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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Worst of Them All?

December 22, 2022

Grandfather Frost might not have much to give to Kremlin propagandists, who wish for everyone to revel in the dirt with them.

This week we continue to shed light on Kremlin disinformation and information manipulation attacks against European solidarity with Ukrainians. Furthermore, the Kremlin propaganda machinery continues its attacks against EU leaders. This time High Representative Josep Borrell is in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. Lastly, we turn to never-ending Kremlin disinformation attempting, for the umpteenth time, to justify the illegal and unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Lies and missiles continue to terrorise Ukrainian civilians

Russia continues to terrorise Ukraine’s civilian population with missile attacks against civilian infrastructure to make lives intolerable during the harsh winter months and to force them to leave their homes. At the same time, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem is proactively targeting possible recipient countries of additional Ukrainian refugees in the West as well as in Central Asia.

The disinformation bombardment includes narratives claiming that Ukrainians are not welcome or that those already residing in these countries should leave. The manipulated information includes false YouTube advertisements and altered pictures of graffiti in major European urban areas (see the earlier Myth Detector’s debunk). The intent is to create a false impression that locals in recipient countries are calling for Ukrainians to leave or that they see support for Ukraine as a burden.

Lies like these attempt to stoke fear and intolerance toward Ukrainians in targeted countries across Europe. They also try to erode popular support for Ukraine in the West, which is necessary to back up governments’ military and financial assistance to Ukraine. Moreover, Kremlin propagandists want to persuade Ukrainians that Western support for them is waning.

These narratives are a part of cynical and sinister Kremlin campaign to harm Ukrainians physically and mentally – physically through destroying homes and infrastructure for electricity, heat, and water, and mentally through smashing Ukrainian hopes and resilience. It is disinformation woven into the fabric of psychological warfare. Total war per the modern Kremlin playbook.

In hopes that some of it will stick

As we have reported before, Kremlin propagandists have a nauseating habit of throwing mud from their sty everywhere in hopes that at least some of it will stick. The tactic is as old as the human attraction to rumours of scandals.

The smear campaign targeting high-level EU officials included an attempt to link High Representative Josep Borrell to the on-going corruption investigation in the European Parliament. This is a continuation of earlier attacks, such as the recent one, which attempted to paint the High Representative’s comments as insensitive. That attack used a well-known, and cheap, tactic of using out-of-context or misleading quotes in an attempt to sow confusion.

Russia continues to be among the most corrupt nations in the world. Disinformation such as the above is an attempt by the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem to divert attention from their own problems by blaming others. Furthermore, it is an opportunistic effort to utilise the topic du jour to affiliate members of the EU leadership with negative associations to discredit their work and to try to foment popular discontent.

Further pro-Kremlin attempts to deceive that raised our eyebrows this week:

  • Radical Islamists heading from Syria to Ukraine to fight for Kyiv. No, there simply is no evidence of such things taking place. Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence of pro-Kremlin disinformationistas struggling to discredit and smear Ukraine’s legitimate self-defence efforts by trying to affiliate those efforts with psychologically strong negative imagery such as terrorism and Nazism. This repeated tactic is yet another attempt by the Kremlin to sell their illegal war in Ukraine to audiences both at home and abroad.
  • The UK is building an anti-Russia coalition using vassals. This pro-Kremlin disinformation trope tries to impact audiences in two different ways: first of all, by invoking the well-known ‘Anglo-Saxons are behind everything’ narrative; and secondly by insinuating that the Baltic States and Poland have limited or even lost sovereignty and serve only as puppets of external powers. With disinformation such as this, pro-Kremlin propagandists make a ‘Hail Mary’ play to drive a wedge between traditionally friendly Western nations and to deflect any blame for the current state of affairs between Russia and Western nations.
  • US contractors help prepare chemical provocations in Ukraine. Yet another ‘oldie, but not goldie’ from the Kremlin big bag-o-lies. Multi-pronged disinformation narratives such these attempt to justify Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine by claiming the existence and potential use of ABC weapons (see also here and here) by Ukraine with the help of Western nations. Furthermore, such claims also attempt to invoke strong taboos associated with such weapons in an attempt to smear the Kremlin’s enemies. Lastly, and most worrisomely, such claims may also play a role in preparing the information environment and raise false-flags for covering up a potential first-use of such weapons by the Russian invasion forces in Ukraine.

 

Thank you for reading our Disinformation Reviews during 2022! The best gift for the Holiday season: take a refresher tour online of our Disinformation Reviews here. The next edition will come out on 5 January 2023.