As the year comes to an end, one tends to look back over the past twelve months to try to sum up what has happened. But summing up the pro-Kremlin disinformation year is more about what didn’t happen.
During the year 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 US aims to occupy Europe. Among the things claimed just last week that didn’t happen, we can find a clumsy Ukrainian soldier who didn’t blow himself up (it was a video made for fun), the rape cases in Sweden that rose by a thousand percent (in fact a rise of 1,4% 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 recurring pro-Kremlin narratives repeated over and over again.
Within the constant flow, one can notice some overarching themes. Here we have summed them up for you.
With this theme, Russia is described as an innocent actor which does everything it can to solve the world’s problems, but is constantly mistreated by the “West”. During his annual press conference last week, President Putin repeated two favourite 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 recognise 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, this week on Russian state TV, Poland was accused of aiming to enslave Russians, in cooperation with other European states. And the UK was accused of attempting to humiliate Russia during the upcoming Olympic Games. Russia’s Foreign Minister repeated some of these claims in an interview, and said that NATO made a promise to Russia not to expand eastwards and that NATO is deploying troops in Poland and the Baltic states in a non-transparent way. Find the debunk for the claims here and here.
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. This last week we saw several examples of this theme. In pro-Kremlin outlets it was claimed that President Poroshenko was brought to power by the US to establish a nationalist regime and that the Ukrainian state denies Donbass access to water, among other things. As we know by now, the regime in Kyiv is not nationalist 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.
All we want for Christmas is a disinformation-free information space. But we regret to say that it is probably not the last time you will see the narratives above. Since repetition is the mother of disinformation, we hope that knowing the narratives well will help you spot and debunk disinformation in the future. With this, we wish you a happy Christmas and New Year!
Misleading. In fact, the Venice Commission does not mention “facts of gross discrimination” but states:
"However, paragraph 4 of Article 7 provides no solution for languages which are not official languages of the EU, in particular the Russian language, as the most widely used language apart from the state language. The less favourable treatment of these languages is difficult to justify and therefore raises issues of discrimination."
The Venice Commission recommends in particular:
to enter, within the framework of the implementation of the new Education Law, into a new dialogue with representatives of national minorities and all interested parties on the language of education.
to ensure that the implementation of the Law does not endanger the preservation of the minorities’ cultural heritage and the continuity of minority language education in traditional schools.
Further debunking by Stopfake.org https://www.stopfake.org/manipulyatsiya-venetsianskaya-komissiya-priznala-diskriminatsiyu-russkogo-yazyka-v-ukraine/.
Recurring disinformation adopting the point of view of a country on whom the United Nations has imposed several sanctions because of its nuclear weapon's programme. See the UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea: https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/sanctions/1718/resolutions Both Russia and the United States are permanent members of the UN Security Council.
No one will ever believe that [the West, the US and the Ukrainian oligarchs] did not understand what [they] were doing when removing Yanukovich, who had been supposedly thieving around, and then replacing him with the supposed “honest Poroshenko”. Everyone knows what the Ukrainian oligarchs have been doing in Ukraine during 25 years! They were robbing this country! This whole country has been designed in order to get rich. [...] It is a monstrous deception of the population of the former splinter of the Soviet empire, by the Americans together with their [Ukrainian] oligarchs! It will end with coming to power of the most radical gang of Ukrainian nationalists. It is all directed against Russia.
As witnessed by the democratic and inclusive Presidential elections held on 25 May 2014, Ukraine is governed now by a democratically elected government, not by the West or the US. The OSCE characterized the elections as showing the "clear resolve of the authorities to hold what was a genuine election largely in line with international commitments and with a respect for fundamental freedoms." According to the OSCE, the only areas where serious restrictions were reported were those controlled by separatists, who undertook "increasing attempts to derail the process." http://bit.ly/2g9K0Mp . The far-right ‘Right Sector’ that is often depicted as "fascists" or "Nazis" by pro-Kremlin outlets, gained only 1.8% of the votes during Parliament elections held the same year, far short of the threshold needed to enter the Ukrainian Parliament. The electorate clearly voted for unity and moderation, not extremism or war against any country, including Russia, and the composition of the Parliament reflects that clearly http://bit.ly/2dFFEdi.
