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Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine
Updated: 14 hours 38 min ago

Russian independent journalism under disinformation attack

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 19:42

Screenshot from Rossiya 24 by Meduza

By EU vs Disinfo

In Russia, independent journalism survives in pockets of oxygen, surrounded by dominating state-controlled networks and Kremlin-loyal private media outlets.

Thursday’s arrest of an investigative reporter in Moscow is an example of the continued suppression of such independent voices.

The case also shows that Russian authorities and pro-Kremlin media do not shy away from using disinformation as a weapon against journalists.

Wrong apartment

On Thursday 6 June 2019, Ivan Golunov, a reporter for Meduza, was stopped by police in the street in Moscow. A search of his bag and his apartment led police to charge him with drug trafficking. Mr Golunov now potentially faces 10 to 20 years in prison.

In a press release, Moscow police showed images with drugs kept in multiple plastic bags and drug-related equipment.

However, according to friends of Mr Golunov, eight out of the nine images released by the police did not show Mr Golunov’s apartment. Police then later acknowledged that just one of these photographs had been from Golunov’s home.

As reported by Meduza, Russian state TV Rossiya 24 produced a story on 9 June in which it claimed that Mr Golunov had “shown signs of being under the influence of narcotic substances when he was arrested”.

However, the official examination document Rossiya 24 showed as an illustration said the complete opposite, namely that he had not shown such signs (see the screenshot from Rossiya 24 above).

Following public exposure of this misrepresentation of Mr Golunov’s case, Rossiya 24 edited out this passage in later broadcasts, but left in other inconsistencies, as analysed by Meduza.

RIA FAN, a news agency tied to the St. Petersburg troll factory, has been accused of spreading disinformation about how Mr Golunov’s former employers at the RBC view his case. According to Meduza, RBC is now preparing a law suit against RIA FAN for libel.

Image used on the official website of Moscow’s police to accuse Mr Golunov of drug trafficking.

Corruption investigations

In the course of the last year, Mr Golunov has written about the wealth of the family of one of Moscow’s deputy mayors; about a scheme with which a Moscow real estate agent has taken over hundreds of vulnerable citizens’ property as well as investigations into corruption in Russia’s funeral business and state censorship in Russian media.

Friends and colleagues of Mr Golunov described to Meduza how Mr Golunov had been followed by unknown people and had received threats.

Mr Golunov’s case has attracted massive attention among his colleagues in Russian media. On Monday morning, three leading Russian newspapers, Kommersant, RBC and Vedomosti, published a collective solidarity statement on similarly designed front pages.

There have also been reactions from the international community, including the EU, the US and the Council of Europe.

On Sunday, a Moscow court ordered Ivan Golunov to remain under house arrest for two months.

Ivan Golunov / Facebook

Disinformation as a weapon in Russia

Pro-Kremlin disinformation targets not only foreign countries, but also Russia’s own civil society, for example human rights defenders.

As the Mr Golunov’s case shows, disinformation can also be used for targeting independent journalism.

Among other forms of crackdowns Russian independent journalists face are censorshipthreats and pressure on the business interests of private media owners from the side of the authorities.

Russian journalism of global importance

Russia’s independent media scene continues to play a key role in countering disinformation as well as other kinds of power abuse in Russia, including, as in the case of Mr Golunov’s investigations, corruption schemes.

The importance of Russian independent journalism in countering disinformation is not only of national, but also of global importance. Russian journalists have e.g. played key roles in exposing pro-Kremlin disinformation about the troll factory in St. Petersburg, the downing of Flight MH17 and the Salisbury attack.

The attack on Mr Golunov and the severity of the punishment he potentially faces are worrying warning signals to other parts of Russia’s journalistic community, which could have negative consequences for the work carried out by this already vulnerable, but internationally important community.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

A slip of the tongue?

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 17:40

Screenshot from the website of TV Zvezda’s series Secret File

By EU vs Disinfo

“I have been a TV host for 30 years, and I have stopped [Russian word denoting the performance of oral sex]!”

This statement appeared in a leaked audio recording from a conversation between the producers of a programme for TV Zvezda, the official outlet of the Russian defence ministry.

The voice used the strong language to express frustration with being used for state propaganda purposes. It belonged to the Russian journalist Dmitriy Dibrov, who later confirmed the recording’s authenticity to TV Rain.

Was it just an accidental slip of the tongue? Or did the journalist in fact reveal what many of the Kremlin’s disinformation producers think about their job?

Blowing the whistle

It is not the first time we see cracks in the façade of the Kremlin’s disinformation machinery.

