New Disinformation Digest from the East StratCom Task Force
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Migrant acquitted of rape?

Last Wednesday 26 October, Russian TV channel Pervyi Kanal reported a shocking story: an Austrian court acquitted a Middle-Eastern refugee of raping a 10-year-old boy, because the refugee did not speak German and thus he did not understand that the boy said no.

In fact, the immigrant was not acquitted, but is still in custody and awaits a new trial that will take place in 2017. Within 24 hours, The Insider and the Russian-language service of Deutsche Welle showed that this piece of news was a fake. Pervyi Kanal deleted the item from its website, although it can still be found in Google cache.

However, at a conference for interethnic relations this Monday 31 October, President Putin cited this story. He mentioned it to explain why Russia should draw on its own experiences with interethnic relations, rather than Europe's. „You saw what happens — an immigrant raped a child in one of the European countries,“ the President said, as reported by the Moscow Times. Mr Putin went on to explain that this was "the result of the unraveling of traditional national values and of a feeling of guilt vis a vis migrants", according to Austrian daily Kurier.

This is not the first time that the refugee crisis is used in pro-Kremlin disinformation. The issue can be used to persuade the Russian audience that Europe is full of dangerous problems and diverts from „traditional values“. And for an audience outside Russia, the story can exacerbate the existing tensions in society in order to destabilize European society.

The best-known example of this was the so-called „Lisa case“ in Germany. Russian state media faked a story about a 13-year-old Russian-speaking German girl raped by migrants. Although the story was soon proved to be fake, it was repeated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused German authorities of „sweeping the problems under the rug“.

The story of a protest against disinformation

Readers of the Disinformation Digest are familiar with Valery Bezpyatych, who runs a media company in the Ural region in Russia. Together with other regional journalists, he campaigned to raise awareness of disinformation in the Russian TV channel. He tells his story in this video, available on the Facebook page EU vs Disinformation.

Stepping up against censorship

On 24 October, one of the most respected and popular personalities in Russia took the floor during the 7th congress of Russian Theatrical Professionals and delivered a speech against censorship.
Actor and managing director of Moscow’s Satirikon Theatre, living legend Konstantin Raikin drew a parallel between modern Russian cultural life with that of Stalin’s Soviet Union. In a strong call for professional solidarity, Raikin evoked the authority of his late father, the no less famous actor Arkady Raikin (1911-1987), a rare cultural leader that survived the Stalinist terror. Raikin jr.’s message – that censorship is now as bad as during Stalin's times, and that government financial support of culture should not imply government control over creativity – was pronounced against the backdrop of a series of recent forceful closures of exhibitions and plays as well as instructions from the political leadership in how to interpret Russian classics.
“These assaults on the arts, and on theatre in particular, are completely lawless, extremist, arrogant, aggressive, hiding behind all sorts of words about morality, ethical standards, and all kinds of good and lofty words: "Patriotism," "Motherland" and "high morals". [...] To me, this is a hideous attack on artistic freedom and on the prohibition of censorship.”
"It brings us back not just to the late Soviet Union, and but even to more ancient times - to Stalin's time. Our superiors have begun to speak to us with such a Stalinist vocabulary, with such Stalinist rhetoric that one can hardly believe one's ears!"
"And our poor church, which has forgotten how it itself used to be hunted by the government, how its priests were murdered, its crosses torn down and churches were turned into vegetable stores. That church begins to act with the very same methods today."
"I think now we live in very difficult times, very dangerous times, very horrifying times; it is very similar to ... I will not say what. But you know. We urgently need to unite and resist it in a very clear way."
Raikin’s speech was relayed by many media, including independent TV Dozhd and independent news portal Meduza, and it spurred an intense debate on the intersection of culture and politics. In response, President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Censorship is unacceptable, but one must clearly differentiate those performances and works that are are financed by government money from those that make use of other sources of financing”. 
Among the many who commented in support of Raikin was the famous film director Andrey Zvyagintsev: “It is absolutely obvious that censorship is now in full swing in our country’s cultural life”, Zvyagintsev wrote in a comment published on opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s blog, and continues: “The prohibition of performances, the ban of exhibitions, the ban on the publication of texts - all of this is censorship. It's amazing how easy it is has been for people to change their perceptions. Nobody even lifts an eyebrow anymore. We say: ‘This is censorship,’ they say: ‘It’s government funding’”.
Zvyagintsev also underlines the ties between censorship and propaganda: “My son is only recently turned 7 […] We haven’t had a TV at home for many years. This September he started in school. After his first week I asked him what he had learned, and my son said: 'In Moscow there is Red Square, the Kremlin and the zoo, and we also have President Putin, he is a good and kind.' This is what government funding means: Instead of objective knowledge you get ideology, and when you start to learn to write, you learn to write propaganda”. (Image: Meduza)


Last week, Ukrainian hacker group CyberHunta released thousands of e-mails purportedly from the inbox of Vladislav Surkov – an aide to President Putin. Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's spokesperson, dismissed the email account as a fake, saying Surkov „never used email“.

The hacked emails, however, do not purport to be from Surkov’s personal account, but from an account run by his aide. The Digital Forensic Research Lab considers the leak to be genuine: „It is quite easy to fake screenshots, PDF documents, and other files, but faking email inboxes is quite difficult.“. The New York Times quotes a Russian entrepreneur who confirms that emails from him that were featured in the leaks are authentic.

The leaks would support what a majority of analysts have been saying from the very beginning of the war in Ukraine – that the Kremlin has been guiding the „rebels“ in the East of Ukraine. „[Surkov] received a list of casualties in Donbas from a high-ranking separatist official, expense reports for a government office in Donetsk, and requests for edits on a “letter from the Donbas residents” to Ukrainian authorities, calling to cease all military activities in the region. The document would later surface in the pro-Kremlin media as authentic,“ describes The Moscow Times.

According to another email, Surkov received a list of candidates for leadership posts in the separatists' „republic“. Other documents contain a conversation with Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev, „who is believed to have bankrolled much of the separatist movement in Ukraine“, according to Radio Free Europe.

For a more detailed description of the leaked emails, see the article by the Digital Forensic Research Lab: „Breaking down the Surkov Leaks“.

Friday Fun: Tempers have been running high over the journey of Russia's aircraft cruiser "Admiral Kuznetzov" towards Syria. While debate was raging as to where the ship could refuel on its way, social media were quick to poke fun at the ageing flagship. The carrier, which was constructed between 1982 and 1995, is said to be coal-powered (Image: Sputnik_Not on Twitter).
The Disinformation Review collects examples of pro-Kremlin disinformation all around Europe and beyond. Every week, it exposes the breadth of this campaign, showing the countries and languages targeted. We're always looking for new partners to cooperate with us for that.
The Disinformation Digest analyses how pro-Kremlin media see the world and what independent Russian voices say. It follows key trends on Russian social media, so you can put pro-Kremlin narratives into their wider context. And finally… some Friday fun before the weekend!
DISCLAIMER: The Disinformation Digest is based on the analysis of the EU East StratCom Task Force; opinions and judgements expressed do not represent official EU positions.
Copyright © 27/10/2016 European External Action Service. All rights reserved.

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