Winter Is Coming: Breaking Down Russian Propaganda Across Europe
Hit by EU sanctions, Russia is working hard to spread its own propaganda through neighboring countries. A new study breaks down exactly what that disinformation campaign is saying — and whether it's working.
KYIV — One of the main narratives of Russian propaganda in recent years can be summed up as: "Russia is a global power and the West must respect it." Yet since the beginning of the invasion, the European Union has imposed a series of sanctions against Russia.
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In light of this clash, Moscow's propaganda in the West has taken four different and distinct lines: "The future of the EU will be cold and hungry...," "the EU shot itself in the foot...," "the U.S. economy is also suffering, and is now looking for ways to resume business with Russia...," and "sanctions do not harm Russia, they only make it stronger."
To dig a bit deeper, the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security of Ukraine (CSCIS) analyzed the narratives regarding international sanctions against Russia, which were covered in pro-Russian channels of 11 European countries that are the closest neighbors of Ukraine and Russia.
Slovakia and Hungary
Among EU member states, the highest percentage of disinformation about sanctions (up to 31% of all articles published by pro-Kremlin channels about Ukraine) was noted in Slovakia and Hungary.
In those two countries, their own political forces are adding to information hype. For example, in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán regularly makes statements against sanctions, which are picked up and broadcast by pro-Russian messengers throughout the region.
In Slovakia, some Russian-friendly opposition politicians are using the topic of sanctions to criticize the current government and use it to promote their Eurosceptic plans.
Georgia and Russia's "inevitable" victory
A similar trend is also observed in Georgia. Officials at the highest levels echo Russian narratives that the West seeks to drag Georgia into the war (to open a “second front” against Russia) and accuse opposition parties of assisting in this conspiracy. Although the topic of sanctions is often heard, it serves as a supplement to anti-Western rhetoric.
Such messages are aimed to confirm "the inevitable victory of Russia" and "the ineffectiveness of the West's approach to the Russian-Ukrainian war."
Bulgaria and North Macedonia, "puppets" of the West
In Bulgaria and North Macedonia, pro-Kremlin voices are discrediting the EU's sanctions. Quotes from Russian or Western politicians and experts that have an anti-Western rhetoric are shared through communication channels.
In Bulgaria, sanctions are also used mainly as evidence that the country chose the "wrong side" by agreeing to be one of the "puppets" of the West.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Kremlin in 2018
Poland and Czech Republic
Anti-sanctions messages are not very common in Poland and the Czech Republic. Narratives around sanctions in the Czech Republic occur mainly in the context of energy and domestic political issues.
In Poland, Russian propaganda mainly focuses on distorted historical narratives in order to discredit Ukraine, its citizens, and relations with Poland.
So although in June there were messages questioning the sanctions, these were not common and not very popular among people.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: dangerous sanctions
In the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the topic of sanctions is also not very common (it doesn't exceed 8% of all messages). In Lithuania, for example, sanctions are primarily discussed in the context of the Kaliningrad transit dispute, which stopped the transport of Russian goods through the country to the Russian exclave.
Although the issue was resolved diplomatically, the danger of the so-called anti-Russian policy continued to be widely discussed, and economic sanctions were pointed out as a direct threat to Lithuania's security. However, in the Russian-speaking segment of the Baltic countries, the topic of sanctions is more widespread.
Propagandists are trying in every possible way to explain why sanctions should be abandoned. In particular, they refer to the increase in housing tariffs for the population (gas, heating) and claim that trade and transport links with Russia are crucial for the local economy.
In Ukraine, spreading fears of economic collapse
The main goal of anti-sanction messages in the Ukrainian pro-Russian segment of society is to undermine the morale of citizens and trust in Western partners. All the narratives concern a "weak and divided West."
Propagandists claim that "Western support will very soon end and Ukraine will be left to face economic collapse", while Russia is portrayed as "a strong adversary, not affected at all by sanctions".
The regularly circulating fakes state that “Western creditors intend to use loans at high interest rates that will enslave Ukraine or give them control over Ukrainian land and other resources.”
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