Kremlin disinformation campaign extremely successful – EU East Stratcom

Putin the TV Puppet Master (Image: Zina Saunders)

Putin the TV Puppet Master (Image: Zina Saunders) 


Article by: EU East Stratcom

There is no doubt that the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign is an orchestrated strategy, delivering the same disinformation stories in as many languages as possible, through as many channels as possible, and as often as possible. Our conclusion is based on 15 months of daily collection of data on disinformation: more than 2,500 examples in 18 languages of stories contradicting publicly available facts, multiplied in many languages and repeated on a daily basis.

This is also the conclusion of many experts in this field, such as journalists from StopFake, who regularly catalogue fake news and expose how a particular piece of disinformation gets spread and multiplied via various channels and languages (see a case study of this phenomenon).

The disinformation campaign is a non-military measure for achieving political goals.

Russian authorities are explicit about this, for example through the infamous Gerasimov doctrine as well as through statements by top Russian generals that the use of “false data” and “destabilising propaganda” are legitimate tools in the tool kit. The Russian Minister of Defence describes information as “another type of armed forces”. Russian journalists were awarded Presidential medals for misrepresenting events in Crimea.

Read also: A guide to Russian propaganda, Part 1: Propaganda prepares Russia for war

The aim of this disinformation campaign is to weaken and destabilize the West,

by exploiting existing divisions or creating artificial new ones. Those divisions can be on the strategic level: for example the EU versus NATO/US (where NATO/US is frequently described as an occupying power in European countries), or differences between EU Member States (typically on the issue of Russian sanctions). They can also be on a local level, exploiting minority issues or the fear of refugees. Among the artificial divisions, a conflict between basic human rights and traditional values is often used.

Often, outright lies are deployed, aimed at denigrating a particular person (1), political group, government (2) or intergovernmental organisation (3), as well as NGOs, mainstream media, elites, experts, the “establishment”, and those taking initiatives to counter disinformation.

Read also: A guide to Russian propaganda, Part 2: Whataboutism

Another strategy is to spread as many conflicting messages as possible, in order to persuade the audience that there are so many versions of events that it is impossible to find the truth. Particularly obvious examples include the clear obfuscation over the downing of flight MH17, Boris Nemtsov’s assassination and the bombing of a humanitarian convoy in Syria.

Read also: A guide to Russian propaganda, Part 3: Rapid fire conspiracy theories

A disinformation campaign, just like any other PR campaign, works over time by building familiarity with and acceptance of its messages

What are the tools of disinformation? We do not have a complete overview, as there is still not enough systematic research. What we do know, thanks to our own Disinformation Review as well as local activities like StopFake and Kremlin Watch, is that not only big media outlets like RT or Sputnik are deployed, but also seemingly marginal sources, like fringe websites, blog sites and Facebook pages.

Trolls are deployed not only to amplify disinformation messages but to bully those, like Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro, brave enough to oppose them. And the network goes wider: NGOs and “GONGOs“ (government organised NGOs); Russian government representatives; and other pro-Kremlin mouthpieces in Europe, often on the far-right and far-left (4). In all, literally thousands of channels are used to spread pro-Kremlin disinformation, all creating an impression of seemingly independent sources confirming each other’s message.

The impression we have – though again, more research is needed – is that different tools have a different degree of importance in different regions.

Targeting the Russian-speaking minority seems the most important tool in the Baltic states, whereas in Central Europe it seems to be the use of dozens of “alternative“ websites, while trolling seems most prevalent in Scandinavia.

What is the influence of the disinformation campaign?

Again, we cannot be sure, without looking inside the heads of individual citizens and voters and seeing what influenced their opinions and decisions.

But a disinformation campaign, just like any other PR campaign, works over time by building familiarity with and acceptance of its messages, through multiple channels; sowing mistrust in mainstream media, authorities, or any solid sources of information in general.

Looking ahead to 2017, both Germany and France are already warning of the threat of disinformation attacks on their elections, while several European security services have spoken openly about the threat of hostile Russian disinformation activities.

Is the disinformation campaign successful? Definitely yes.

The purpose of a disinformation campaign is not to make consumers like the outlets but to buy the disinformation message as credible information

Just as the purpose of a campaign run by a car brand is not to make the consumer like their advertisement in this or that magazine, but to buy the car, similarly the purpose of a disinformation campaign is not to make consumers like the outlets but to buy the disinformation message as credible information. And many of us are buying. If we look at those few focused opinion polls measuring how many people accept an obvious disinformation planted in pro-Kremlin media (5), we have to conclude that the disinformation campaign is extremely successful. It’s incumbent on us all to be more careful what we consume.


Disclaimer: This paper contains the expert view of the East StratCom Task Force and does not reflect official EU policies.


Source: Originally published by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)

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  1. Avatar Dirk Smith says:

    Only if you’re an imbecile or drunken vatnik slave.

  2. Avatar Alex George says:

    A good article. To some it will just be a statement of the obvious, but for many others, it will assist them to make sense of a phenomenon they have sensed but not really understood.

    The primary means of defeating a disinformation campaign is to expose it, repeatedly.

    The Russian propaganda services have seen the internet as a strength for them, which it is, but it is also a weakness: It enables many people of good will to join the fight, adn to refute their propaganda with facts and reasoned argument. Eventually, the truth always takes hold

    1. Avatar Mick Servian says:

      Well the US has been doing it for years. Let someone else at it.

      1. Avatar Alex George says:

        No it hasn’t. Russia indulges in Goebbels-style propaganda. Which is hardly surprising since it is a fascist state. Putin admires Stalin, just as Stalin admired Hitler.

  3. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

    Brexit was a ruSSian disinformation success.

    1. Avatar туфтуф says:

      Sure it was. But on the other hand, Brits have almost an instinct to first abandon the sinking ship. Like rats do.

      1. Avatar Alex George says:

        If you think the EU is a sinking ship then you are deluded. Brexit is demonstrating its strength.

        USA is the largest world economy, EU is the second largest. China is a long way back in third.

        And eurosceptic whack-jobs have been confidently predicting the demise of the EEC/EU for 50 years. Its collapse is always just about to happen. And here we still are, and here the EU still is, making tis member nations more prosperous.

        1. Avatar туфтуф says:

          Us might be, but it depends a lot on trade. That makes it vulnerable to fear of nuclear attack. 1 bomb hits NY and US goes meadieval.

          1. Avatar Brent says:

            Dream on little mindless sheeple!!! You not only have to take out New York, but also Chicago, L.A., Washington and many other U.S. cities before the U.S. “goes medieval”. All you have to is take out Muscovy and there goes the head of your beloved Russian snake.

          2. Avatar туфтуф says:

            No. NY stock exchange and they go medieval.

          3. Avatar Alex George says:

            Yes, and the moon is made of green cheese. Keep dreaming, little man.

          4. Avatar туфтуф says:

            Are we slow a little? Lol

          5. Avatar Alex George says:

            *LMAO* Typical Russian troll – fantasizes about a nuclear attack on New York!

          6. Avatar туфтуф says:

            There will be NO nuke attack on NY. There will be, and is FEAR of nuclear attack.

          7. Avatar Brent says:

            Don’t trip over yourself backpedalling so fast “Toto”….did you learn that move from Drumpf?

        2. Avatar туфтуф says:

          Countries leaving EU demonsyrate EU power. Interesting logic. Lemme break news to u: Moldova is to annul the EU association agreement. I guess it will make EU even more stronger than it is. Lolz

          1. Avatar Alex George says:

            Indeed it does. Brexit is providing an excellent demonstration of the EU’s strength.

            Lemme break news to u – even Moldova is not doing anything of the sort.

            As I wrote, USA is the largest world economy, EU is the second largest. China is a long way back in third.

            And eurosceptic whack-jobs have been confidently predicting the demise of the EEC/EU for 50 years. Its collapse is always just about to happen. And here we still are, and here the EU still is, making tis member nations more prosperous.

          2. Avatar туфтуф says:

            Moldova threatens to anull the association agreement.

          3. Avatar Alex George says:

            No, Moldova’s President threatens that . He is well known as a Putin stooge. But his Prime Minster and Parlaiment don’t agree with him.

          4. Avatar туфтуф says:

            Not agreeing with the stooge? Thats ducking serious. Lolz

          5. Avatar Alex George says:

            No, its just the fact. Moldova isn’t threatening to annul the association agreement. Next time, check your facts before posting.

        3. Avatar Mick Servian says:

          Two sites have all of western civilization scared. What?

          1. Avatar Alex George says:

            I am sorry but I have no idea what your post means. It appears to have nothing whatsoever to do with what I wrote. What are these “sites” that you refer to?

      2. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

        What’s sinking is your ruSSian craphole, tovarish.

    2. Avatar Quartermaster says:

      Hardly. The biggest force in Brexit was Brussells’ stupidity. Putin can only dream about such things.

      1. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

        Kremtrolls were posting 24/7 tens of thousands of comments dissing the EU on British media sites, posing as Ukippers, anti-immigrants, anti-Muslims, etc. Funny since ruSSia let’s all Muslims from the former Soviet Muslim republics like Uzbekistan live and work in the RF.

