At the beginning of 2017, stories about crimes, allegedly committed by migrants, dominated the media sphere in many countries, particularly those in Central Europe. Pro-Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary also focused on spreading distorted and biased information. Of the stories dispersed around Europe, topics that resonated most in Central Europe included:
Migrants' criminal behavior
"German women are threatened by migrants!" claimed Hungarian fringe outlet, hidfo.ru. The outlet based this sensational claim on an opinion poll published by bild.de that found 58% of German women believe it is not as safe to visit public spaces as it was years before. Of course, the disinformation outlet also failed to explain the methodology of the survey or provide any actual link to the German source. On New Year’s Eve 2015, some individuals shouted “Allahu Akbar” and set a church on fire, in Cologne. Recently, another pro-Russian media outlet claimed that further incidents, like those in Cologne, occurred this past New Year's but that the events “were hidden by Merkel’s migrant-friendly media”.
Disinformation outlets in Central Europe are continuously reporting about migrant nonconformity and how migrants are revolting constantly. The distorted articles often point out how it was the “alternative” media who published shocking videos of ungrateful immigrants demolishing hotels in Italy (dating back to year 2015); depicting an “average” day of a migrant in Europe, claiming they are “asking for cigarette with a knife”; reporting how compromising videos found on the phone of a detained Syrian migrant attested to his allegiance to extremist groups in Syria; or informing how a Muslim drug dealer “got the money from his Iman”. Another video from a German TV production, dating back two years ago, allegedly portrayed the brutal crimes committed by migrants in Berlin. Based on these "incidents", disinformation outlets also in January 2017 predicted the collapse of Italy and Germany. One article even quoted Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Northern League, who declared “Islam is incompatible with European values.”
Picture left: “Politicians gave the migrants permission to destroy the centre of Europe“
Picture right: German chain- store Lidl: Import of campaign for New European from the 4th Empire. Business on the second place? Progressive Ikea, conscious insurance company and (politically) correct LEGO. Do we care? Will we vote via our wallets?
Other pro-Russian outlets in Central Europe disseminated a story about angry immigrants in Sweden expecting big houses and girlfriends. The distorted story, which was then promoted by Breitbart, reported how migrants are dissatisfied with the quality of accommodation, which “looks like a hotel room” and were provided to migrants free of charge. The article portrayed immigrants as ungrateful and emphasized that “many young Swedes would be jealous (of migrants) being given an apartment for free in Stockholm”.
Coincidentally, pro-Russian disinformation outlets also ran stories of how European politicians are divided on migration policies, emphasizing, for example, the differences between Horst Seehofer, leader of the CSU, and Angela Merkel. One article claimed that the number of migrant crimes in the first 9 months of 2016 in Germany exceeded the number in 2015, another pro-Russian website used the promotional leaflet of the Lidl chain store featuring a black model to point out the threat of multiculturalism. Fears of multiculturalism was stoked even more by the Czech Parlamentní listy portal's theories about the “EU’s crazy strategy”- a conspiracy theory in which the European Union and NGOs, like Doctors Without Borders, are in cooperation with smugglers and planning a self-invasion and repopulation of the European countries.
The pro-Russian disinformation outlets in Central Europe have also been quick to provide "solutions" for the immigration problem, which often positively portray Russia's internal policies towards migrants. One example of how the immigrant issues could be handled, was provided by an RT video, which purportedly showed how illegal migrants are treated by Russian secret services. The video recorded migrants being pushed around and beaten by Russian soldiers.
The topic of migration continues to divide the European Union and European society. Russian propaganda and disinformation outlets have been polarising and frightening the public by spreading narratives connecting migration with terrorism and crime. Pro-Russian disinformation outlets in Central Europe reported about stories and crimes committed by individuals with a refugee background, using fake or two-years old pictures and omitting any refugee explanations. Propaganda emphasizes that all “refugees” are economic migrants who left for Europe to earn more money. These articles play on the fear and welfare chauvinism of the European population. On the political level, pro-Russian disinformation outlets try to exaggerate the division within the European Union and between European nations on migration policies, projecting the picture of a disintegrating European Union.