Whistle blowers have previously described how editorial instructions trickle down from weekly meetings with the Kremlin top and into the daily work in the newsrooms.

A former cameraman at the state TV channel Rossiya 24 has told RFE/RL that employees are fully aware of the disinformation and say “your turn to lie” on the internal communication channels before switching over to a colleague.

Secret File

The audio recording surfaced from the production of an episode of a TV Zvezda conspiracy theory-oriented series with the telling title Secret File.

The programme described the phenomenon of “colour revolutions,” but was apparently abandoned following protests from Mr Dibrov, the series’ host.

Disinformation about alleged Western conspiracies to topple governments with staged public unrest stand centrally in the Kremlin’s media narrative; see examples of disinformation containing the key word “colour revolution” from the EUvsDisinfo data base.

Exposed by critical Russian journalists

The story about the leaked recording was broadcast on the independent Russian TV channel, TV Rain (Dozhd).

It appeared in an episode of TV Rain’s programme titled Fake News, which investigates examples of disinformation appearing in pro-Kremlin media outlets.

Here is how TV Rain presented its story about the leaked conversation. The headline says “Dibrov interrupted the recording of a propagandistic programme”. The text in the speech bubble says: “You can s***, I’m not gonna do it!” Image: TV Rain on YouTube.

Previously, the Fake News programme has e.g. exposed how the state-controlled TV channel NTV presented an interview with a paid actor in a current affairs programme as authentic.

Since a politically motivated crackdown in 2014, TV Rain has been removed from Russia’s cable networks and is now only available as an online TV outlet.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

StopFake #238 with Marko Suprun

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 08:38

What do the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Games of Thrones have in common with Russian disinformation? Find out, in this Special Edition of StopFake!

 

Categories: World News

Russian media repeats false claim on use of force in Eastern Ukraine

Sat, 06/08/2019 - 23:35

UKRAINE – Ukrainian servicemen with the 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer take part in an exercise on a shooting range near Volnovakha city in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, on August 8, 2017

By Polygraph

Oleg Zhivotov

Ukrainian Lawyer

“The experts found that, according to Article 17 of the Constitution of Ukraine, the Armed Forces of Ukraine cannot be involved in any conflict within the country. They are intended only to repel external aggression.”

Source: Rossiya 24, May 30, 2019

False

Article 17 makes no mention of “external aggression.”

On May 24, the Kyiv Court of Appeals released Volodymyr Zamana, the former Chief of the Ukrainian armed forces’ General Staff, who had been arrested for high treason on February 25 and was ordered to be held in custody until June 17.

During a press conference held on May 28, Zamana’s lawyer, Oleg Zhivotov, spoke on the case against his client. While criticizing the conclusion reached by the state’s commission of experts appointed by the Prosecutor General’s Office for Zamana’s case, Zhivotov claimed the commission had determined that the Ukrainian military’s actions in eastern Ukraine are illegal.

“The experts found that, according to Article 17 of the Constitution of Ukraine, the Armed Forces of Ukraine cannot be involved in any conflict within the country. They are intended only to repel external aggression,” Zhivotov said.

Russian media seized on Zhivotov’s comments.

Zhivotov’s claim, however, is false.

Dmytro Koval, Associate Professor and Program and Legal officer at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, said it was “impossible to verify” Zhivotov’s reading of the conclusion reached by the state commission of experts appointed by the prosecutor in Zamana’s case, without seeing the commission’s report.

However, he told Polygraph.info that any interpretation of Article 17 of Ukraine’s constitution claiming the military can only be used to “repel external aggression” is incorrect.

UKRAINE – Demonstration of military equipment and weapons. Ukrainian soldiers on armored vehicles. Kharkiv, June 1, 2017

“[Article 17 of the Constitution of Ukrainian] simply doesn’t say a word about expelling external aggression,” Koval said. “Moreover, article 1-1 of this law explicitly allows the use of the armed forces in the situation of peace.”

Based on the text of the Ukrainian constitution translated for the World Intellectual Property Organization, Koval is correct.

Article 17 reads:

To protect the sovereignty and territorial indivisibility of Ukraine, and to ensure its economic and informational security are the most important functions of the State and a matter of concern for all the Ukrainian people.

  • The defense of Ukraine and the protection of its sovereignty, territorial indivisibility and inviolability, are entrusted to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
  • Ensuring state security and protecting the state border of Ukraine are entrusted to the respective military formations and law enforcement bodies of the State, whose organization and operational procedure are determined by law.
  • The Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations shall not be used by anyone to restrict the rights and freedoms of citizens or with the intent to overthrow the constitutional order, subvert the bodies of power or obstruct their activity.
  • The State ensures the social protection of citizens of Ukraine who serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and in other military formations as well as of members of their families.
  • The creation and operation of any armed formations not envisaged by law are prohibited on the territory of Ukraine.
  • The location of foreign military bases shall not be permitted on the territory of Ukraine.

