A professor who spreads Russian narratives on Italian public TV

Biased information from propaganda media and public opinion influencers has been crucial to Russia’s attempt to defeat Ukraine and the West. So, it has also been in Italy. The main target for the Kremlin is to dissuade the Western nations from supporting Ukraine. For this, Moscow has used old Putin’s friends in politics, far-right activists, agents, and ‘useful idiots’. 

Despite the valuable support in military supplies to Ukraine and the strong political position of the Italian government, Italian state T.V. is not exempted from Russian propaganda. As it usually happens in European countries, under the guise of alternative opinions and ‘dissident views,’ fuelled by conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism, pure pro-Kremlin propaganda is being broadcasted to millions of Italians. 

So, if you are Italian, and you don’t speak Russian, and missed their war propaganda in their native language, do not worry. You probably saw it on Rai-3. If you’re not Italian and wonder how the information on the Russia-Ukraine war could be spread under the Kremlin’s sauce, we explain how below.

Who is Alessandro Orsini?

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Italian Professor Alessandro Orsini has gained national-popular fame, establishing himself in all respects as a dissident intellectual and the leading expert with alternative views on Italian public television.

Alessandro Orsini is the director and founder of the LUISS Observatory on International Security.

The associate professor of general sociology at Luiss University in Rome ended up in controversy, after he signed a contract with the Rai program Cartabianca, where he made statements that, throughout the year, followed the Kremlin narratives and that was close to Russia Today’s coverage of the war in Ukraine.

The professor’s resume and colleagues’ opinions say, “He has no scientific publications on the subject matters which he comments on T.V..” We will come back to his expertise below. That’s not a problem in itself. But the problem is that he’s commenting on the war in Ukraine as an expert to millions of Italians. 

Bianca Berlinguer hired Alessandro Orsini for six episodes of Cartabianca on the Rai-3 TV channel. And the sociologist got at the center of controversy for his pro-Russian positions. During the episodes, Alessandro Orsini expressed several controversial theories about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. We will review his statements from February to December.

Orsini’s statements on Russia and Ukraine: from Putin’s sure victory to nuclear disaster

We were shocked by the surreal exchange during an episode of Cartabianca aired in March, a month before the start of the Russian invasion, when Orsini declared, “If indeed Putin, in a desperate condition where he risks losing the war in Ukraine, were to use the nuclear bomb, Europe would be morally co-responsible.” 

At that point, Berlinguer, astonished, rightly asked him, “So you have to let Putin win the war to avoid the risk associated with the nuclear bomb?” and he, with all the calm in the world, replied, “If you put the issue in this perspective, I say let’s let Putin win the war.”

In the episode aired on March 15, the professor said, “This is a losing war. Either we give Putin what he wants, or he takes it anyway.”

And again, “Russia will continue to advance, and we will have more and more civilian deaths. If Germany and France want to fill Ukraine with weapons, let them do so. Italy must take the money it intends to spend on weapons to build two huge hospitals to take in Ukrainian children.”

On the March 22 episode of Cartabianca, however, Orsini evoked nuclear disaster: “If we place Vladimir Putin in a desperate condition, he will certainly use the nuclear bomb.”

For the professor, who has been accused by many of having pro-Russian positions, NATO and the E.U. are to blame for the war. He avoids condemning the imperialist Russia and the Russian dictator Putin, who launched an unprovoked all-out war against Ukraine.

His weekly guest appearance on Cartabianca has become a fixture, and his presence has changed the face of the program, transforming it into a place entirely devoted to confrontation. He spread narratives that fit the Kremlin’s propaganda and called on the West and Italy to accept Russia’s demands. He dared to use terrible manipulation tactics, saying that it is preferable that “children live in a dictatorship than die under bombs in the name of democracy” and scaring Italians with Russia’s nuclear weapons.

Orsini’s prediction: Russia would use nuclear weapons if Ukraine attacked annexed territories (including Kherson) 

Speaking of the phony referendums called by Russia for the eventual annexation of Ukrainian territories, the essayist commented, “The annexation of the Ukrainian regions to Russia would justify the eventual use of the nuclear weapon, which under Russian defensive doctrine can be used if a national territory is attacked.” 

“Vladimir Putin, placed in a desperate condition, would seriously consider resorting to the nuclear weapon, and Biden’s latest words confirm this. Russia, from available documentation, has been considering using a nuclear weapon against NATO since 1999. It is willing to escalate. The referendums are a message addressed to Germany, France, and Italy. Putin should not scare Ukraine,” Orsini said.

So, this ‘visionary’ warned Ukraine against attempts to liberate Kherson under the threat of nuclear weapons that Russia could use for that move.

If you saw the Kremlin media criticizing the West’s strategy to support Ukraine with weapons, it’s not new to you. Mr. Orsini follows the same rhetoric. He claims that to save Ukraine from Russia, the Western bloc led by U.S. President Joe Biden has implemented a strategy consisting of three main aspects: “Indefinite sending of weapons without any idea of how to get out of the war; total rejection of any diplomatic mediation with Russia; demonization of pacifists falsely represented as friends of Russia.” 

Alessandro Orsini claims that this strategy, whose goal was to “bring Russia to the peace table in a short time,” failed. Indeed, Ukraine, he explains, “has been devastated, energy infrastructure is collapsing, refugees number in the millions, children killed number in the hundreds, people without electricity number more than ten million.” 

Orsini promotes peace talks and blames the West

As a strategy, Orsini suggests peace talks with Russia. However, he does not explain how to negotiate with the Russian regime that continues to destroy your cities and aims at genociding your people. 

Another Kremlin narrative spread by Orsini is that, purportedly, the European Commission is subservient to the U.S.”, and that they pursue an objective “to bleed Russia dry with a costly war that would isolate the Kremlin from Europe by forcing it to spend billions.” He claimed that the entire civilized world is forcing poor mother Russia not to comply with international law and invade a neighbouring country.

Orsini presented Russia’s defeat in Kherson as a success

To the delight of the city’s population, Kherson was liberated by the Ukrainian army. Despite the predictions and scenarios spread by the expert Orsini. What did he say after that? Well, he followed the rhetoric of the Kremlin media.

“Russians leave Kherson, but it’s not a victory for Ukraine, “It was the Russian army itself that left the city without a fight,” and “Ukraine is a gutted country,” Orsini declared. These statements perfectly match the official words of the Kremlin and Russian state T.V. propaganda media. And all of that contradicts the proof and evidence from the ground. How was it possible?

Mr. Orsini made a whole speech on the T.V. show to justify why it was not a defeat for Russians. For the sake of brevity, we squeeze it into a short paragraph. “American weapons damaged the Kherson bridge. If the Ukrainians had entered Kherson, the Russians would have needed supplies that the Antonovsky Bridge did not allow them to transfer from one side of the Dnipro to the other. In order not to be trapped, the Russians surrendered the town by securing soldiers and equipment on the other side of the river. Russia conducted a high-level organizational and logistical operation.”

So, as you could hear on Putin’s top mouthpiece, Mr. Solovyov’s show, Moscow’s major defeat was portrayed as a victory. Yes, right, it was said by a so-called war expert on Italian state T.V.

Orsini follows the Kremlin’s narrative of “peace at any cost”

The declarations and the predictions of the great visionary changed through the year, but the main goal, to praise Moscow’s policy, has been consistent. “Russia has twice offered dialogue in recent weeks.” These are Alessandro Orsini’s words to Cartabianca about the December war between Russia and Ukraine. “We in the West are rejecting any proposal for dialogue with Russia, in this situation, there is no possibility of peace,” the professor of sociology added.

He claims that the current West stance on Moscow leads to a shutdown of any assumption of dialogue with Moscow, but also “the distortion of information to lead Italians to believe that Russia’s collapse is imminent,” the professor writes.

And to add nuclear blackmail as a motivation for peace talks without Russian troops’ withdrawal from Ukraine. “Putin is ready to use the nuclear weapon, a device that he has already moved to the border with Ukraine,” he explained.

Finally, Orsini says that “NATO secretary general is crazy.” Why didn’t we hear such words about the Russian dictator Putin who started this crazy and bloody war?

Christmas threat in Orsini’s statements

In the latest Russia Today propaganda video, which targeted European citizens, Russian directors put the Christmas celebration at the heart of the scenario. They threaten Europeans with a freezing winter without heating due to the Russian gas cut-off and proper meals for the 2023 Christmas. 

This could be created only by people with sick and perverted imaginations. Like those Soviet rulers who committed genocide against the Ukrainian people through an artificial famine, a Holodomor in 1932-33 took away the lives of millions of Ukrainians.

A terrible Christmas narrative is also present in Orsini’s speech. As if he received instructions from the same Kremlin film directors. “Zelensky will destroy Ukraine, we need negotiations with Putin, or we will have a terrible Christmas,” Orsini claims. 

“Zelensky is making very serious mistakes; it must be made clear to him that his attitude will lead to the destruction of Ukraine and probably Europe. (…) Putin has to build the scene to morally and legally justify using the atomic bomb. Italy is ready to deal with such a situation. (…) If negotiation between the U.S. and Russia does not intervene, it will be hell. Russia can potentially draw down 25 million soldiers, but Ukraine has a spare problem: Ukraine is finished. It is a bankrupt state, collapsed economically, and has no weapons. The soldiers, it has been that. I hope we can start negotiations with Putin soon,” he said.

He also criticized the Italian government for supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine. But he didn’t explain how it would be possible to stop Putin’s army without weapons and with only moral condemnations of Russia’s actions.