No evidence given. See examples of recent street protests: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-17/ukraine-protesters-seek-poroshenko-s-removal-at-kiev-rally
The disinformation is based on misleading polling data by the Ukrainian TV channel "News One" that has been criticized by Ukrainians for its pro-Kremlin stances. Polls conducted by the media reflect the opinion of the audience of these media, and not the entire society. See also a list of other polls conducted: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_Ukrainian_presidential_election,_2019
[A video on the screen in the studio shows results of the poll]:
Question: "If you have a choice now – to choose the previous criminal government or the current one, for whom would you vote?”
Answers: "For the previous one - 92 %, For the current one - 8%"
Polls conducted by the media reflect the opinion of the audience of these media, and not the entire society. The Ukrainian TV channel "News One" has been criticized by Ukrainians for its pro-Kremlin stances. As for the publicly accepted rating of the "current government" in Ukraine defined by the "News One" as a "record low" and amounting to 8 % now, see for example a list of other polls conducted: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_Ukrainian_presidential_election,_2019
There are no reliable polls that suggest that a majority of Ukrainians support the idea of Yanukovich return to power. https://euvsdisinfo.eu/report/92-of-ukrainian-tv-viewers-want-yanukovich-back/
No evidence given. Sputnik mentions a priest, who "heard" this prophecy from Pope John Paul II in early 90s. On the Holy See's website there is a statement which reflects the opinion of Pope John Paul II on migrants:"Today the phenomenon of illegal migrants has assumed considerable proportions (...).The present economic and social imbalance, which to a large extent encourages the migratory flow, should not be seen as something inevitable, but as a challenge to the human race's sense of responsibility (...). It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or xenophobic behaviour". https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/migration/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_25071995_undocumented_migrants.html
Recurring disinformation, no evidence given https://euvsdisinfo.eu/report/ukrainian-army-uses-white-phosphorous/. See also DFRLab's report.
Recurring disinformation that the US support Daesh https://euvsdisinfo.eu/disinformation-cases/?text=ISIS&disinfo_issue=&date=.
According to Swedish authorities, the number of reported rapes since 2015 is up by 1,4% - a far cry from 1000% as claimed in the article. So, the number of reported rapes in Sweden has risen. But the definition of rape has broadened over time, which makes it difficult to compare the figures. It is also misleading to compare the figures with other countries, as many acts that are considered rape under Swedish law are not considered rape in many other countries.
For example: If a woman in Sweden reports that she has been raped by her husband every night for a year, that is counted as 365 separate offences; in most other countries this would be registered as a single offence, or would not be registered as an offence at all.
Willingness to report such offences also differs dramatically between countries. A culture in which these crimes are talked about openly, and victims are not blamed, will also have more cases reported. Sweden has made a conscious effort to encourage women to report any offence
http://www.government.se/articles/2017/02/facts-about-migration-and-crime-in-sweden/, http://www.notisum.se/rnp/sls/lag/19620700.htm#K6, https://www.bra.se/brott-och-statistik/statistik-utifran-brottstyper/valdtakt-och-sexualbrott.html
Kraichgau News is neither Bavarian nor is it a newspaper. It is an internet portal where anyone can post their information based in the Baden-Württemberg area. A user calling themselves Kerstin Neumann who wrote the article that Russian media cite registered with the Kraichgau News portal one day before publishing her fake story on November 1. This fake began to be widely republished in Russian media during the recent EU Eastern Partnership summit at the end of November. There is no agreement between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding refugees. Further debunking by Stopfake https://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-ukraine-to-accept-20-000-refugees-instead-of-germany/.
Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers reports that the latest recruitment drive aimed to attract 12,460 persons for contractual military service, 2,000 more than in previous drives. According to the Ukrainian Land Forces press service, recruitment centers throughout the country report that goal has been met with 8,360 recruits going into the Ukrainian army, 3,500 into the National Guard and 600 into a specialized military transport service. Further debunking by Stopfake.org. https://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-ukraine-s-autumn-recruitment-a-washout/
Kyiv did not cut the water to Luhansk, Luhanske Enerhetychne Obyednannia, (LEO) the regional utility company has warned countless times that both consumer and corporate electricity accounts located on separatist controlled territory that were not paying their bills, particularly such companies as Popasnianska Vodokanal pumping station, would be cut off. LEO reports that it is in a precarious financial position because of the millions of unpaid bills, which has led to its accounts being frozen by the National Energy and Public Services Regulatory Commission. One pro-Kremlin site referred to this as a genocide, a word that is often used in pro-Kremlin disinformation but seldom refers to the actual crime against humanity https://euvsdisinfo.eu/disinformation-cases/?text=genocide&disinfo_issue=&date=. Further debunking by Stopfake.org https://www.stopfake.org/en/fake-kyiv-shuts-off-water-to-luhansk-without-explanation/.
The show quotes a satirical article published in The Times December 9, 2017. Even the closest monitoring of the British media does not reveal any mention of a real “competition for a neutral flag and anthem" for Russian athletes.
No evidence given. The statement about the federalism of Europe was made by one politician at his party's conference, and there was no mention of immigration or punishing other member states.
No evidence given. On the contrary, according to the poll by the International Republican Institute Center for Insights in Survey Research, a combined 80 percent of Ukrainians nationwide and a combined 73 percent in the Donbas region believe that separatist-controlled areas of the Donbas should remain under Ukrainian control. Only six percent nationwide and four percent in the Donbas believe that these areas should either be separated from Ukraine or become part of Russia.
As for the state of “Novorossia” or “New Russia” in English, pro-Kremlin media refers with this term to the regions of the South-East of Ukraine.
There is no civil war in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is a war between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
One of the most repeated examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation. But the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, much of it coming, inadvertently or deliberately, from Russian troops themselves. Further details, for example, are in the following reports: http://bit.ly/1i9fChX, http://bit.ly/1JUXaQB, http://bit.ly/1RbWQU5, http://bit.ly/1L6f6J6, http://bit.ly/1GpWmnW.
The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has stated that “the information available suggests that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This international armed conflict began at the latest on 26 February when the Russian Federation deployed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of the Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian Government https://www.icc-cpi.int/iccdocs/otp/161114-otp-rep-PE_ENG.pdf.
President Putin himself admitted to the presence of Russian “people there, who deal with certain matters, including in the military area” [aka soldiers] in December 2015 http://bit.ly/1kC94ch and again in October 2016 http://bit.ly/2enbpt2. He even awarded medals to Russian soldiers who fought in Donbass http://bit.ly/2dsPbWN. And Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoygu awarded a medal to a Russian soldier for fighting near Debaltseve http://bit.ly/2eNYKka. Furthermore, evidence of Russian soldiers and Russian commandment in Donbass can be found here: http://bit.ly/2e6RE77.
Further debunking at Polygraph.info https://www.polygraph.info/a/newsc-putin-ukraine-election-media/28918925.html.
Recurring disinformation. Russia violated international law as well as key principles of the European security framework in illegally annexing the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. The European Union does not recognise and continues to strongly condemn this violation of international law, which remains a challenge to the international security order. This position is based on the UN Charter, which clearly states that the territory of a State cannot be acquired by another State resulting from the threat or use of force, as well as on the Helsinki Final Act in which the signatories declared their intention to respect the inviolability of frontiers and territorial integrity: http://bit.ly/2d9uXT9.
UNGA Resolution 68/262, which condemned Russia's illegal actions in Ukraine, was supported by 100 United Nations member states. Only 10 states opposed it. http://bit.ly/1RZGnjo.
Further debunking by Polygraph.info https://www.polygraph.info/a/newsc-putin-ukraine-election-media/28918925.html.
Conspiracy theory, repeating recurring disinformation regarding Western aggression. There are no neo-Nazis in the government of Poland. No evidence that Poland, Nato or the West have a treacherous plan to destroy "masculine origin" of the Russians.