Bogdan Bondarenko, an expert on constitutional law, legislature and elections at the Center of Policy and Legal Reform, a Ukrainian non-governmental think tank, said in the case of war, the armed forces can be used on the territory of Ukraine.

Bondarenko said Article 17 is intended to keep the military from being used against the citizens or for overthrowing the government.

“Cases of use of armed forces in peacetime are regulated by special legislation. In the context of the war on the territory of Ukraine, there are many legislative problems, but this is a bit of a different problem,” Bondarenko said.

He added that problem was “partly solved” on January 18, 2018, when the Ukrainian parliament adopted a law describing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as “temporarily occupied” by Russia, which is designated as an “aggressor country.”

#ThisDay 5 years ago #Russian regular military under #FSB agent Igor Strelkov illegally crossed

Categories: World News

Beyond censorship: Kremlin using another means to impose ideological control

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 23:26

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Preventing the publication of something or suppressing it after it has been published are all too familiar forms of censorship and the imposition of ideological control in Putin’s Russia. But there are other means as well, including forcing the reorganization of research staffs and the forced firing of critics of the regime.

An example of this more insidious form of repression is occuring at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, where the political science department is being folded into the department of government and municipal administration and some scholar critics losing their positions as a result (the-village.ru/village/city/news-city/352639-hse-censor and golosinfo.org/ru/articles/143454).

According to Andrey Klimenko, who is in charge of research work in this section of the Higher School of Economics, the decision to combine the departments was taken last fall on financial grounds and in no way reflects the controversies some scholars in the political science department have found themselves caught up with in recent months.

But in reality, several of those scholars say, the decision was taken to find a way to get rid of researchers who are in the Kremlin’s bad book. Aleksandr Kynev, for example, says that his course load was eliminated and thus his position will be “liquidated.” The same thing is happening to others who have criticized the powers that be.

In an appeal to the students, faculty and administration of the Higher School, the Golos rights organization calls on everyone to refrain from actions, however dressed up as rational, that in fact are a response to complaints from the powers that be and ensure that the organization continues to live up to its code of conduct.

That code, Golos reminds, specifies that “we will not allow any manifestation of deception, corruption, double standards or discrimination, we are part of Russian society not as observers but as active participants of its development, [and] we use our organizational experience and potential for spreading out experience and knowledge across the country.”

What is happening now, the organization argues, is a clear violation of those provisions. “We hope that our concerns about the existing situation will be heard and that the Higher School in the future will operate according to its own declared values,” Golos says.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Russia rains on D-Day parade

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 23:16

U.K. — U.S. President Donald Trump stands and speaks during an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in Portsmouth, June 5, 2019

By Polygraph

Maria Zakharova

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

“The Normandy landings were not a game-changer for the outcome of WWII and the Great Patriotic War. The outcome was determined by the Red Army’s victories – mainly, in Stalingrad and Kursk. For three years, the UK and then the US dragged out opening the second front.”

Source: Twitter, June 5, 2019

False

Historians agree D-Day was a “game-changer” despite Russian Foreign Ministry claim.

On Thursday, June 6, commemorations were held marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day – the Allied invasion of German-occupied Normandy, France, during the Second World War.

Leaders of the Allied powers (including Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States), as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, took part in a ceremony marking the event.

Despite being on the Allied side from 1941-1945, Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited to attend.

FRANCE — U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron look to flypasts in the Normandy American Cemetery to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Normandy. June 6, 2019

The previous day – June 5 — Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had downplayed the D-Day landing, saying it was not a “game-changer” for “the outcome of WWII and the Great Patriotic War” – the term used to describe the Soviet war effort on the eastern front against the Axis powers.

Zakharova said the outcome of the war was “determined by the Red Army’s victories,” mainly the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, and added that the U.S. and U.K. had “dragged out” opening a second front.

#Zakharova: The Normandy landings were not a game-changer for the outcome of WWII and the Great Patriotic War. The outcome was determined by the Red Army’s victories – mainly, in Stalingrad and Kursk. For three years, the UK and then the US dragged out opening the second front pic.twitter.com/LhzkEzNCQN

— MFA Russia

Categories: World News

False as water

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 12:46

By EU vs Disinfo

After India and Mexico, Russia is the country with the largest number of people living outside its borders: 10.6 million, according to the UN International Migration Report of 2017. That equals roughly the population of Portugal, Sweden or Czechia. But at least one of those expat Russians has chosen to return home, which eventually made it to the headlines. She is generously sharing her impression from living 19 years in filth among criminals and homeless in United States, and while the prison population in the US is higher than in Russia during the Stalin Terror, most criminals roam the streets without restrictions. But worst of all: US authorities putting rat poison in the tap water! Sodium Fluoride!

