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New Disinformation Digest from the East StratCom Task Force
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"The zombie box” 


Russians often talk about their government-controlled TV as “the zombie box”: a recent poll suggests that Russians won't let themselves be turned into uncritical “zombies” after all. According to the poll, which was published last week by Russia’s independent Levada Centre, a growing number of Russians want their country to make friends with the West. In fact, the share of Russians in favour of positive engagement with the EU and the US hasn’t been higher since March 2000, increasing by an impressive 21% since July 2015.
A more worrying interpretation of the poll takes into account the way pro-Kremlin media have been promising a reset of relations with the West against the background of the US presidential elections. The overall narrative has been that it is now possible to let a reset happen without concessions on Russia’s side, i.e. without recognising that the Kremlin has severely undermined the security architecture in Europe by annexing Crimea and by destabilising its Ukrainian neighbour.

Interviewed by the RBK newspaper, Alexei Grazhdankin of the Levada polling center said that “Russians increasingly believe that the initiative [to improve relations] must come from the West, and do not understand why their country's actions in Ukraine are met with such an attitude on the part of Western countries.” 

If Mr Grazhdankin is right in his analysis, we will have to acknowledge that the pro-Kremlin narrative about Russia as a re-established super power has had some degree of success, at least among the Russians themselves; in spite of, and perhaps as a compensation for, an economy in decline. (Image: The Moscow Times)

Perceptions matter


European countries score high on the World Press Freedom Index, with 5 EU Member States being among the top 10 countries for press freedom worldwide. The Freedom House assessment on press freedom evaluates the media in EU Member States as free or partly free.

Nevertheless, a recent opinion poll issued by the European Commission ("Eurobarometer") has shown that EU citizens believe that there is still considerable work to be done in ensuring the independence of their media. This perception prepares the ground for the growth in credibility of alternative news sources in the European Union, such as Russian state-owned outlets Sputnik and Russia Today.

53% of the respondents agree their national media provide trustworthy information, while 44% disagree. In 19 Member States, the majority of respondents agree their national media provide trustworthy information. Nearly nine in ten in Finland (88%) think this way, as do more than three quarters in Sweden and Denmark (both 77%). In contrast, respondents in Greece (26%), France (34%) and Spain (38%) are the least likely to trust their media.
In 22 Member States, the majority of respondents think national television is reliable. Again, Finland, Denmark and Sweden are most likely to agree, compared to one in six respondents in Greece (16%), 31% in Spain and 41% in France. Social media is widely mistrusted as a reliable source of information.
 
Trust in national media is particularly high on those countries where respondents believe that their media are free from political pressure. This is the case for instance in Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. On the other hand, in France, Greece, and Spain, for instance, respondents trust their national media much less and are much less likely to think their national media are free from outside pressure.

Social networks under pressure in Russia

 
After the online professional network LinkedIn was blocked in Russia in November, this week saw renewed speculation on the presence of Western social networks in Russia. "The law limiting foreign capital in companies providing audiovisual content to 20 per cent might force YouTube to leave Russia," Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote this Wednesday.
 
A draft law was presented to the Duma last week, which targets websites that have more than 100,000 views per month in Russia. According to a report quoted by Kommersant, it would force YouTube to build special infrastructure on Russian territory or to leave Russia. On Thursday, Deputy Communications Minister Alexei Volin denied the rumours: "We can officially say that all talk of YouTube facing legal restrictions is simply not true," he said. 
 
Last month, Russian authorities started blocking access to LinkedIn, a social network with approximately 6 million Russian users. The blocking was a follow-up to a court decision that found the "US-based social network in violation of a law requiring data of Russian users to be stored on Russian territory", as The Guardian reports. The blocking of LinkedIn is the first time that the law has been used against a major Western company. Social media giants Twitter, Google and Facebook have not complied with the law yet, The Guardian reports, and are therefore believed to be under pressure.

Holocaust on ice


This week, popular Russian actor Andrei Bukovsky paired up with Tatiana Navka, celebrity wife of President Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, to entertain the nation in a concentration camp-themed ice skating performance. 
 
The story reached a series of media outside Russia, among them Die Weltthe BBC and The New York Times, reflecting international bewilderment, in spite of the Russian producers underlining that the show was in fact a reenactment of the Oscar-winning Italian film “Life is Beautiful”. 
The attention by international media, which reported astonishment and dismay, made the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova write an emotional protest on her Facebook page. Below is her answer (in our translation we have respected the style and form of her reply):
 
WHERE DO YOU ALL HIDE WHEN THEY DEMOLISH MONUMENTS TO THOSE WHO FOUGHT AGAINST THE HOLOCAUST IN EUROPE? THE BALTIC STATES HAVE NOW FOR 30 YEARS HUMILIATED WORLD WAR II VETERANS, DENYING THEM CITIZENSHIP, YOU …! WHERE WERE YOU? IT WAS YOU WHO MOCKED THE VICTORY PARADE IN MOSCOW IN 2015, CALLING IT "A MANIFESTATION OF MILITARISM". AND WHEN YOUNG MEN WITH SHAVED HEADS IN UKRAINE MARCH WITH SWASTIKAS AND TORCHES - IN WHICH DIRECTION DO YOU LOOK? AND WHERE DO YOU RUN TO HIDE WHEN WAFFEN SS LEGIONNAIRES PARADE? AND WHEN POLISH OFFICIALS SAID THAT AUSCHWITZ WAS LIBERATED BY UKRAINIANS, AND NOT THE SOVIET FORCES, THEREBY INSULTING THE MEMORY OF SOLDIERS OF MANY NATIONALITIES, WHY DID YOU NOT POINT TO THE INADMISSIBILITY OF POLITICIZING THIS IMMORTAL ACT OF BRAVERY? THEN YOU WERE ALL SILENT. ALL YOU ARE CAPABLE OF IS DISCUSSING ICE SKATING.
(Image: The Moscow Times)
Friday Fun: The Disinformation Digest has to confess it's in love with the works of Russian cartoonist Sergey Elkin. This week, he picks up President Putin's joke that "Russia has no borders". The Chinese neighbours, in Mr Elkin's view, respond to this with an invasion and excited clamours: "Finally!" and "We've been waiting for that!" (Image: Deutsche Welle on Facebook).
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 © 02/12/2016 European External Action Service. All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is: stratcom-east@eeas.europa.eu

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