Switzerland and Peace Summit in crosshairs of Russian propaganda machine

We analyzed the rhetoric of Russian and pro-Russian media outlets following official statements about Russia’s attempts to discredit the Global Peace Summit and the Swiss government’s statement about cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns against the country. Here’s what we’ve learned from it.

The study reveals that the Russian and pro-Russian Swiss mass media extensively covered the Peace Summit and made every effort to undermine the international event hosted by Switzerland. One of the priority angles of attack for Russian propaganda was to accuse Switzerland of not keeping its neutrality status. 

A content analysis of the propaganda news outlet Ria Novosti, which has been subject to recent EU sanctions, showed that the Global Peace Summit received a lot of attention, despite the fact that Russia will not participate in it.

Ria Novosti’s website published 104 articles on the summit between May 5 and 10, 90% of which were negative, while the remaining 10% were neutral and mostly discussed the new participants.

Russian propaganda is referring to the event in its own terms: “Conference on Ukraine,” not “Peace Summit” or “Global Peace Summit.” Russian propaganda refers to the summit’s topic as the “Ukrainian crisis,” treating it as an internal conflict, not a full-scale Russian invasion. Finally, Russian propaganda further refers to a “full-scale war” as a “special military operation” – Putin’s term for the invasion. 

Russian propaganda manipulation of the Swiss President’s statement

The content analysis shows that the main goal of the Russian disinformation campaign was to discredit the Peace Summit and vilify those who supported it. Russian propaganda even employs manipulative stories about sensitive environmental issues to demonize the event. For example, Russian media claimed that “the Conference on Ukraine threatens the lives of dozens of roe deer.”

  • https://ria.ru/20240606/kosuli-1950856832.html

We have also flagged a manipulation by the Russian media that distorted the meaning of the Swiss president’s statement. The words that “no peace agreement will be signed as a result of the summit, as it is only a prelude to further negotiations” were taken out of context and reported as “the Swiss President admitted that the conference on Ukraine will not lead to peace.”

Swiss President Viola Amherd suggested that the peace conference regarding Ukraine is “only a prelude to further negotiations. In her opinion, a peace agreement will not be signed as a result. Amherd said this in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Friday, June 7. According to her, both sides should be at the negotiating table for peace, given that Russia is not participating in this summit. Amherd suggested that Russia might be present at a possible next conference.”

  • https://www.nau.ch/politik/bundeshaus/viola-amherd-fur-folgekonferenz-mit-russland-66775322

And here is what Russian media outlet Ria-Novosti said: The Swiss president has admitted that the conference will not lead to peace in Ukraine. It is clear to us that we will not sign a peace agreement at the end of the conference. Peace requires that both sides sit at the negotiating table. This is not possible at the moment,” Amherd told the German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.”

  • https://ria.ru/20240607/ukraina-1951367365.html

Russian officials’ criticism of the summit supported these reports.

“The summit on Ukraine in Switzerland will be an empty event from the eventuality point of view,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said. “From the news point of view, from the eventuality point of view, it will be an empty event. It is the sovereign attitude of any country to participate in this event or not,” Peskov said.

“The low level of representation of world states in the conference on Ukraine in Switzerland will make it a “meaningless media hangout” against Russia, the head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee,” Grigory Karasin said in a Telegram channel.

The Russian propaganda media widely republished and quoted an article in the Swiss media Temps.ch, written in the ‘Opinion’ section by Marie-Hélène Miauton under the title “Bürgenstock: a Western in-between”. The claim that the Peace Summit is just a gathering of Western-only countries fits well with the Kremlin’s narrative.

Russian state news agency Tass wrote: “The conference on Ukraine, organized by Switzerland on June 15-16, may be a failure for it since Bern too actively supported the position of Vladimir Zelensky during its preparation, instead of taking into account different approaches, including the BRICS countries, and developing a realistic project for the forum. This opinion was expressed by the newspaper Le Temps, which assessed the upcoming meeting in Bürgenstock as a “Western get-together.”

  • https://tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/21053755

This headline echoes the statements of the Russian authorities. Earlier, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, said that “the peace conference regarding Ukraine is nothing more than an “infighting” where President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “useless and dead-end formula for peace” will be discussed.”

  • https://lenta.ru/news/2024/06/11/lavrov-nazval-mirnuyu-konferentsiyu-po-ukraine-mezhdusoboychikom/

Accusations of Switzerland of not respecting its neutrality status

The Kremlin and Russian propaganda have chosen one of the main angles of attack on Switzerland: an appeal to its neutrality and the accusation of deviation from this policy. As reported by the international Russian media RT, banned in EU countries, and other Russian sources, Putin’s spokesman Peskov stated that ‘Switzerland is moving away from neutrality’.