Why should anyone bother to bring forward the difference between sodium fluoride – found in almost any toothpaste – and sodium fluoracetate, a substance actually used in rat poison? Why mention that the Posioned Well is an age old urban legend with an anti-Semitic ring to it? Or that Russia is experimenting with sodium fluoride in milk to improve the oral health of the Russians?

In any case, it is easy to understand why Russians, living outside Russia, are reluctant to return to the Motherland, as the country according to the pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets almost permanently is in danger. A small group of Russophobes are imposing US anti-Russian policy on Europe, poisoning the relations to Russia, for instance through the Eastern Partnership Programme; NATO aims at defeating Russia, through ruining Russian economy. Ukraine is entirely a Western program, an anti-Russia. And recently a new threat has appeared on the horizon: murderous clothes! Belarusian and Ukrainian folk dress is a Nazi tool to destroy Russian statehood! The Vyshyvankas of Death.

All Things Sacred

All that is sacred is attacked by the globalists; the Zionists, US Imperialists. Neo-Colonialists are waging a civil war against the peoples of the world, force feeding them globalist concepts as Liberalism, Social-Democracy, Market Economy and Sustainable Development. The enemies of Russia do not even respect anything sacred: the Eastern Orthodox Church is under US attack, because of Russia’s adherence to traditional values. Europe itself has given in to Islam, opening its public space for anti-Semitism.

Anyone labelled “a friend of Russia” becomes an outcast; blaming Russia is a Western tradition, older than the cathedrals, even when there is no proof, just as shown in the Mueller investigation! At least as long as you don’t read the Mueller Investigation, as it actually contains proofs of Russian interference in the US elections.

An Island of Stability

The pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets spare no effort in creating a world-view where Russia is surrounded by hostile forces. An island of stability in an ocean of threats and dangers.

William Shakespeare uses the expression “False as water” in the play Othello. Water assumes any form or shape; water is unpredictable. Life giving and deadly. Many metaphors, connected to information, suggest a similarity between water and information. We talk about sources, streams and channels for information; information can leak; we drown in information, we thirst for it. And we pollute it. With lies and lies about lies. Lies that just as water assume any form or shape. And with lies about rat poison.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

The Pro-Kremlin Masquerade in Berlin

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 12:52

By EU vs Disinfo

Berliner Tageszeitung – not to be confused with Berliner Zeitung or Tageszeitung (taz) – is a German-language online outlet which pretends to be a local news outlet in Berlin, Germany – at first glance.

When we take a more careful look at the outlet, it appears that the paper itself defines its editorial line as “determined by the owners of the outlet”, which are located in Tiraspol (Moldova) while the owner of the brand is located in Moscow, Russian Federation.

Furthermore, the outlet lists among its sources news, information, video and image services for the creation of the articles: Sem Dnjej, VGTRK, Gorchakov, Interfax, RT, Mail.ru-Group, Valdai, Zvezda-TV, W.-P.-Kur’er, SNA, RIA FAN, Sputnik, Sinowjew-Klub, TASS, 1TV, Xinhua und Euronews”. VGTRK, 1TV, RT, Sputnik and Tass are all owned, controlled or funded by Russia and used as channels to spread disinformation. Zvezda is the Russian Ministry of Defence TV channel. RIA FAN is a project by the St. Petersburg troll factory. Alexander Gorchakov Fund is a Russian government agency, whose aim is to influence foreign states.

Twitter has suspended the account of the outlet, saying it was in breach of Twitter’s platform manipulation rules, Twitter told EUvsDisinfo.

The Twitter account of BTZ tagged Berlin as its location.

We analysed the account’s activities before the suspension. The outlet had close to 24,000 followers on Twitter. According to Twitonomy it tweeted about 65 times a day (more than, for example, leading online outlet Spiegel Online) and showed very low engagements by its community – about 90% of their tweets received neither a retweet nor a like.

Out of BTZ’s 24,000 followers, many were created around the same time, particularly between October 2013 and February 2014 and between January and November 2017.

Out of exactly 23,712 followers (state 6 May 2019),

  • Over 16,000 did not have a profile description
  • Over 13,200 had less than 11 followers
  • Over 6,100 had no profile picture
  • Over 7,000 had written less than 6 tweets, over 1,700 had never tweeted
  • At least 4 belong to Russian Embassies: @PMSimferopol, @AmbRusSenegal, @RusBotWien, @RussiaUN

Among the latest 3,200 tweets produced by @blntageszeitung, the most retweeted accounts either belong to the Russian Government or to a German political party (AfD). In at least one case the account shared  AfD-created election material with a focus on the European Elections.

In at least one case information provided by BTZ has been quoted in Spain as coming from a genuine newspaper and opinion from Berlin, Germany. The article was widely spread and politicised in Catalan Twitter and accused Spain of having a justice system similar to a dictatorship.

What about the content then? What does BTZ inform its German speaking readers about? In just one article, it manages to repeat several recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation messages.

“Merkel is not planning to act against the massive influx of western-minded oligarchs, or the strongly increased presence of US “consultants” and the CIA. Politicians in Berlin, Brussels and Washington are happy to pay billions of taxpayers’ money for a Ukraine that serves the Western “community of defence” as an “extended arm” or “spearhead” directly at Russia’s border, without having to get their own hands dirty.”

 “All of this is hidden behind the notorious excuse of defending democracy and human rights. At least this dirty power play should be put to an end. But is this even possible if you are upsetting the wrong people? The “Western value community” doesn’t even shy away from staging an attack, allegedly executed with Russian poison, and blaming it on the Russian Federation.

Germany being a vassal of the US, Ukraine being a vassal of Germany and the West being behind the Skripal poisoning: these are conspiracy theories and disinformation messages, which we have reported dozens of times in our database. See the debunks through the respective links.

BTZ is one more outlet which masquerades as a local news outlet and demonstrates a clear interest in pushing out pro-Kremlin disinformation messages.

Update, 31st of May 2019: Image updated to reflect the information on the outlet’s website. 

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

#EUelections2019: Kremlin-Friendly Voices in Latvia

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 12:45

One of the explanations of Kremlin-friendly politicians’ success is that voter turnout for European Parliamentary elections in Latvia is low. Photo: Rīga, Latvia. Source: https://www.freepik.com/premium-photo/quay-daugava-river-riga-latvia_4287696.htm#page=1&index=4&query=riga

By Ianis Bucholtz and Solvita Denisa-Liepniece, for Disinfo Portal

In Latvia, the Kremlin benefits from politicians whose public stances on both domestic and foreign policy issues align with the narratives Moscow seeks to implant and multiply in Europe. Kremlin-linked outlets such as RT and Sputnik are adept at crafting and publicizing such stories, but local politicians may further Moscow’s long-term influence when they take pro-Russian positions and make public comments and speeches about the persecution of Russian speakers or the unfair treatment Moscow receives in mainstream media.

The motives of such politicians can vary; they may not make policies or give speeches with the specific aim of advancing the Kremlin’s agenda. However, pro-Kremlin media frame the activities of such politicians in ways that lend a veneer of authenticity and legitimacy to narratives manufactured in Moscow.

Latvian politicians with views favorable to the Kremlin have also been building a stronghold in the European Parliament. From Brussels, such actors can take part in determining the policies of Europe, which consequently also affect their home countries. Thus, following these politicians is crucial to predicting their policymaking maneuvers and pushing back against the Kremlin’s influence in Europe.

The Kremlin’s favorite in the European Parliament

One of the most visible Latvian MEPs with views that align with those of the Kremlin is Tatjana Ždanoka.

On March 27, Zvezda, a TV channel of the Russian ministry of defense, ran a program about alleged anti-Russian sentiment in the Baltics. Ždanoka appeared in the program, accusing Latvia of discrimination against its Russian-speaking population.

Ždanoka has made strong exaggerations before. During a recent discussion in the European Parliament organized by Ždanoka’s Russian Union party, the politician said that the situation of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Latvia is similar to that of the Jews before World War II.

At the beginning of 2018, Ždanoka resigned her MEP seat in order to concentrate her efforts on helping her party before the 2018 national election and fighting Latvia’s recent language reform. The directive mandates that the official language of Latvia will gradually become the sole teaching language in the country’s schools. She and her companions have promised protests against the language policy.

Ždanoka is also rallying against the proposal to dismantle a Soviet monument in Rīga. The monument was built during Soviet times to honor the “liberators” of the city. However, in this case the Soviet liberators merely became the next occupying power. Today, the monument retains its symbolic importance for those in Latvian society who celebrate the end of World War II on May 9 together with Russia. (The rest of Europe celebrates on May 8.)