Alessandro Orsini, who has been called to participate in various broadcasts and talk shows related to the Russia-Ukraine war, has taken a controversial stance against all those who challenge his positions on the conflict and the criminal invasion made by Putin’s Russia. And the professor also does not accept criticism for blatant mistakes made and falsehoods that have been repeatedly debunked.

Praising Russia and criticizing Ukraine

Orsini is still describing scenarios that present Moscow’s wishful thinking. “Russia has an advantage over Ukraine.” “If we reason from a medium- and long-term perspective, we can see that the Ukrainian army is weakening and the Russian army is strengthening,” Orsini said. “Ukrainian territory is devastated, Russian territory is unharmed; and while the Ukrainian economy is bankrupt, the Russian economy is holding up relatively well despite the impact of Western sanctions,” he asserted.

Calling ‘idiots’ everyone who says Russia must withdraw

“I take responsibility for what I say: any politician who says Russia must withdraw from all territories is an imbecile, an idiot. Anyone who says that Russia must withdraw to have a diplomatic dialogue is an imbecile.” This is the position Professor Alessandro Orsini takes on Cartabianca on Rai-3.

In all this, the target of his speech continues to be the negotiation table to avoid a disaster. “We need to sit at a negotiating table with Putin and make proposals,” he said. “We in Italy are making severe mistakes, namely interpreting the war in Ukraine as if it were a soccer game that lasts 90 minutes. War should always be observed in the medium to long term.” He asserted that this is the reason to sit at a negotiating table.

Did he take a Sputnik vaccine?

We explored Orsini’s pre-war declarations and found a pro-Russia stance as well. During a broadcast, the lecturer was forced to respond to criticism over promoting the Sputnik vaccines in addition to expressing his geopolitical analyses. However, it’s unclear if he took a Sputnik vaccine himself.

“I was accused of having relations with the Kremlin because articles about Russia’s vaccine came out on the site of which I am the director in the pandemic era and before the vaccine was tested. It was very relevant geopolitical news, and my site published news about all the countries working on vaccine development because the vaccine was not there.”

Is Alessandro Orsini an expert?

Alessandro Orsini claims to be an expert in various fields. But Open Online media analyzed Orsini’s scientific contributions to the Luiss Department of Political Science and reached a controversial conclusion. His resume says that from 2013 to 2016 he was director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at the University of Rome Tor Vergata” and that since early 2017 he has been director of the Luiss Observatory for International Security. 

But there are no scientific productions from the two centers. At Tor Vergata, only a press conference was staged two months after the appointment. But the facility “never did anything,” and everything “remained on paper,” according to Franco Salvatori, director of the Tor Vergata Department to which Orsini’s center was affiliated.

Even from the Luiss department, let it be known that Orsini’s work “is not supervised by us.” In terms of sociological methodology, Orsini offered a model of radicalization of Red Brigades terrorists called Dria, an acronym for Disintegration, Reconstruction, Integration, Alienation. The application of this to any terrorism, such as Islamic terrorism, however, raises some concerns among scholars. “I have the impression that, with his work, Orsini wants to construct general typologies and dynamics. And then apply them to historical contexts where they don’t work,” Northern Illinois University historian and religious violence expert Brian Sandberg tells the newspaper.

Translation issues that Orsini faced

Orsini’s latest rhetorical stunt, however, was unbelievable. The facts: the lecturer posted a video on his YouTube channel detailing the workings of the Budapest Memorandum, the agreement by which Ukraine agreed to dispose of nuclear weapons remaining on its territory after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in exchange for a guarantee that its borders would always be respected, both by Russia and the West.

At one point (at minute 1:15, as journalist Antonio Talia pointed out in a hilarious thread on Twitter), the lecturer quotes a New York Times article written by a certain, we quote, “William J. Ampio.”

The problem with William J. Ampio is that he doesn’t exist. Orsini was reading – with the help of Google Translate – an article signed by a historical NYT William J. Broad, and, since in English “Broad” translates as “Ampio,” the program automatically translated the author’s name (Orsini, however, must not have noticed it). 

In short, since February, the lecturer who claimed to hold the only truth about the Russia-Ukraine war has been using translated articles on Google without even noticing macro-distortions like this one. The issue is that many people believe this ‘critical thinker’ and follow his ideas.

The biggest question remains, how this dubious expert with controversial statements in favor of a bloody, belligerent dictatorship made his way to the state television program in Italy? Why give the T.V. scene to a person who is not an expert in the matter and presents to the nationwide audience biased views?

While questions about Orsini’s way to the live T.V. show and the reasons for his pro-Russia stance might be unanswered, his impact on the people’s minds is toxic. We can only hope that the T.V. station management will become aware of the casting error, and will ensure that Italian T.V. is free of Kremlin narratives in Russia Today style.

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