Weekly monitor of pro-Kremlin disinformation effort in Europe. We follow best European analysts, best counter-measures and trends.
Weekly Update on the Kremlin Disinformation Efforts
Donald Trump tries to reinsure Europe
During his second presidential trip to Europe, Donald Trump stopped by in Polandto re-affirm the commitment of the United States to NATO allies and Article 5 guarantees. In his speech, which preceded the meeting with Russian President Putin at the G20 Summit, he urged Russia to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere.” He also stated that it’s crucial for the West to find “the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it.”
The opinions on whether he was successful in reinsuring Europeans about the direction of US foreign policy differ. While The Wall Street Journal praised his “defining” speech in Warsaw, while Molly McKew wrote for Politico it was “a pivot to illiberalism.”
In its new report, the Bellingcat server provides evidence suggesting that the Russian Federation is attempting to influence European politics by reaching out to youth organization of European political parties.
Estonia is going to open a first of its kind data embassy with the purpose to store critical government and institutional data outside the borders of the country. It’s supposed to enhance the security of data and services.
German elections at the door
German Minister of Interior Thomas de Maiziere and the chief of German domestic security agency Hans-Georg Maaβen informed that they are expecting Russia to start publishing compromising material it obtained via the APT hacker group during the 2015 cyber-attacks on the German parliament. The data have been stolen from 16 MPs and also from the German Chancellor’s office. The goal of such a leak should be to influence the federal elections coming up this September, but it is unclear whether they would support any specific candidate. The goal of the disinformation campaign might be to generally undermine the faith of Germans into their democratic system. For a detailed overview of the German experience with Russian hostile influence, the implemented counter-measures, weaknesses and potential outcomes, read the testimony of Constanze Stelzenmüller before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
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 13th Putin’s Champion Award Recipient is:
German music band Scooter
For openly violating international law and posing as the Kremlin’s tools in Russia-occupied Crimea
Oleg Abarnikov, CC 2.0
The Expert Jury ranked his Putin-supportive job with
(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.
What else to watch out for, besides the Kremlin?
When dealing with Russian influence in foreign countries, sometimes it is worth to have a look at concrete individuals behind it. Ivan Savvidis might just be a good example of such person.
Savvidis is a classic Russian oligarch, a majority shareholder of a large Russian tobacco company Donskoy Tabak and a member of the Russian parliament and Putin’s United Russia party (to whom he is closely linked). Probably most notable are nevertheless his activities regarding Greece, where he invests heavily. Savvidis owns a Greek football club PAOK F.C. and he has recently made some other noteworthy investments – one of it being the privatization of one of the largest Greek seaports in Thessaloniki, where rumours abound about the process and the result.
Moreover, being an important figure in the Russian-Greek community (for instance, he is the President of the Federation of Greek Communities of Russia), having many friends in both Russian and Greek politics, and reportedly thinking about running for the Greek parliament himself, Savvidis is a guy worth keeping an eye on.
Unlike Eastern Europe, the heart of the conflict with the Russian Federation, the Balkans are not a common centre of attention, even though it has been an increasingly common target of influence operations in recent months. From an attempted coup in Montenegro to disinformation campaigns in Serbian media, the region has been through heavy hybrid fire and the opinions on its chances to counter it differ.
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the success of Russian efforts was disrupted by the fact that the VMRO DPMNE party in Macedonia had to cede power to the Social Democrats, and therefore, the Russian influence on the government decreased. Another major setback was the accession of Montenegro to NATO, despite the pressure of the Kremlin.
But some of the countries in question are not so lucky. The Serbian government is not only friendly but also often follows the example of Russian authoritarian regime, when treating its media space or civil society. And it is unclear whether the recent change of government can change anything, especially after the Prime Minister Ana Brnabic presented a list of her proposed Cabinet ministers which includes openly pro-Russian and anti-Western figures.
There has certainly been some positive progress in the Western Balkans, but the stability of these countries is important for Europe and the United States, especially now, during the fight with Russian interference, and not only during crucial European elections.
Good Old Soviet Joke
Why are Soviet troops staying in Czechoslovakia for so long? They are looking for the one who called them for help.
Euroatlantic experts on disinformation warfare
In their article for Foreign Affairs, Andrew Foxall and Lincoln Pigman highlight the alarming reality in Ukraine, where President Petro Poroshenko mimics some authoritarian measures used by the current Russian regime, despite his pro-European rhetoric. Similarly to many Ukrainian activists, they call for making future aid from the West conditional by principle and for further support of civil society.
Russian active measures do not care much about geography, but they often hit the neighbouring countries first. It is up to the rest of the Transatlantic region to keep up and not get comfortable in their regions not so approximate to the Kremlin. Brian Whitmore argues in The Power Vertical that by watching the Eastern Neighbourhood, we might be able to forecast some of the threats we are soon going to face as well. How the United States might learn something from Europe this time, specifically countering Russian influence, is discussed by Dana Priest and Michael Birnbaum in The Washington Post.
Czech Disinformation Corner
The broadcasting of Oliver Stone’s The Putin Interviews is still a topic for Czech disinformation outlets – Aeronet noticed some “suspicious” changes in the programme of Czech Television and deduced that the public broadcaster has put Stone on the index of banned authors.
Nová republika also shown some serious analytical skills – its piece about Czech MPs proposing a constitutional amendment regarding joint military operations was based on a document that is not even Czech but one of the US Department of Defense from which the Czech Military Academy translated selected parts.
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