During the year 2017, we have witnessed plenty of spectacular claims from pro-Kremlin mouthpieces, such as the imminent threat of civil war in Sweden, that an American plane dropped a nuclear bomb over Lithuania, and that the U.S. aims to occupy Europe. Among the things claimed most recently that didn’t happen, we find a clumsy Ukrainian soldier who didn’t blow himself up (it was a video made for fun), rape cases in Sweden that rose by 1,000 percent (in fact a rise of 1.4 percent since 2015) and Pope John Paul II claiming that the invasion of migrants has to stop (he just didn’t). Apart from this, we have also seen the usual pro-Kremlin narratives being repeated over and over again.
Within the constant flow, one can notice some overarching themes. Here, EU vs Disinfo, the EU’s disinformation watchdog, sums them up.
With this theme, Russia is described as an innocent actor that does everything it can to solve the world’s problems but is constantly mistreated by the “West.” During his annual press conference in December, President Vladimir Putin repeated two favorite recurring themes: that Russia is not involved in the war in Ukraine and that Crimea decided its own fate.
As we know, the European Union does not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has concluded that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, Russian state TV repeated the claim that sanctions are aimed at destroying Russia, when it is clear that they have been imposed by the international community because Russia decided to break international law.
“The evil West”
In the pro-Kremlin disinformation sphere, the “West” is described as Russophobic, and determined to humiliate and discredit Russia; it is undemocratic, untrustworthy and guilty of double standards; it is immoral and in decline; and it is an international aggressor.
For example, in late December on Russian state TV, Poland was accused of aiming to enslave Russians in cooperation with other European states. And the United Kingdom was accused of attempting to humiliate Russia during the upcoming Olympic Games. Russia’s foreign affairs minister repeated some of these claims in an interview and said that NATO had made a promise to Russia to not expand eastwards and that NATO is deploying troops in Poland and the Baltic states in a non-transparent way.
The case of Ukraine
As followers of the disinformation review must have noticed, Ukraine has a special place within the disinformation (un)reality. Ukrainians are often described as fascists, oppressors, aggressors and xenophobes; Ukraine is portrayed as an artificial country, failing, disintegrating and alone; and Russian actions concerning Ukraine are described as legitimate and legal.
In late December, we saw several examples of this theme. In pro-Kremlin outlets, it was claimed that President Petro Poroshenko was brought to power by the U.S. to establish a nationalist regime and that the Ukrainian state denies the Donbas access to water, among other things. As we know by now, the regime in Kyiv is not nationalistic and came to power through popular protest and democratic elections. The water in Luhansk was turned off by the local energy company since the bills were not paid.
This year, EU vs Disinfo reported a total of 1,310 disinformation cases. From Angela Merkel to burgers and Danish pets, pro-Kremlin disinformation cast its net wide in 2017.
Since its creation in November 2015, EU vs Disinformation has debunked 3,680 disinformation cases.
Source: The EU’s East StratCom Task Force was set up by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini in 2015, in response to a request from all 28 EU heads of government to “address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns.” It is a team of 11 communications and Russian language experts who also seek to improve communication on EU policies towards the Eastern Neighborhood and to strengthen media plurality in the region, especially in the Russian language. The task force’s flagship products are its weekly Disinformation Review of pro-Kremlin disinformation stories and its social media accounts@EUvsDisinfo and EU vs Disinformation.