The bid to dismantle the monument entered the Latvian political debate in the form of a petition signed by more than ten thousand Latvian citizens. Ždanoka, as well as politicians on the other side of the ideological aisle, have been quick to capitalize on discussions about the monument. Similar events in Estonia, Latvia’s neighbor, highlight the volatility that historical issues can spark. In 2007, the relocation of a Soviet-era monument in Tallinn was met with riots, condemnation from Russia, blockade of the Estonian embassy in Moscow, as well as cyberattacks on Estonian state institutions, media outlets, and online services.

Given Ždanoka’s pro-Russian positions, entities close to the Kremlin have provided support, sometimes financial, to organizations associated with her. Despite the evidence of such support, Ždanoka rejects claims that she receives the Kremlin’s backing.

However good her relations with pro-Kremlin players, Ždanoka has been less successful in local politics. Her Russian Union party has not had any seats in Latvia’s parliament since 2010. Ždanoka herself is barred from running for a parliamentary seat because of her communist past. However, the restrictions on her candidacy in Latvia do not bar her from running in European Parliamentary elections. The 6.24 percent of the votes cast for the Latvian Russian Union in the recent EU elections was enough to secure her an MEP seat in Brussels.

As an MEP, Ždanoka is likely to continue opposing initiatives and measures considered punitive toward Russia. The highlights of her previous work at the European Parliament include supporting the Russian propaganda channel RT, visiting Russian-occupied Crimea and making the European Parliament pay for her trip, and meeting with the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Ždanoka also voted against the EU association treaty with Ukraine, the EU resolution condemning Russian propaganda, and the resolution that called for an independent investigation into the murder of the Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

In general, Ždanoka’s activities illustrate a pattern: a politician from a political party unpopular or even unrepresented on the national level manages to win a seat in the European Parliament and subsequently uses that platform to take positions sympathetic to Russia. Pro-Kremlin media, in turn, can refer to the positions of such politicians to show that the Kremlin enjoys at least some support in Europe.

Popular with the Russian media but lost the bid for Brussels

Another Latvian politician of note is Andrejs Mamikins. In 2014, he was elected to the European Parliament for Harmony, the party with which he has since fallen out. In the recent EU elections, Mamikins ran for the MEP seat for Ždanoka’s Latvian Russian Union but lost.

Mamikins’ views on a number of issues coincide with those favored by Kremlin-friendly media. He has been a recurring guest on the show of Vladimir Solov, a known Putin supporter, which airs on the Russian state-owned channel Rossiya-1. One Russian publication that appears to be particularly fond of Mamikins is the newspaper Argumenty nedeli. Just in the course of April, Mamikins discussed with this outlet citizenship issues in Latvia, claimed that “for the Baltic states, Russia is a convenient bogeyman,” commented on remarks made by Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius regarding the meeting of the Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid with Vladimir Putin, and shared his thoughts on a week’s worth of political events in Latvia.

An example of an intersection between this politician’s work and Kremlin media is the story about Mamikins’ criticism of the Latvian prime minister Krišjānis Kariņš’ speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on April 17. After the exchange between the two politicians, a Facebook ad about Mamikins’ comments appeared. Sputnik also covered the spat and reprinted Mamikins criticism of the prime minister, as well as the reaction of another Latvian MEP to Mamikins. Apart from the direct quote of Mamikins, two additional sentences in the Facebook ad are nearly identical to the sentences in the second paragraph of the Sputnik story. It is unclear, however, whether the Sputnik article or Facebook ad appeared first.

While working in the European Parliament, Mamikins has voted with Ždanoka on a number of Russia-related issues. He has also met Bashar al-Assad and visited a Russian airbase in Syria.

The (somewhat) ambiguous newcomers in Brussels

A different case is that of Nils Ušakovs, the former mayor of Rīga who won a seat for the Harmony party in the European Parliament. Despite earning the most votes in the last three national elections, Harmony or its previous incarnations has never been part of the Latvian coalition government. Other larger political parties and their supporters are suspicious that Harmony, with its large Russian-speaking voter base, harbors stronger sympathies for Russia than it officially acknowledges.

During his political career, Ušakovs’ relationships with Moscow have varied. As the leader of Harmony, he praised the agreement the party had with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. However, he announced in 2017 that the agreement had been vacated. Soon after, the media reported that Ušakovs had hired a former aide to US senators and was attempting to charm US officials and pundits with his pro-Western credentials.

Recently, Ušakovs was suspended from his mayoral post because of a corruption scandal involving the Rīga public transport company. As noted in the previous article on pro-Kremlin narratives in Latvia, at that time a number of Russian media stood by him; they linked Ušakovs’ troubles with his Russian ethnicity and claimed that the scandal was merely an excuse used by Latvian nationalists to demonize him. At the same time, some Kremlin-linked media outlets, such as Baltnews, have popularized the view that Ušakovs’ bid for an MEP seat constitutes a “flight” from tensions at home.

