The Kremlin’s disinformation pundits seek the spotlight to recycle old narratives about the West threatening global security and stability in a classic case of deflection and projection of Russian wrongdoings onto others.
Every so often, the pro-Kremlin information manipulation and disinformation ecosystem needs to receive an infusion of fresh disinformation narratives to fuel the never-ending verbal outpouring of the Kremlin’s propagandists. Well, if not exactly new narratives, they need at least a nod of approval from the top brass to keep recycling the same old lies.
For this purpose, there is nothing quite like a well-placed, preferably international, public speech by the Kremlin’s master or his top lackeys to lay down the markers and reinforce known disinformation tropes, lining them up for amplification by the pro-Kremlin information manipulation apparatus.
Recently, there have been a few occasions just like this. Namely, Putin’s bunker broadcast to the World Russian People’s Council and Lavrov’s deadpan monologue at the OSCE ministers meeting. So, let’s have a look at the disinformation markers those speeches laid down and how they reverberated in the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem in the days that followed.
Frankenstein’s monster of disinformation
Starting with the lesser evil. Lavrov’s performance at the OSCE was a true amalgam of the ‘golden oldies’ of pro-Kremlin disinformation. Like Dr Frankenstein from the pages of Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, Lavrov managed to stitch together many, sometimes ill-fitting pieces of pro-Kremlin disinformation tropes into a speech full of denial, dismissal, distractions, and deflections.
While opening with some crocodile tears about the ‘lamentable condition’ of the organisation, Lavrov conveniently forgot to mention that Russia’s veto shut down the OSCE mission in Ukraine, and that Russia has been blocking the adoption of the annual budget for the organisation since 2021. Instead, he used this platform to pontificate at length about ‘destabilising NATO expansion’, one of the Kremlin’s favourite topics to complain about.
Of course, the West and Ukraine had to be blamed for Russia’s war against Ukraine, re-hashing old disinformation tropes about the Minsk agreements. In this context, Lavrov also referred to the absurd Russian ultimatum in 2021 to effectively dismantle NATO as ‘proposals on legally binding security guarantees in Europe’.
His hodgepodge speech also included the constant complaint that the West wants to destroy Russia, echoes of the pro-Kremlin narrative about EU sanctions, grousing about Washington’s alleged bid for hegemony, and accusations about supposed Western ‘double standards’ regarding human rights issues. And, of course no Russian speech would be complete without slinging accusations of Nazism against anyone who dares oppose Russia. Even if that speech is delivered to a less than a full room.
Ready to regurgitate
Unsurprisingly, this performance received a very warm welcome among pro-Kremlin disinformation peddlers. Some joined in the performative lamentation about the state of the OSCE, while others tried to exaggerate the significance of the very fact of Lavrov’s participation in the meeting, as this was his first in-person performance at the OSCE since February 2022. Others still amplified Lavrov’s doom and gloom, blaming EU and NATO for bringing the OSCE to the brink of collapse. Curiously, some pro-Kremlin pundits, perhaps having missed the memo, tried to depict the OSCE as the ‘long arm of the EU and NATO’.
Of course, the Kremlin’s mouthpieces started spinning the tale of Western deviousness even before the meeting took place, focussing their bile on Bulgaria’s refusal to allow Lavrov’s plane to traverse its airspace and resorting to childish insults.
Putting words in a dead man’s mouth
Another chord in Lavrov’s performance was preaching Russia’s noble commitments to European security and strongly insinuating its privileged role and right to exert its influence on its neighbours. On 29 November, the uncontested heavyweight of American diplomacy Henry Kissinger passed away, and the pro-Kremlin disinformation pundits did not miss a beat. In a truly gruesome fashion, they tried to put their words in the dead man’s mouth, harking back to Kissinger’s concept of ‘realism’ to promote the right of Russian exceptionalism and pushing the idea that the only way forward is to engage in a dialogue with Russia.
Crusade against Russophobia
Putin himself delivered the other trend-setting sermon for the purveyors of pro-Kremlin disinformation. Besides also promoting Russian exceptionalism, the core message amplified by the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem was the absurd idea that Russia is ‘fighting for the freedom of the whole world’. A rather strange message coming from a regime that launched the largest war in Europe since World War 2 only to satiate its imperial ambitions at the expense of its neighbours.
The other dominant theme was that ‘Russophobia’ is allegedly seizing the hearts and minds of the people in the West, who want to destroy the Russian people. Pro-Kremlin outlets were also keen to amplify Putin’s colonial sentiment that the ‘Russian world’ extends beyond ethnic Russians and is the vehicle to fight alleged ‘Russophobia’.
Those damned ‘Baltic Nazis’
A few days later, another occasion arose for Putin to push this crusade against ‘Russophobia’ during a meeting of the Russian Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. Prepped in advance by ‘reporting’ from the Russian MFA that once again painted Baltic States with its Nazi brush, Putin used the Council to target Latvia with unfounded accusations of ‘Russophobia’. Latvian authorities immediately rejected such baseless accusations.
And, on top of it all, Putin, without flinching, proclaimed that ‘Russia must never repeat the Soviet-era mass repressions’, while human rights groups report on hundreds of political prisoners in Russia and mere days after the Russian Supreme Court passed a draconian law targeting LGBTIQ+ communities in Russia.
Also blinking red on EUvsDisinfo’s radar:
- For the Kremlin’s disinformation launderers, repetition is a powerful tool for information influence. So once again, they re-hashed old and debunked conspiracies that Bucha was a setup organised by MI6. This bold-faced lie seeks to deflect responsibility and deny Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine. In fact, the Kremlin has been trying to spin this tale of denial for more than a year now. In truth, there is plenty of evidence, including an eight-month visual investigation and survivors’ testimonies concluding that Russian paratroopers from the 234th Air Assault Regiment committed the massacre in Bucha.
- Another telling example of Kremlin disinformation agents’ affinity for recycling is absurd claims that the West wants to destabilise Kazakhstan to open a second front against Russia. We’ve seen this one before, when pro-Kremlin outlets made the same claim about a ‘second front’ in Georgia. Now, the Kremlin is recycling its old ‘colour revolutions’ disinformation narrative, this time targeting Kazakhstan. And yet, they give no evidence for these claims. But this narrative fits well into recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives about the belligerent West trying to encircle Russia, isolate Russia, and divide post-Soviet countries.
- Of course, not a day could go by without pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets pouring oil into the fire that is the ‘siege mentality’ cultivated by the Kremlin. Enter the North Atlantic bogeyman. This time, an outlet claimed that NATO is boosting its presence in the Baltic Sea to provoke Russia. In truth, the warships deployed to the Baltic Sea by the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) are actually part of a United Kingdom-led expeditionary force, not NATO, to better protect crucial underwater infrastructure. The claims of a provocation seek to distract from the fact that Russia has repeatedly threatened Finland, Sweden and the Baltic nations for years, both militarily and otherwise. So, this expeditionary force is not so much the case of the Kremlin’s alleged ‘NATO expansionism’, as it is an appropriate and commensurate response to Russian imperialism.