When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

"Ghostwriter" — Inside Russia’s Bespoke Propaganda Campaign In Poland

As a key regional member of NATO and neighbor of Ukraine, Poland is of particular interest to the Kremlin, and the usual misinformation weapons used by Russia also feature allusions to Jews and Americans — and may now include attempts to recruit Poles by the Wagner Group.

Photograph of a flag near the Kremlin in support of the war policies of Vladimir Putin in the invasion of Ukraine.​

March 11, 2023, Moscow, Russia: Flag near the Kremlin in support of the war policies of Vladimir Putin in the invasion of Ukraine.

Celestino Arce Lavin/ZUMA
Piotr Głuchowski and Katarzyna Bielecka

WARSAW — “Israel, a country of less than nine million, is surrounded by one hundred million enemies. Therefore, the search for a new promised land began. It was found: in Ukraine. Here, a thousand years ago, existed the state of the Khazars, where the official religion was rabbinical Judaism, and it is to these lands that the designers of the idea of Heavenly Jerusalem want to resettle Jews ... "

The above storyline comes from a video watched on YouTube by half a million Poles, which included more than 1,000 comments, supporting its message. "Now we finally know the real cause of the war”, one wrote.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

This is a peek inside the universe of Putinophiles and other sowers of Moscow's influence — exerted not on governments, but citizens and everyday Internet users in Poland.

From at least 2016 onward, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU), has directed operation “Ghostwriter,” whose goals, according to the Polish Command of the Component of the Cyberspace Defense Forces, are “disrupting Poland’s relationship with the U.S. and NATO countries,” “disrupting Polish-Ukrainian relations,” “discrediting aid provided to Ukraine by Poland” and “creating conditions for the outbreak of social unrest in the Republic of Poland”.

Banderites and Jews 

Examples of GRU’s past misinformation initiatives in Poland have included a campaign in January of this year, in which Russian secret services impersonated the sending address of the Ministry of Interior and Administration (the logo of the ministry was skillfully counterfeited) in order to send emails to thousands of Polish citizens about the need to provide information on the Ukrainians they hosted or rented rooms to. The hesitant were threatened that "in the event of failure to provide data, a fine will be imposed in accordance with the Administrative Code" (Poland does not have such a code).

In March, GRU sent messages to tens of thousands of Poles, supposedly from the police, under the false titles Policja.eu, Policja-pl.info, and Policja.info. According to these, Polish citizens were to expect bomb attacks, and were advised to not approach any suspicious bags or suitcases, not to open any unaddressed mail, and to, first and foremost, to inform fellow citizens of any suspicious activity.

“This was an operation meant to provoke panic”, said Maksym Sijer, a Polish specialist on Russian misinformation who works for the INFO OPS Polska foundation. The organization describes itself as “an analyst of the processes of manipulation of the Polish-language information sphere”. At its head is Kamil Basaj, associate of the Ministry of National Defense, advisor to the Government Center for Security and civilian specialist of the Cyberspace Defense Forces.

The ideal target of these campaigns is someone who already possesses radical views. To deepen their political radicalization, it requires only a few well-phrased arguments, supported by false information that is readily available online.

The goal is to leave them with the view that Poland, in supporting Ukraine, is quietly lending its support to Banderites (extreme Ukrainian nationalists)and Nazis, and that Poland no longer belongs to the Poles, but to foreigners and outside influences. Individuals who have been convinced in this way, soaked in disinformation, are then ready and willing to collaborate with Russia, believing that it is the moral choice. To them, the Polish state only serves the interests of others: Ukrainians, Americans, and Jews.

Wagner Group involvement?

It is not only Poland that has been the subject of Russian misinformation, which has spread across the Middle East, South America, and the African continent as well. Propaganda in several languages, including Japanese, Arabic, and Khmer, describe Poland as America’s dog, a nest of anti-Russian sentiment, from which hordes of mercenaries crawl and fight in a needless war. Outside of Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world, the perception of Russia is very different, and this is not for a lack of effort. Among other reasons, the now-infamous Wagner Group initially arose out of a Russian desire to buy media stations in African countries.

The task of the Russians was to advertise Wagner in Poland, distributing leaflets encouraging Poles to join

As of August 13, two Russians were detained by officers of the Internal Security Agency have been charged with espionage and are in custody for distributing Wagner propaganda, supposedly with the intent to recruit Poles. Mariusz Kamiński, Minister of the Interior and Administration, announced the arrest on social media. In a short note, he wrote that the Internal Security Agency, in cooperation with the police, detained the duo.

Polish authorities determined that the task of the Russians was to advertise the Wagner Group in Poland, distributing leaflets encouraging Poles to join pro-Kremlin mercenaries in Kraków and in Warsaw.

The detainees had a total of approximately 3,000 materials promoting the Wagner group, of which they managed to distribute about 200 leaflets in public places in both cities. The men documented their activities by taking pictures of the places where they left the stickers. This documentation was to be the basis for the payment of special remuneration by the Russian service for the work performed. The Russians were to get about 500,000 rubles, or about 20 thousand PLN (about 4,700 euro).

They were supposed to leave Poland, according to the plan, on August 12, but they were detained the day before.

The national prosecutor charged the duo with acting for foreign intelligence against the interests of the Republic of Poland, a crime which encompasses espionage, participation in an international armed criminal association aimed at committing terrorist crimes, recruiting for mercenary service prohibited by international law, and promoting armed symbols of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. They are now facing up to ten years of imprisonment.

Photograph of Wagner leader as the group withdraws from Artyomovsk.