Another politician that won an MEP seat for Harmony is Andris Ameriks, a long-standing ally of Ušakovs in the Rīga city council. At the end of 2018, as the scandal related to the Rīga public transport company unfolded, Ameriks stepped down from his post as the deputy mayor of Rīga. At the same time, he stressed his innocence of any wrongdoing.

Ameriks was formerly an associate of Ainārs Šlesers, a Latvian oligarch who advocated for closer ties with Russia. Since 2001, Ameriks has worked in the Rīga city council and built considerable influence in the city’s affairs. He is mostly viewed as a pragmatic politician whose talents lie in securing personally beneficial deals. However, in line with such a position during the debate before the European Parliamentary elections, Ameriks urged consideration of the potential opportunities presented by the development of bilateral ties with Russia.

It remains to be seen what Ušakovs and Ameriks’ stance on Russia will be in the European Parliament.

A voter-enabled competition of fringes

Latvia has a total of eight representatives in the European Parliament. The success of politicians with worldviews such as that of Tatjana Ždanoka means that the potential proportion of Latvian opinions in Brussels favorable for the Kremlin is considerable.

One of the explanations of Kremlin-friendly politicians’ success is that voter turnout for European Parliamentary elections in Latvia is low. In 2014, only 30.24 percent of Latvians voted in the European elections. This year, the turnout was 33.51 percent, among the lowest in the EU. The dismal rate of Latvia’s electoral participation rate makes it easier for fringe or ostracized politicians to win a mandate in Brussels because their supporters tend to be more active than mainstream voters.

Hence, the strength of Latvian Kremlin-friendly voices in the European Parliament is not necessarily merely a product of the Kremlin’s orchestration. Latvians’ voting (in)activity contributes to the political successes of such politicians.

At the same time, such a situation does create an opportunity for external forces, like the Kremlin, to exert influence in Europe. As such, European as well as Latvian institutions face the critical task of increasing citizen participation in European political matters. Its current level constitutes a vulnerability in the democratic process, one that hostile foreign actors may use to their advantage.

By Ianis Bucholtz and Solvita Denisa-Liepniece, for Disinfo Portal

Ianis Bucholtz and Solvita Denisa-Liepniece are researchers at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, Latvia

Categories: World News

Inosmi: Kremlin stealing news to shape the views

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 11:43

By EU vs Disinfo

Inosmi.ru is the Russian state media holding Rossiya Segodnya’s service for translating media content to Russian. It’s part of the same media conglomerate as Sputnik, RIA Novosti and a few other disinformation outlets, managed by Dmitriy Kiselyov, the Überpropagandist of the Kremlin. The scope of Inosmi is impressive: media outlets from Australia to Zimbabwe, languages from Azerbaijani to Norwegian are translated to Russian. Neither language barriers, nor paywalls stop the translators from Inosmi.ru. EU vs Disinfo wrote about Inosmi in 2016, after a study from Ghent University.

In theory, the concept of Inosmi.ru could be a good idea. It offers a Russian reader first hand insights in International Media, and not only from the big media outlets like The Washington Post or the major News Agencies. Here – all media are equal. Stories from Washington Post are translated a couple of times a week, just as Le Monde, El Pais or Neue Zürcher Zeitung, side by side with Alaska Public Media, Diario Cordoba and Brussels Express. Here Chinese media are published, Nigerian, Mexican. The professional translators of Inosmi.ru make news in Farsi, Hausa, Japanese or Swedish available for a Russian speaking public. The inosmi.ru could function as a window to a larger world. But the focus of the site is entirely Russian. The tag-line of the site is “How Foreigners Picture Russia. We translate. You decide.”

Copyright? What copyright?

What could be a service for presenting news from a world, wider than the scope of the dominating news bureaus, is eventually only just an attempt to get an answer to the self-conscious question “what are they saying about us?”

And with blatant disregard for copyright, one might add. Articles are published without the consent of the copyright owners. Stolen, to put it simply. Pictures, however, are always replaced with stock photos or pictures from Rossiya Segodnya’s archives and photo banks. Pictures can be easily spotted, and Rossiya Segodnya would likely be unpleasantly surprised, receiving invoices from photographers from all over the world. Translations are less easy to spot. And here we are: a Russian State Owned organisation has been systematically stealing content from journalists for years and years.

