New year, old tricks
While the rest of us greeted 2023 and moved on with our lives, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem seems to be stuck in an endless Groundhog Day. That becomes obvious when one looks at the narratives that pro-Kremlin actors have been pushing since last week. Their efforts really come off as a selection of the most worn-out tropes their machinery has to offer.
First, Ukraine as a supposed proxy and puppet of the US and the West. A number of pro-Kremlin outlets resurfaced the narrative that the US has been using Ukraine as a tool in their war against Russia since 2014. No. It is Russia that has waged war against Ukraine for almost eight years now, plain and simple. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 wiped away all confusion around this topic. And yes, you have heard this disinformation narrative before. Many times.
Secondly, accusing Ukraine of mind-bending false flag operations. Recently, Sputnik went as far as to claim that during the Orthodox Christmas Eve, Ukrainian troops opened the graves of local residents in several Kharkiv cemeteries, exhumed the remains, mutilated them, and threw them in mass graves to create false evidence of torture and civilian shootings by Russian troops. This mental gymnastics is deranged even by the standards of Russia’s disinformation apparatus. Let alone the fact that ample evidence proves the wrongdoings of Russia’s troops in Ukraine.
When it doesn’t work, just try again, and again, and again
Just before the holidays hit, another satirical video depicting freezing EU citizens during Christmas was posted on the RT Telegram channel, raking in over 600,000 views. Quickly, the usual suspects – Sputnik, RIAFAN, and RIA, among others – published articles with links to the video on RT’s website. In addition, over the holidays, several high-ranking Kremlin propagandists, including Margarita Simonyan, shared the video, adding another million views to it.
This is the fifth similarly-styled video that we have picked up since early November last year. The common theme in all these videos is a satirical take on the energy crisis, portraying the supposed hardship of EU citizens, accompanied by a high-quality, professional production. All these videos have English subtitles, indicating all but certainly that they target foreign audiences. Previous videos were unbranded. But we can confidently attribute this one to RT as it bears its logo and was first shared by the channel. Also, we have found no copies of the video without the RT logo so far.
Every video published comes off as more and more unhinged and disconnected from reality. While there were genuine worries around the EU’s energy supply last year, the EU managed to fill up its gas storage sites to 80% of capacity by the beginning of November, as planned. Eventually stocks reached more than 95%. Now, halfway through winter, they stand at a strong 83.5%. In addition, gas prices in Europe have fallen to pre-Ukraine invasion levels.