New Disinformation Digest from the East StratCom Task Force
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Dear readers, with this last edition for 2016, the Disinformation Digest bows out. From January onwards, our analysis of disinformation narratives as well as the fun section will be published on the EUvsDisinfo website. To make your life easier in 2017, you will receive only one newsletter per week: the new Disinformation Review. It will bring you both the latest trends in pro-Kremlin disinformation as well as analysis of pro-Kremlin narratives.

The tragedy in Aleppo 

As Aleppo’s men, women and children die, criticism of Moscow by global opinion leaders is growing.
Tuesday saw an interview with President Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on the Kremlin’s own TV channel, Russia Today. Instead of advancing arguments related to the situation in Syria, Mr Peskov used the open microphone to dismiss any criticism of Russia as “Russophobia”.
The practice of pointing to "Russophobia” in the face of criticism has recently been in steep increase in Russian government communications and has repeatedly been pinpointed in the Disinformation Review.  
“Russophobia” combines traditional Soviet-style Whataboutism (distract attention from yourself by establishing a real or claimed flaw on the opponent’s side) with an incrimination of the West as hypocritical by not living up to is own values (“phobia” suggests not just a fear of, but also a lack of tolerance). In addition, the “Russophobia” claim is a clear-cut case of disinformation, as negative feelings towards Russia and Russians are not a dominating issue across the EU. Finally, the continuous repetition of the concept makes audiences prone to believing in its relevance, even if the word is new to them. 

The trivialisation of civilians murdered in Aleppo, and claim of Russia's victimisation can be seen vividly in the below Instagram update by Russian celebrity TV host Vladimir Soloviev. 

Focus on France

The 2016 Russian state budget saw further spending cuts in science, healthcare, and education, but budget increases when it comes to military and media expenditure.

The Moscow Times reported last week that the state-owned television network Russia Today (now RT) was given an additional 1,22 billion roubles (ca USD 19 million) in order to start a French language TV channel. Thus, RT's overall budget has been increased to 18,74 billion roubles (USD 293 million) for 2017.

Moscow Times quotes experts that "the reason for creating a French-language channel has nothing to do with the network's efficiency or performance but rather geopolitics". According to politologist Igor Bunin, still quoted by the Moscow Times, the Kremlin wants to influence the outcome of upcoming elections in France.

RT's French service is meant to cover all the Francophone regions, including African countries, with the principal accent on Belgium, France, Switzerland and Canada, notes UA Today.

A threat to democracy

On Sunday, the Head of the Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service joined the ranks of European security and intelligence services naming Russia as the main source of cyberattacks and influence operations.

On Swedish national TV, Gunnar Karlson (pictured below) explained why influence operations (operations focusing on affecting the behaviours of groups or populations) conducted by foreign states are a threat to sovereignty, democracy and democratic decision making. These campaigns can, according to Mr Karlson, include false information, distorted information and cyber attacks, and are not aimed at convincing anyone of certain views, but rather to create uncertainty in the targeted society. "The main problem is not the single events by themselves, but the fact that we often are subjected to simultaneous activities, that aim to undermine the belief in official information in general," he said. "The most serious influence operations directed against Sweden are, quite obviously, conducted by Russia", concluded Mr Karlson
Last week, the head of the German domestic intelligence agency went public about disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks directed from Russia, as reported by Reuters. Hans-Georg Maassen pointed out that the campaigns target the Russian-speaking community in Germany, political movements, parties and other decision makers, with the aim to weaken and destabilize society. The Disinformation Digest has also previously written about various European secret services that have pointed out Russia as a main actor in disinformation activities.

Only this year, disinformation activities orchestrated by Russian authorities were highlighted e.g. by the UK House of Commons, the Estonian security service KAPO, the Lithuanian security service VSD, the Swedish security service SÄPO and the Czech Bezpečnostní informační služba BIS. In addition, the Latvian Security Police has identified the Russian propaganda campaign as a threat to Europe's security in their annual report 2015. (Image: SVT) informs that the biggest Czech bank, Česká spořitelna, has decided to pull out all advertising on websites oriented on spreading disinformation.
"We believe that our responsibility to the society exceeds the borders of the banking world and that we can serve the people also as a compass guiding them safely through the ocean of media information. Therefore, it is unacceptable for us to support sources of unfounded, often even willfully untruthful sources," said Česká spořitelna in a press release.
Already in May, Czech language school James Cook languages pulled their ads out of the disinformation websites. Česká spořitelna is the first among the biggest Czech companies to do so.

There is no such thing as independent media

Last week, Russian nationwide NTV intruded in a seminar for journalists held in Moscow by the Swedish Institute. According to NTV, “the Swedish Institute tried to hold a secret seminar for ‘independent’ journalists”. The news item’s headline  was “news under dictation”, and viewers learned that “representatives of Russian printed media gathered in Moscow to discuss their editorial line with their international sponsors”. In what looks like a violation of Russian laws, the NTV crew forced its way into a private, invitation-only event in order to repeat an already well-known pro-Kremlin narrative: There is no such thing as independent media, and either you are with the Russian government, or you are against it.
While TV channel NTV is privately owned, it is known for its staunch support of the authorities. NTV produces a special form of “documentary” TV, in which techniques usually applied in investigative journalism (hidden camera, under cover reporting, etc.) are used without necessity in order to claim “exposure” of opposition activists and dissenters as covertly operating and morally flawed.
Friday Fun: The Moscow Times informs that the Russian Military Historical Society has given film director Andrei Shalopa an award for "fidelity to historical truth" for his recently World War II film, "Panfilov's 28". In October, the Disinformation Digest reported that the story’s elements of myth were investigated and clarified already in 1948 in the Soviet Union. When challenged, Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky said: “[E]ven if this story was invented from start to finish, if there had been no Panfilov, if there had been nothing, this is a sacred legend that shouldn't be interfered with. People that do that are filthy scum." (Image: Trailer for Panfilov's 28 on YouTube)
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 © 16/12/2016 European External Action Service. All rights reserved.

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