Russia, Artyomovsk - May25, 2023: Wagner Group chief Prigozhin.

Concord Press Office/ZUMA

Brigades of Internet Trolls

But not every Russian internet troll is explicitly tied to the military, and many of them are Russian civilians, the majority of which work under the watch of the Russian Federal Information Agency (FAN), which has a dozen large Russian- and foreign-language sites, including Gazeta.ru, Sputnikglobe.com, Topwar.ru, Life.ru, Pravda.ru, Oroszhirek.hu , DEnews-front.info. These have a total of over 30 million views every day.

It's a cover for other entities spreading disinformation.

FAN is also a cover for other entities spreading disinformation — among them are magazines and books published by private foundations (including Ruski Mir, the Foundation for the Support of Public Diplomacy and the Saint Basil the Great Foundation) as well as multilingual stations such as Russia Today or the Sputnik radio network, and large number of paid network users. The most famous group of them is known officially as the Internet Research Agency (AII), and unofficially as the web-brigades or trolls from Olgino (Petersburg district). These are a combination of internet users, influencers, and provocateurs, paid by the state, in order to create fake news and incendiary comments on social media.

“The aim of pro-Russian trolls is not only to convince people of the values that they hold, the reality is actually even more dangerous”, explained Martyna Bildziukiewicz, Brussels-based head of the East StratCom Task Force (ESTC), an EU team to combat Russian disinformation. According to her, their goals also include “sowing chaos and confusion, so that nobody knows where the truth really lies. So that everyone who looks for information on the issue gets lost, and resigns from the debate altogether”.

Entering Polish Politics

Several points repeated by Russian propaganda outlets have made their way not only onto Polish telephone screens, but also into political debates. For example, a point that has been published on Russia Today’s website falsely claims that “In several Western European countries, the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ are banned, and parents must be called ‘first’ and ‘second’”.

In spite of these claims not having any truth to them, Krzysztof Bosak, the leader of the far-right National Movement (Ruch Narodowy) party, repeated them in 2020, when announcing his presidential bid in Warsaw. “The words ‘man’ and ‘woman’, the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ are starting to be banned in certain western countries, because they allegedly violate someone’s rights”, he said, adding that “this is an idea that will upend the social order that has created our civilization”.

Grzegorz Braun, one of the leaders of the burgeoning Konfederacja party, has espoused similar views. Braun, who once described Poland as "a German-Russian condominium under temporary Jewish administration", now refers to it more briefly as "Ukro-Polin", criticizing the aid that Poland has been providing to Ukraine. In July 2022, he called a meeting of the parliamentary team for relations with the Polish diaspora, in order to, according to its own slogan, "Stop the Ukrainization of Poland". And in September of last year, Braun took part in a German nationalist rally, during which he and politicians of the Kremlin-funded Alternative for Germany (AfD) called for the lifting of sanctions against Moscow. The co-organizers of the event were – as Rzeczkowski writes – e.g. Rościsław Teśluk, a former Russian Air Force officer who changed his name to Schlund in Germany; Vyacheslav Seewald - host of the German-language Internet channel "Vladimir Putin's Fan Club" - and a GRU officer known under the operational name of Yeremenko.

Photograph of Krzysztof Bosak at an anti-LGBTQ demonstration

August 16, 2020, Warsaw, Poland: In front of the University of Warsaw, Krzysztof Bosak (rt) attends a demonstration against the LGBT community.

Grzegorz Banaszak/ZUMA

The Impacts of Propaganda

A study conducted at the beginning of the year by Maison & Partners for the Warsaw Enterprise Institute under the title "Analysis of Poland's security, economy and demographics", shows that "Russian propaganda is infecting the minds of Poles more and more effectively".

Researchers presented pro-Kremlin theses to a representative group of a thousand compatriots and recorded the percentage of people who agreed with them: "We should not help Ukraine until it repents for Volhynia and condemns Bandera", resulting in 30 percent of "yes" answers; "We should promote peace even at the cost of Ukraine's territorial concessions to Russia" was confirmed by 36 percent of respondents; and "Poland can no longer afford refugees from Ukraine" was agreed to by 63 percent.

In turn, between May and June of this year, researchers from the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Warsaw and the Academy of Economics and Humanities in Warsaw checked the "social perception of refugees from Ukraine." 600 people aged 16-65 were examined. The results showed a 12% increase from last year in the percentage of Poles who see the presence of Ukrainians as a threat. 31 percent of respondents admitted that within 12 months they had changed their minds about Ukrainians, of which 85% claimed that their opinion had changed “for the worse".

"For the first time, we are dealing with a situation where more than half of Poles — 55 percent— are against providing any additional assistance to Ukrainians,” the final report states.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Migrant Lives

A Train Journey With Bengal Migrants Looking For A Living Far Away

Finding a seat on the Karmabhoomi Express is close to impossible. A closer look at why so many migrant workers travel on it, and out of Bengal, offers a grim picture.

image of a train

The Karmabhoomi Express runs from Kamakhya to Mumbai in a 3 day journey.

India Rail Info
Joydeep Sarkar

WEST BENGAL — Welcome aboard the 22512 Kamakhya-LTT Karmabhoomi Express — a metaphor, if any, of the acuteness of Bengal’s unemployment problem.

It is 10.28 pm at north Bengal’s Alipurduar Junction and the crowd has swollen to its peak. This is when the Karmabhoomi Express appears at the station. It is bound for Mumbai. Finding a seat on it is close to impossible. It is always chock full and there are always hundreds struggling to get a spot in the unreserved general compartment.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest