Former French military officers fuel the Kremlin agenda

There is a milieu of retired officers in France who are actively associated with infamously anti-European and anti-Atlantic political leaders, contributing to the Kremlin agenda in Europe.

According to Patrick Chevallereau, a French vice-admiral, senior fellow, and administrator of the Open Diplomacy Institute, former French military personnel are promoting a pro-Russian narrative of the Ukrainian conflict. 

Photo credit: Zemmour’s Twitter. (Showing E. Zemmour with B. de la Chesnais)

There is a phenomenon of pro-Moscow views among officers – vice-admiral Chevallereau

Former French officers who embrace pro-Russia narratives include General Bertrand de la Chesnais, former French Army number two, the director of the candidate Zemmour’s presidential campaign, and others who worked with Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. Both ex-candidates are known for backing pro-Russia narratives, especially when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine war.

The case of Jean-Michel Cadenas, an ex-gendarmerie officer and leader of Le Pen’s National Rally in Mayenne, is more representative of direct support for Russia. He’s incredibly active on social media, spewing anti-Western propaganda. This former military officer has dedicated a substantial portion of his online activities since the beginning of the Russian invasion to criticizing Ukraine and condemning Western help to Kyiv.

“Since the beginning of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and the daily reality of its barbarity, everyone has witnessed a phenomenon that should concern all those who care about the defense of our security interests and the stability of the European continent: on social media frequently, and on television occasionally, former military officials do not hesitate to relativize or reverse the burden of responsibility that is at the root of the worst conflict in European history.” “These former soldiers, to varying degrees, support the Kremlin’s narrative,” writes Patrick Chevallereau.

Pro-Russia lecturers in military high schools

Worryingly, higher military education has not been saved from Moscow’s destructive disinformation campaign. Figures with anti-Western views among the lecturers affect young generations of officers. In military high schools, they are impacted by older generations. 

Colonel Caroline Galactéros, director of the anti-Atlantic institute Géopragma and close to reserve officer associations, reproduced the Franco-Russian Dialogue of MEP from National Rally Thierry Mariani (known for pro-Russia rhetoric) and became candidate Éric Zemmour’s geopolitical advisor during the presidential campaign. 

Pro-Russian and anti-Western ex-officers speak on pro-Russian media

She had worked as a seminar director at the École de Guerre under the direction of General Vincent Desportes. The latter, elevated to high geostrategic commentary, is not afraid to compromise on pro-Russian and anti-Atlantist platforms such as Omerta, Elucid, and the Franco-Russian Dialogue. Aymeric Chauprade, a former international affairs advisor to Marine Le Pen, was the course director of the Collège Interarmées de Défense until 2009. His geopolitical rhetoric is consistent with that of the Kremlin.

In addition to Géopragma, we can consider the instance of the Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement (CF2R), run by Éric Dénecé. This office is incredibly complacent with Kremlin narratives. However, according to the administration of this think tank, no less than three general officers in the second section or retired are now members of its strategic committee.

In fact, this “military nebula” of Russophilia and anti-Atlanticism existed before February 24, 2022, when Russia launched a war on Ukraine. The omnipresence of the war sparked by Moscow in the media and on social media has merely brought it to light. Unfortunately, it is simply the physical manifestation of a more widespread and deep-seated mental muddle than one might assume, even if it only affects a minority of the military establishment.

Several causes, most of which are ideological or political in origin, contribute to the blindness of some former French military soldiers, according to Mr Chevallereau. Some supporters of a “sovereignist” France oppose the project of a powerful and united Europe. 

Other former military men, who represent the traditionalist France, erroneously see Orthodox Russia, ignoring that the right religion is used there by the special services (FSB) as an instrument to control the population, a kind of civilizational ally in front of the Muslim countries. 

While religion must not be an issue since Russia allies with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Muslim Turkey is a NATO member, and Europe is home to people of different religions and descent.

These points, because they constitute a center of gravity of the security of the Western democracies, are a priority target of Russian propaganda.

The era of Russia’s hybrid war

Although this is a minority issue, it is no less concerning because these beliefs or sensitivities, whether expressed publicly or more quietly, do not spare any of the forces. Moscow frequently utilizes figures that support distorted information spread by Russian propaganda in its disinformation war against European democracy.

In such an environment, it appears vital to address what could be an aspect of internal weakness within an institution on the front lines of the country’s defense, as it is a matter of national security for France, according to Patrick Chevallereau.

The EU is forced to respond to Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns

Let’s recall that according to the 2022 report on disinformation and manipulation of facts in the global information space, published by the European External Action Service (EEAS), the level of threat posed by Russian (and Russia-friendly) propaganda has reached the point where the EU is forced to prepare to respond.

European diplomacy chief Josep Borrell announced EU plans to create an innovative platform to counter Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns. The EU has been forced to implement new measures in this regard because EU institutions are targeted by Russian disinformation.

Moscow specifically targets France in its disinformation campaign. And not only in Europe, the Ukraine war, and Africa, where the Kremlin also has geopolitical and business interests. Russia is allegedly using disinformation campaigns to advance its “predatory project” in Africa, where France has seen military failures, according to Emmanuel Macron

The French President claimed there was a “predatory initiative” spreading false information into African countries, which was “a political project supported by Russia, occasionally other states”, in an interview with TV5 Monde on the margins of a summit of Francophone countries in Tunisia.

How Russian disinformation campaigns are mastered?

Usually, the Kremlin disinformation campaigns are centrally managed and spread via owned or affiliated media networks and social media accounts. Russia’s military unit 54777, also known as the 72nd Special Service Center or the Foreign Information and Communication Service of the Main Directorate of the General Staff, is a military intelligence psychological operations unit which plays an important role.

Many narratives and topics in the media that fuel Kremlin-backed narratives might be influenced by the stories developed by this military unit. Since Russian state media, hundreds of foreign so-called independent news websites, different YouTube channels, and thousands of social media profiles distribute identical narratives, viewers may guess that a single group is behind the entire effort. 

So, a patriotic former military officer in France might spread on social media distorted news, masterminded by Russian acting officers who serve in the intelligence and psychological operations unit.

And the idea that a government-related body orchestrates the Russian disinformation campaign is not false. Find out how it is structured and how it works in the article.

Read also: Russia’s disinformation campaign in Hungary with a troll network

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