The material is thoroughly labelled and tagged along topics: Politics, Economy, Sports, but also in a more specialised manner: Game of Thrones and other Films and Series, Sanctions – Who Screws Whom, Food, Sex and Sleep – People Are just Animals, Finland – 100 years in Divorce from Russia, Mysteries of the Russian Soul etc.

With tags, topics and counters, articles are displayed in a way that makes them highly visible. Readers follow favourite topics – be that sports, life style or international affairs – and are constantly exposed to new content. Everything is easy to share; any material published on Inosmi.ru can be found on other sites, blogs, media outlets. Russian pundits, referring to International media, are usually relying on the translations at Inosmi.

A Survey on Inosmi Content

Surveying the content on 20 May, we can note that Inosmi.ru on that day published 44 articles, translated from 16 languages from 17 countries. Four articles were originally in Russian, published in Ukraine and already accessible for a Russian speaking audience. 7 articles were behind paywalls on their original sites.

A counter is visible on all translations. The most viewed article of 20 May – according to inosmi’s own counter – was an article on the relations between Council of Europe and Russia in Finnish Ilta-Sanomat. The counter reports close to 28 000 page views and 22 comments. Most commented article was a text on Chinese Ramen noodles being hard to stomach for Russian Servicemen. 90 comments were devoted to this problem, brought to the public’s attention by Chinese Ifeng.com.

The News that Fit the Kremlin

It doesn’t take much to note that the material on Inosmi is carefully handpicked to support Kremlin’s world view. Each article is introduced with a short statement. If we choose the click-winning article of May 20, Ilta-Sanomat’s article on the Council of Europe session in Helsinki, the text is introduced like this:

Ilta-Sanomat: Council of Europe Must Get Concessions from Russia

The editorial of this Finnish is expressing lots of concern about Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin being absent at Council of Europe’s session in Helsinki. The paper explains this with him being worried that CoE might be ready to compromise on the long-time conflict regarding Crimea’s reunification with Russia. According to the paper, only the International community demonstrates readiness to compromises, but the paper does not attempt to learn the objective facts.  

This way, the reader gets instructions how to read the translated article. The author of the article, Finland and the International community are not attempting to learn “the facts” about Crimea.

Financial Times’ article on the Austrian Strache-affair is treated in a similar way:

The Strache Affair: Too Good to be True (FT)

The scandal with the Austrian vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache erupted at a very suitable moment – on the eve of the elections to the European Parliament. All this points to a well-planned operation to stop Rightist parties, loudly accused for having close ties with Russia, from entering the legislative council of the European Union. And the video of “negotiations” between Strache and a “Russian” are too good to be true, according to the author.

And boom. You have a click. Readers will believe that The Financial Times is doubting the authenticity of the video; that a malevolent conspiracy is scheming, targeting anyone, who dares to express sympathy for Russia. The phrase “too good to be true” is used in the text, but not in a context where the video’s authenticity is questioned. The conclusion of a “well planned operation” is Inosmi’s own, not Financial Times.

Misrepresenting Media

Checking out how the EU countries are represented, It is not surprising that big EU countries like Germany, France and Britain are frequently translated – after all, they are the Great Powers. Poland, another large country, is also well represented, while Italy and Spain isn’t really as frequently translated on the pages of Inosmi as one might have expected. Sweden and Finland, together with the Baltic countries, have a very strong representation. In the case of the Baltic states, Inosmi is heavily leaning on a very small number of sources. Both Latvia and Lithuania are exclusively reported through the Russian language News Service Delfi. Hungary, Romania and The Netherlands seems to be viewed as low priority from Rossiya Segodnya – nothing has been translated from those languages since 2018. Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, and Greece are all entirely in the shadows of the Inosmi Media Landscape. Zero translations from neither language.

 

Top Six EU-Countries, Most Frequently Represented on Inosmi
  1. Britain: 10 articles, published between 15 May – 20 May
  2. Germany: 10 articles, published between 15 May – 20 May
  3. Sweden: 10 articles, published between 14 May – 20 May
  4. France: 10 articles, published between 14 May – 20 May
  5. Finland: 10 articles, published between 13 May – 20 May
  6. Poland: 10 articles, published between 13 May – 20 May

 

Top Six EU-Countries, Least Frequently Represented on Inosmi
  1. Cyprus: 0 articles
  2. Malta: 0 articles
  3. Slovenia: 0 articles
  4. Greece: 2 articles, published between 29 February 2016 – 4 September 2016 (both from non-Greek sites)
  5. Hungary: 4 articles, published between 30 September 2008 – 29 January 2018
  6. The Netherlands: 10 articles, published between 11 April 2016 – 28 June 2018

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News