        1. Avatar Bryan See says:

          Not only that, they also post information about me obsessed with Fobos-Grunt since 2007, and justifying my each ban.

  4. Avatar Terry Washington says:

    Perhaps Donald Trump should reinstate the US Information Agency(disbanded at the end of the Cold War).To his credit, the then US President Dwight Eisenhower recognized that the “Cold War” would be fought on the battlefield of words as well as with force of arms(pace Korea and Vietnam)!

  5. Avatar Bryan See says:

    “Phobosgate” was a Russian disinformation success, after the failure of their Fobos-Grunt mission.

    Starkiller88 is a self-confessed vandal who has been involved in a long-term campaign of adding deliberate misinformation to a number of articles associated with Fobos-Grunt, Alexander V. Zakharov and Anonymous (group). I also believe that he has been using IP sockpuppets to avoid scrutiny, is engaging in serious disruption to make a point, has made several potentially libellous edits; accusing scientists and engineers on the Fobos-Grunt project of treason, particularly Zakharov, who he also claimed would die in 2015, or “be disappeared”.

    Between late January and early April, a large number of IP users began adding unreferenced OR, speculative and POV statements to Fobos-Grunt. In April the page was semi-protected after the issue was raised at AN3 by BatteryIncluded. At around that time, Starkiller turned up, and started making similar edits to those the IPs had been. Given that his account was blocked repeatedly a few years ago for persistent OR and disruptive editing, I believe that before semi-protection Starkiller was logging out to add OR so that it couldn’t be linked back to his main account so easily., one of the more active IP users, has the same editing pattern; editing articles related to Fobos-Grunt and Anonymous, and also changing the word “planet” to “exoplanet” in articles relating to several fictional worlds (edits by Starkiller and the IP). Most of the other IP addresses involved were in the 115.133.*.* range. I did a whois check on a few of them, and all the 115-block addresses I checked were registered to Telekom Malaysia, with being a Malaysian university, so there does seem to be geographic correlation between them. On several occasions he has forgotten to log back in when replying to messages, such as here, proving that he has been editing from which also tracks back to Telekom Malaysia.

    Initially, he seems to have been insistent on adding claims that the Fobos-Grunt mission would not be repeated, and that it’s project team had been disbanded, based on speculation that Russia was about to join the European ExoMars programme. After a while, this effectively came to pass, so he started taking the opposite position; that the mission would be repeated, based on the opinion of a single scientist. His claims were repeatedly removed by a number of editors, however he kept adding them, and attempts to discuss the issue at Talk:Fobos-Grunt proved fruitless. Eventually, BatteryIncluded made a series of posts on Starkiller’s talk page in an effort to get him to stop claiming that the repeat mission was planned, however this simply caused Starkiller to start claiming at every possible opportunity and with as much emphasis as possible, that there would never be another mission to Phobos, at any point in the future.

    In addition to the claims about the scientists behind the mission being wanted for treason, he started adding claims about a planned Anonymous operation, entitled “Phobos-Gone” aimed at taking down the Fobos-Grunt website, and conducting vigilante acts to “bring those responsible for the failure to justice”. He added the claim, accompanied by one or two references which linked to user-generated content on Pastebin, to Fobos-Grunt, Alexander V. Zakharov, Lavochkin, Timeline of events associated with Anonymous, Anonymous Operation and Anonymous (group). He also created four redirects relating to the alleged campaign, before resulting RfD discussion that he made the whole thing up in retaliation for a mildly incivil post that BatteryIncluded made on his talk page after he had repeatedly stonewalled more polite requests to stop being disruptive. Making this point also appears to have been the cause of his insistence that there would never be another mission to Phobos. I am particularly concerned with the way he has since been pursuing this matter off-wiki, creating accounts on Blogspot, Twitter and Youtube with which he appears to be inciting criminal and vigilante activities against third parties in order to make the claims he is adding to these articles genuine.

    He has been repeatedly asked to stop, but he just apologises, waits a day or two, and then starts editing again. I have sent him final warnings for both disruptive editing and long-term vandalism, which he has ignored, so I believe this now needs to be dealt with by an administrator.

    It may be imbedded somewhere up in Graham’s detailed post above, but people should really view this video added by Starkiller (and later correctly removed). Although I understand the serious disruption to the project caused by Starkiller, the video is at the same time a hoot. As for the merits of Graham’s request for “dealing” with Starkiller, sanctions are, I hate to use the word obviously, warranted.