  • https://russian.rt.com/world/news/1324144-shveicariya-neitralitet-peskov 

Swiss pro-Russian outlets’ coverage of the Peace summit

These pro-Kremlin narratives are also reflected in the Swiss pro-Russian digital media that we revealed in our research. Transition News, in its biased report, used several Kremlin narratives: 

“Continuation of the Ukraine war with an (Orwellian) “peace conference.” The meeting planned for mid-June in the Swiss mountains is a flop that was almost inevitable. The fact that even the Ukrainians do not believe in the “Zelensky formula” for peace is demonstrated by the general attitude towards the draconian mobilization measures and the bitter resistance to being thrown en masse into the battlefield as cannon fodder.”

  • https://transition-news.org/fortsetzung-des-krieges-mit-einer-orwellschen-friedenskonferenz

The pro-Russian website InfoMeduse focused on the ‘neutrality’ topic, criticizing the Swiss government. Its article calls for stopping fighting against Russians but does not say how it can help stop the Russian invasion. 

“Today and this since the war in Ukraine, neutrality is increasingly contested, but for the benefit of what attitude? That of taking sides without fighting, of opposing any negotiation, as was the case with the Minsk agreements, and therefore of prolonging the war and sending more and more young people to be killed? I do not see how this attitude is more honorable than neutrality, which has at least the merit of promoting negotiations capable of ending a conflict.”

  • https://www.infomeduse.ch/2024/02/15/tribune-libre-la-neutralite-pas-simple/

“To return to the Ukrainian affair, we can of course feel a natural sympathy for one or the other belligerent nation. Nevertheless, carrying death and desolation, war is never the solution. Does the crisis facing the International Committee of the Red Cross, in turn, symbolize the decline of Switzerland as a pacifying power? The coincidence is disturbing. It imposes itself in the reflection on neutrality. Switzerland’s role cannot be to blow on the embers but rather to seek appeasement.”

  • https://www.infomeduse.ch/2023/06/04/neutralite-suisse-la-braise-ou-lapaisement/

In light of the Peace Summit on Ukraine, the InfoMeduse outlet disseminated a set of Kremlin-style conspiracy theories about a “coup d’etat in Kyiv”, “CIA plot”, and “bombardments of Russian-speaking people in Donbas by Ukraine”. It also repeats Putin’s term ‘special military operation’ to talk about Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine, thus justifying the illegal invasion. 

“The first fact is the eminent and scandalous part taken by Switzerland in the sanctions against Russia, which includes aid to Ukraine, countries whose authorities and elites are ultra-corrupt, and yet only the rostra conquered by the United States before the successful coup d’état by the CIA in Maidan in 2014, which must be used to weaken and, if possible, destroy Russia. If the Kiev attack, planned but concealed for the spring of 2022, had taken place, NATO, after the liquidation of the Russian-speaking populations, would have installed nuclear missile bases two minutes from Moscow. The Kremlin, fortunately, warned of such an invasion by launching the special operation.”

  • https://www.infomeduse.ch/2024/04/18/tribune-libre-neutralite-et-climat-symboles-dune-soumission-au-detriment-des-citoyens/

A French-language Swiss pro-Russian outlet ArretSurInfo repeated again Russian fakes about ‘neo-Nazis  in Ukraine’s government’ and claims that shift the blame for the war from Russia to the West, which also aims to justify Putin’s illegal invasion. 

“Their alleged ignorance and blindness in the face of the terrorist acts carried out by the Kiev regime and its accomplices testify to the fact that they undoubtedly represent (I am talking about the collective West) the world war party. The conference announced in Switzerland has nothing to do with peace. It is simply an attempt to bring together a number of countries to try to legitimize Western discourses and approaches and, without a doubt, to legitimize the figure of Vladimir Zelenski, as well as his regime and all his monstrous, extremist, and terrorist acts. But the fact is that the neo-Nazi essence of the Kiev regime is not only manifested in symbols, greetings, and tattoos.”

  • https://arretsurinfo.ch/maria-zakharova-je-voudrais-commencer-par-parler-des-actions-des-pays-occidentaux/

In an attempt to undermine the Peace Summit, certain Swiss pro-Russian media outlets utilized a Russian hoax that asserts Zelensky’s legitimacy as a president. We flagged this Russian fake news in one of our previous articles. 

“The Ukraine conference will be a “propaganda exercise” to cover up Zelensky’s illegitimacy.”.

  • https://uncutnews.ch/ukraine-konferenz-wird-propaganda-uebung-sein-um-zelenskys-illegitimitaet-zu-vertuschen-analyst/

The Peace Summit in Switzerland, of course, will not result in the signing of a treaty, as the Swiss president said, but it can be an important step toward restoring peace and ending the war in Ukraine. The main question is how to force Russia to withdraw from the illegally occupied territories of Ukraine and ensure compliance with international law that it has violated. More and more countries, not just Western nations, are joining the peace initiative. Perhaps this development has sparked concerns in Moscow, which has responded with disinformation attacks as one could expect.

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