As shown by RFE/RL, the video is a joke - it is even mentioned below the video that the viewers shouldn't take it seriously https://ru.krymr.com/a/28913899.html. It is clear in the full length of the video https://youtu.be/4lO-AvnOLYM. Further debunking by RFE/RL https://ru.krymr.com/a/28913899.html.
No evidence given. The restrictive measures were adopted in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the deliberate destabilisation of Ukraine. They do not aim at destroying Russia. The economic sanctions targeting exchanges with Russia in specific economic sectors are aligned to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/sanctions/ukraine-crisis/
An old myth designed by the Kremlin and debunked many times. The Russians and the Ukrainians are not the same or a single nation. Ukraine is recognised in international law as a sovereign nation state, with its own flag, nationality, language etc.
Recurring disinformation https://euvsdisinfo.eu/disinformation-cases/?text=ISIS&disinfo_issue=&disinfo_keywords%5B%5D=77105&date=, no evidence given. It is self-evident nonsense to state that IS fights on the side of the West.
As explained by DFRLab, while there are NATO troops and equipment in Poland and the Baltic states, Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov’s claim that the presence increased in response to Zapad 2017 is misleading. The United States did, in fact, deploy three additional fighter jets and 600 American paratroopers to the Baltic states and Poland for the duration of Zapad. However, the deployment was public, reported by Reuters at the time, and there is no evidence to suggest that the additional forces overstayed their visit.
Similarly, the recent arrival of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) to Poland, which was recently targeted by similar Kremlin disinformation, was a part of a planned rotation of U.S. Army Europe, a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. As @DFRLab reported in October, the deployment of the 2nd Armed Brigade Combat Team was first announced in April 2017, six months before the start of Zapad 2017. There is no evidence to uphold the claim that the deployment was linked to Russia’s military exercise, but the deployment was rather a part of the rotational schedule. Further information at https://medium.com/dfrlab/balticbrief-russia-claims-secret-nato-deployment-e6c0e649ccfb
Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives on NATO. As explained by the DFRLab, both statements have been debunked numerous times. NATO made no promises not to expand into eastern and central Europe back in 1990, which was confirmed by the former president of the Soviet Union Mihail Gorbachev. Back in 2014, Gorbachev said:"The topic of ‘NATO expansion’ was not discussed at all, and it wasn’t brought up in those years. I say this with full responsibility." https://www.rbth.com/international/2014/10/16/mikhail_gorbachev_i_am_against_all_walls_40673.html. Furthermore, the claim about NATO "expansion" misrepresents the process of NATO enlargement. NATO does not "expand" but considers the applications of candidate countries which want to join. In any case, no such promise was made https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_109141.htm.
Similarly, NATO did not break the “Substantial Combat Forces” pledge of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. The pledge precluded “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” in the region. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2016/583782/EPRS_ATA%282016%29583782_EN.pdf. The four multi-national battle groups deployed in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are rotational, defensive, and well below any reasonable definition of “substantial combat forces.” Further debunking at DFRLab https://medium.com/dfrlab/balticbrief-russia-claims-secret-nato-deployment-e6c0e649ccfb.
Sexual threats is a recurring theme of pro-Kremlin disinformation. On December 10, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and actress Angelina Jolie stated that they have joined forces to project the alliance as a progressive role model for gender politics and a “leading protector” of women’s rights starting a joint mission to secure the “fundamental promise in the UN Charter of equal rights and dignity for women.” Stoltenberg/Jolie’s article does not say a word about Russia. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/10/why-nato-must-defend-womens-rights )
The newspaper is a kind of headquarters of Nato to manipulate the brains of Finnish people.
No evidence given. The US, UK and Finland are partners. Helsingin Sanomat is an independent Finnish newspaper and has no connection to Nato. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Helsingin-Sanomat
Read more for the background: https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/mondays_papers_intelligence_documents_leak_heavy_concert_accident_the_jobs_in_your_genes/9981816