was a guest on BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith’s podcast last month.) “We face a lot of the problems that BuzzFeed faces, most importantly with respect to maintaining brand presence across multiple platforms, the production of video and new formats, internal communications, and the convergence of hard news and entertainment journalism, native advertising, and so on. Honestly, I think that BuzzFeed has been more of a model for us than any other outlet.”

“Our story was known in the West, but not our actual product or the quality of our journalism,” he added. (Meduza was born out of Kremlin interference into the Russian site Lenta.ru. A number of Lenta.ru staffers moved to Latvia, safe from Russian editorial interference, and launched Meduza.)

Both sides are interested in growing a global audience interested in Russia stories. BuzzFeed doesn’t offer a breakdown of unique visitors by country, but more than half the monthly unique visitors to BuzzFeed.com come from outside the U.S. (It current publishes in content in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, French, German, and Russian.) A quarter of Meduza’s readership — Meduza also has a complete English-language site— comes from outside of Russia.

Meduza is interested specifically in growing a subscriber base for its English-language email newsletter, which is targeted at readers who are interested in Russia and post-Soviet countries, but “who do not read Russian fluently.”

“Additionally, this is a way for our reporters and editors to reach an entirely new audience. I don’t think our expectations go beyond that,” Kolpakov said. “It’s a whole new market, and it’s the most interesting market in the world. And of course, it would be great if we could show that Russia has quality journalism, and that Russia is not just Putin and hackers, but a whole lot of other things that are scary, astonishing, and fun.”

By Shan Wang, for NiemanLab

Categories: World News

Russian state TV’s targets last week: Ukraine, Poland and the US as antiheroes

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 13:15

By EU vs Disinfo

  • Below you can find a summary of the main topics on Russia’s most watched state TV news channels last week.
  • The news shows’ agenda in Russia is carefully attuned to serve the Kremlin’s needs.
  • Therefore, following Russian state media sheds light on our understanding of how the Kremlin seeks to influence the Russian-speaking audience in Russia and beyond. Read our story here.
  • Our monitoring of pro-Kremlin disinformation also reveals that many of the themes set out in Russia’s most popular state TV news programmes find their way into European outlets.

1. Undermining the statehood of Ukraine

The fact that former Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili crossed the Ukrainian border even though he was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship was interpreted as a sign of Ukraine’s weakness. The sovereignty of Ukraine was repeatedly contested during the show on Channel One and the ”60 Minut” talk show on Rossiya 1.

Guests were claiming that “there is no Ukraine” but a “southern branch of the Russian people”, a state “built on lies” that “cannot be regarded as a serious state”, “an unformed nation and an unformed state” and finally a state “which is controlled by the USA and Europe and lives off their money and so on, and has de facto ceased to exist”. Speculation went further on Thursday on the same show, when some panelists suggested that Saakashvili might have links to the Kremlin.

As a culmination, Channel One reported on its talk show that Hungarian-American investor George Soros is behind Saakashvili’s return to Ukraine. Soros is one of the most repeated targets of disinformation outlets. Check out individual disinfo cases here.

2. The military have taken over control in Washington

Reporting on the tensions with North Korea, Vesti Nedeli describes the US as a “stratocracy” where political power lies in the hands of the military. The story describes three generals in key positions governing the US: current White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defence James Mattis.

“Of course it’s not a junta, but a sort of a stratocracy, like a power of the military”, TV host Dmitri Kiselyov states.

TV channels in Russia have for some time been actively accusing President Barack Obama’s administration for today’s perceived failures. Now, according to NTV’s news programme, “grim Russophobia and witch hunts” have continued under Trump just like before.

3. Poland, Lithuania, and the battle for history

Weekly news show Vesti Nedeli made two distorted claims in its report from Poland: hinting that Poland might have been the initiator of World War II (Read more in our latest Disinfo Review) and stating that it was Joseph Stalin who handed over the “Polish city of Wilno” to Lithuania.

Both claims undermine the historical facts of the Molotov-Ribbentrop secret protocols in which eastern Europe was divided into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Eastern Poland and Lithuania, among others, fell under the Soviet sphere of influence.

Vesti Nedeli portrays Poland as a nationalistic aggressor that has during the last century strived to gain control over Lithuania, Ukraine, and Russia itself.

A new law in Poland demands the removal of mentions on public monuments that seem to glorify Communism or “any other totalitarian” regime. Channel One with its talk show Vremya Pokazhet discussed this topic and described those responsible as “Europe’s Taliban”, comparing them to Daesh.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

Sputnik retouches Soviet memories in Lithuania

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 09:25

By Dalia Bankauskaitė, for CEPA

In recent months, the pro-Kremlin, Lithuanian-language media outlet Sputniknews.lt has disseminated photos about how happy Lithuanians were during the Soviet era. In July, Sputniknews.lt published “Vilnius University in the Soviet epoch” and “Earth salt: Lithuanian heroes of the Soviet era” followed by Basketball Club ‘Zalgiris’ in Soviet times A moment of the past: Vilnius in the time of the USSR Lithuanian women in Soviet times” and “Lithuanian children in Soviet times in August. Each cycle of photos is accompanied by a short comment, the key message of which tells the reader that life in Soviet Lithuania was good, while captions under each photo contain words “Soviet times” “USSR” and “Soviet Lithuania.

Photos show happy faces of young Lithuanians: women and men, students, athletes, writers, artists, workers and children. These photos are part of a joint project called “A quarter-century without the USSR,” launched by pro-Kremlin media networks Sputnik and RIA Novosti.

The campaign shows that pro-Kremlin media outlets employ soft power to follow Moscow’s strategic goal of keeping Lithuanian society vulnerable to Kremlin influence by sowing doubts about the evil of the Soviet regime. Its target audience is likely Lithuanians who grew up under Soviet rule and are today in their early 50s or older, but still active members of society.

Sputnik probably calculates that photos of the days when people were young—whether during Soviet times or not—will move them emotionally and trigger nostalgia for the past. In addition, Sputnik’s moderate tone and omission of explicit praise of the Soviet era makes viewers less likely to be aware they are being manipulated.

In this instance, the Kremlin uses a card stacking technique, showing photos that generate only positive sentiment. Lacking are photos of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, the deportation of hundreds of thousands of its people to Siberia, torture, the country’s isolation from the West during the Cold War, shortages of food and consumer goods, widespread breaches of human rights, or corruption and mismanagement by the Communist Party.

Also notable is the generally moderate, almost neutral tone of Sputniknews.lt in presenting the photos. This brings to mind Corina Rebegea’s analysis of the strategy and tactics of Sputnik in Romania: its moderate reportorial tone creates the impression it is a legitimate journalistic organization comparable to more established news websites in the West—an impression that may help increase its audience.

Sputniknews.lt employs a psychological trick by aiming to engrave into the viewer’s emotionally moved subconsciousness that the USSR was not a bad thing, that the Lithuanian people lived “happy lives in a happy country, the Soviet Union; that people were happy and successful.” Yet the higher the resilience of Lithuanian society to manipulation, the slimmer the chances the Kremlin will succeed.

By Dalia Bankauskaitė, for CEPA

Categories: World News