New Disinformation Digest from the East StratCom Task Force
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  • Analysis: Aligning around #PanamaPapers
  • Analysis: The Russian side of the story
  • Response: Georgia's trade with the EU
  • Analysis: Symbiosis of mainstream and extremism
  • Friday fun: A very patriotic café

Aligning around #PanamaPapers

Russian media fall on a wide spectrum between the very Kremlin-loyal at one end and the very Kremlin-critical at the other. It came as no surprise that it was Kremlin-critical newspaper Novaya Gazeta that carried out the Russian part of the global “Panama Leaks” investigation.
But how did media in other parts of the Russian landscape react? Popular Russian blogger Ilya Varlamov showed the situation as of 12 noon on Monday 4 April in an infographic, which was widely shared in Russian social media. Varlamov published it under the short headline “Censorship” both on his blog and on his Facebook page. For the benefit of those who don’t read Russian, the East StratCom Task Force has transcribed the names of the Russian media into English, alongside with the criteria Varlamov applied to the different kinds of coverage on top of his table. Note that some of the media shown reported on the scandal after the infographic was created.

Besides the very Kremlin-loyal (red color) and the markedly Kremlin-critical media (Slon, Dozhd), we see a series of other important media, which remain open to relaying critical information about Russia's president and his inner circle. Among them are media traditionally seen as neutral (RBK, Vedomosti), or neutral, but leaning towards pro-Kremlin (, Moskovskiy Komsomolets). Worthwhile noting is also Lifenews, with a reputation for tabloid journalism, which picks up the scandal, but only mentions those parts that concern Ukraine’s President Poroshenko. Gazprom-owned, but traditionally neutral and widely respected Kommersant finds its very own diplomatic way around the topic. 
On a positive note, the news agencies on the top of the table have deemed it professionally necessary to report the news, although state-owned RIA Novosti for example released their telegram at a very late point for a news wire (eleven minutes after midnight Moscow time, i.e. more than two hours after the news broke), and with a text that carefully used the Russian word for “allegedly,” “yakoby,” both in the headline and the telegram, making sure to underline that “the documents’ authenticity has not been confirmed by anyone.”
Finally, among those media reporting late on the scandal is Russia Today, aimed at an audience outside Russia. Its very short first article on the Panama scandal, published on Sunday 3 April, does not mention the allegations against President Putin. Its second article, published on Monday 4 April in the late morning, starts as follows: "Anti-Putin sentiment has reached boiling point in the West, and that to a large degree makes it next to impossible to talk about Russia in a positive manner, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, commenting on the so-called Panama leak." 
Prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin was one of many to share this image of a Moscow bus stop on social media. It says: "Which Panama?"

The Russian side of the story

A widely quoted editorial in Vedomosti, signed by Mariya Zheleznova, underlines a fundamental difference between the Russian and the Western perception of the scandal: “In Russia, owning offshore companies is in the first place a means of protecting and concealing your property; whereas in the West, people hide from taxes", Vedomosti writes, underlining that offshore companies can help Russian government officials hiding money made on corruption. This leads Vedomosti to conclude that in spite of Kremlin’s efforts to play the story down, “Panama Leaks” represent a real threat to the government. It confirms what people have already been suspecting: Russia’s "mix of politics and business," Vedomosti writes, means that it would make little sense if Russian leaders said that "we will now tax ourselves or punish ourselves by law. Therefore, we have to conclude that there is nothing new in these publications, and that this is a blow to the president,” Vedomosti concludes.
To mark the launch of the EU4Business week in Georgia, the East StratCom Task Force produced an infographic highlighting the successes of the trade relationship and the benefits of EU-Georgia cooperation for businesses in Georgia.

Symbiosis of mainstream and extremism

"Democracy always leads to terror, it gave birth to Adolf Hitler as well as to Muslim extremism." (see Disinformation Review 21).
"The liberals and the democrats have destroyed everything and they are guilty of everything that's bad." (see Disinformation Review 12).
"Russia will always decide what Ukraine's foreign policy should be, and it should also decide the foreign policy of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania." (see Disinformation Review 16).
These quotes all from the chairman of the "Liberal and Democratic Party of Russia", Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Mr Zhirinovsky is a regular guest in the prime-time Russian TV shows of the strongly pro-Kremlin anchors Vladimir Solovyov and Pyotr Tolstoy, where he is usually the most aggressive speaker. After the Brussels attacks, Zhirinovsky said: "Terrorist attacks will be happening across Europe and it will be beneficial for us. Let them all die."
Zhirinovsky is not talking for the Kremlin. He is the leader of an opposition party. At the same time, he has been part of the establishment during the 16 years that Vladimir Putin rules Russia, mostly as Vice Chairman of the State Duma (Russian parliament). Reuters writes: "Although nominally part of the Russian opposition", Zhirinovsky is widely seen as "floating radical opinions to test public reaction." An article in the New York Times by top expert on Russian media and pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns, Peter Pomerantsev, offers further explanation.

Friday Fun: A very patriotic café

This week, Komsomolskaya Pravda informed us about the opening of the "President Café" in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk. While guests, served by waitresses from "Team Putin", sip a cocktail in the three Russian  national colours, they can admire numerous portraits of their head of state and wallpaper featuring the Sochi Olympic games. And when they go to powder their noses, they enter a bathroom entitled "NATO block" where black markers are at their disposal to embellish the effigies of Western and Ukrainian leaders on the walls. Orders of chicken Kyiv are not welcome, however, we hear from Svetlana Lautman, one of the café's directors, who says she has studied in the United States.
DISCLAIMER: The Weekly Digest is based on the analysis of the EU East StratCom Task Force; opinions and judgements expressed do not represent official EU positions.
Copyright © 08/04/2016 European External Action Service. All rights reserved.

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