Russian propaganda is deeply embedded in discussions in the West – expert

In an interview with the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, political scientist Anton Shekhovtsov stated that Russian propaganda is now deeply embedded in discussions held in the West. The public discussions on the Russian hybrid influence in the EU targeting the June European Elections were heated by the recent scandal over the “Voice of Europe website.

“It is just one of many political warfare projects with which Russia attacks Europe and individual states in order to assert its interests. Russian activities are currently increasing. Moscow takes advantage of every opportunity and relies on new technologies”, a visiting professor at the Faculty of International Relations at the Central European University in Vienna said.

“Voice of Europe” website is the tip of the iceberg

The Voice of Europe website, which was at the center of a scandal over the spread of Russian propaganda in Europe and possible bribery of MEPs, was not closed for long. The pro-Russian website has resumed its work after migrating to a hosting in Kazakhstan.

The Voice of Europe’s articles are focused on negative coverage of Ukraine, the EU, and European leadership. They probably target fueling tensions, unrest in Europe, and anti-EU sentiment.

In March, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala announced the dismantling of a Russian influence network that operated through the news website Voice of Europe, which was headquartered in Prague.

According to Czech investigators, Voice of Europe is run by pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, a close Putin’s ally who is godfather to his daughter. Medvedchuk now lives in Moscow. He was accused of high treason in Ukraine, but he was handed over to Russia by Ukraine in a PoWs exchange.

As reported by Czech daily Deník N, the Czech government has imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk and Voice of Europe for violating national sovereignty.

There are countless websites that Russia uses to spread disinformation – Shekhovtsov

“In addition to “Voice of Europe,” there are countless other websites and sources that Russia uses tactically to spread disinformation. Russia is increasingly dominating the information space. Another danger is that much of it is not immediately recognizable as Russian propaganda”.

Anton Shekhovtsov, visiting professor at the Faculty of International Relations at the Central European University in Vienna, specialized in studies of Russian propaganda efforts

We have reported a year ago that RT’s (Russia Today) closure in Europe would not stop pro-Kremlin propaganda from spreading in France, Germany and other EU nations. Pro-Russia propagandists, and even some journalists from RT, have disguised themselves in global media and publish their stories on new platforms, such as Omerta and Reseau International.

Russia designed methods to get around the ban on its state propaganda media, and the number of dubious websites promoting the same pro-Russian information has multiplied. To cover it up, the Russia-funded resources changed the brand of their work. And they copied and pasted the content from “Russia Today” and Sputnik onto brand-new websites with no apparent links to Moscow. 

In addition, there are many pro-Moscow websites in the category of “useful idiots.” These new websites are divided into two groups by approach and ‘editorial policy.’ The first ones broadcast brute Russian propaganda without any cover. Others publish generic world news stories, simulating a balanced editorial approach. Still, they accurately insert disinformation and pro-Kremlin propaganda stories into their newswires.

Russians created mirror sites for their state propaganda media

In an interview with the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, political scientist Anton Shekhovtsov also covered these tactics.

“After the invasion of Ukraine, Brussels banned the Russian state media Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting in the EU. The Russians simply got around this by creating new mirror sites for these media, which are still running today”.

Anton Shekhovtsov, political scientist

In our recent investigation based on the website and search analytics revealed that a network of pro-Russian news websites which are interconnected not only by similar topics and pro-Kremlin narratives but also by mutual citations and referral traffic from one site to another, as shown on an interactive infographics.

The websites on the list have different levels of bias, from constant criticism of the West, choosing only negative information about Ukraine and positive coverage of Russia, to spreading well-known Russian fakes and harsh Kremlin propaganda quoting Putin’s state media. 

Network of websites supporting the Kremlin’s agenda

In Europe, especially in Germany and France, a whole network of websites has developed that in various ways support the Kremlin’s agenda or openly spread Russian propaganda and demonize the United States, the EU, and the collective West. Such authors blame the West and NATO for all the troubles, often promoting conspiracy theories and disseminating the opinions of “pseudo-experts” about the decline and imminent fall of the United States, the European Union.

“Russia has recently become very adept at not only relying on media channels, but also increasingly operating through a network of decision-makers and multipliers in the EU who spread their propaganda and feed it into political processes. Without these collaborators, Russian influence in Europe would be significantly less”, the politicial scientist Anton Shekhovtsov emphasized.

To attract attention and inspire trust, many of these pro-Russian news websites present themselves as alternative sources of information while at the same time criticizing the country’s mainstream media, accusing them of being biased in favor of the government or “globalists.”

Instead, they deliberately overlook not so much bias as disinformation and propaganda in the Kremlin state media they cite. Alternative content on these websites typically consists of conspiracy theories, pro-Russian propaganda fueling the ongoing conflict in Europe, and misinformation.

Russian propaganda efforts has been focused on halting weapons supply to Ukraine by the Western countries, as we highlighted in our previous researches.

Hundreds of so-called independent international news websites, various YouTube channels, and thousands of social media profiles distribute narratives identical to those on Russian state media. It concludes that a mighty Russian state organization orchestrates these disinformation and influence campaigns targeting Europe.

The Reseau International platform is a brilliant example of Russian propaganda disguised in independent media. This platform is positioning itself as a global independent media in 8 languages. As it pretends to be independent, it displays on the website that it’s financed with donations. 

But seeing the scale of publications translated into English, German, Turkish, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, and Russian, you might guess that enormous financing is behind it. It could be state-level funds.

Russia steps up its hybrid war in Europe – El Pais

A synchronized probe by many EU nations into a Russian network of influence that reportedly financed far-right MEPs has raised alarms in the EU. According to the prominent Spanish media outlet EL PAIS, Russia’s hybrid war in Europe employs a variety of techniques, including espionage, misinformation and propaganda efforts, and influence activities, to cause havoc and destabilize Europe.

Two months before the vital European Parliament elections (June 2024), the EU has cautioned in many confidential reports, which EL PAIS has seen, that the Kremlin is intensifying its campaigns. The latest coordinated investigation by multiple European intelligence agencies against a Kremlin influence network has raised anxieties.

The investigations in Belgium and Czechia are looking into whether members of the European Parliament from far-right parties were paid for their “collaborations” with the news platform, Voice of Europe, for disseminating pro-Russian materials and making statements that fit the Kremlin agenda.

Investigators suspect politicians from the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Poland, the Netherlands, and Hungary are involved in this scheme, but they have not ruled out the possibility that the network was also active with MEPs from other EU member states.

Monitoring of websites spreading pro-Kremlin narratives

In this context, the EU and member states need a mechanism to swiftly identify and sanction new websites that spread pro-Kremlin propaganda and fake stories, as they threaten security.

Experts and EU states need to monitor these sites, and readers should question such content because efforts that favor Russia in the information field in times of geopolitical confrontation play into the hands of the Putin regime and are detrimental to Europeans. After all, Russia has shown that it is waging not only a war on the battlefield to destroy Ukraine but also an information war to break up a united Europe.

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