Syria – Russia, the ally and peacemaker
Disinformation outlets in Central Europe are spreading dismaying stories that the US was not fighting ISIS in Syria, but rather systematically destroying Syrian infrastructure. Instead, the “United States spared the Islamists’ oilfields” and was actively supporting the terrorists – a narrative that was then directly quoted by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. Another pro-Russian article wrote that terrorists backed by the West poisoned the water supply of Damascus. According to the article, the Assad-regime started attacks despite the ceasefire, because the territory was occupied by the al-Nusra Front and the water supply of 5 million people was in danger. Similar narratives were used in interview with the advisor of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who claimed that the West has a “plan to destroy Syria”; that the dissolving European Union is a puppet of the United States; and that the motivation behind the West’s engagement in the Persian Gulf are the armament deals. Another article titled “If it were not for Russia, Syria would end up in hands of terrorist, claims French politicians” reported how Russia saved Syria from the destruction of terrorists and how Russia supports Syria with humanitarian aid.
The pro-Russian pages also emphasised visits by “Western delegations” to Syria who spoke positively about the Syrian regime, although they rarely mention that these visits were of far-right politicians who do not represent the views of their nation’s governments. One article quoted a French journalist, Pierre Bclaih – about whom a Google search can provide no information – saying “in France they depicted a completely different picture of the conflict in Syria. But this visit showed what really happened in Aleppo and the whole country.” Similar rhetoric was being used when reporting about the combat against the Daesh in Iraq – “Americans are killing civilians in Mosul. Mainstream media are silent.” On the contrary, while the US was blamed for bombing Syrian infrastructure, the bombing of Eastern Aleppo by Russia was rightful because the Assad-regime “could not let civilians suffer under the rule of terrorists”.
Syria is the only ally of Russia in the Middle East that is willing to allow the presence of Russian troops on its territory. Therefore, it is essential for the Russian regime to support Bashar al-Assad and keep him in power. Russian propaganda focuses on three areas: legitimising the Assad-regime by claiming it is supported by the majority of Syrians, claiming that it is fighting terrorists, and blaming the West for the civil war. This provides propagandists with a chance to argue for the need for Russian intervention in Syria to save its people, the goal of which is geopolitical in nature and has little to do with Syrians.
While the disinformation outlets proclaim that they are the one bringing the unbiased and truthful information about the fighting in Syria, their stories are presenting dismaying pictures and distorted data. Disinformation outlets in Central Europe are using pro-Russian visuals, arguments and narratives about the aggression of the United States and the West or the dissolution of the European Union. However, disinformation media omit information about the Russian Federation blocking the resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations or about the fact that the Syrian-Iranian-Russian regime is responsible for the killing of 76% of all civilian casualties.
EU benefits from the collapse of Ukraine
Pro-Russian propaganda also focuses on discrediting the democratically elected Ukrainian government and undermining Ukraine’s European integration. The integration of Ukraine into Europe was instigated by Euromaidan and led to election of President Petro Poroshenko's government. Disinformation outlets in Central Europe hope to spread doubts about the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government and attempt to discredit all possible benefits to Ukraine from cooperation with the EU.
Hungarian portal Hidfo.ru announced it was „official” that Euromaidan was a coup, because a court in Moscow had validated it in a lawsuit filed by former Ukrainian MP Vladimir Oleyik. According to the disinformation outlet, the Russian court stated that it was illegal to banish Viktor Yanukovych from Ukraine and thus the elections in May 2014 were illegal as a consequence. Of course, the article failed to mention that a Russian court has no legal jurisdiction over the internal affairs of another sovereign state, not even Ukraine. One Slovak disinformation outlet even claimed that the coup was perpetrated by the United States.
Another disinformation website reported that Vladimir Putin considers the conflict in Eastern Ukraine the result of provocation by Kiev and that he considers Euromaidan to be a coup. Putin criticised Ukraine for the EU-Ukraine free trade agreement, which he believes was the main cause of the deteriorating Russo-Ukrainian relationship. In addition, according to Hungarian disinformation website vilaglato.info,, the free trade agreement would also lead to the collapse of Ukrainian industry and benefit only the EU. The article quoted Viktor Medvechuk, a close associate of Putin and leader of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, who claims that Ukraine had become the “tool” of the European Union. Hungarian and Slovak disinformation outlets have also heavily promotede article by Victor Pinchuk in the Wall Street Journal, where he called for compromise with Russia over the military conflict in East Ukraine and abandonment of Ukraine’s integration into Europe through the EU and NATO. A Slovak pro-Russian outlet, even more sensationally, targeted its conservative readers by publishing an interview with a Slovak priest living in Ukraine, who claims that one of the main EU priorities in Ukraine have been gender politics and LGBT rights.
Consequently, the pro-Russian portal proclaimed the leadership of the Ukraine to be divided on whether to abandon Western aspirations. Another article argued that the West never wanted to integrate Ukraine, only to instigate chaos and “separate Ukraine from Russia.” Therefore, the Trump Administration would face a lot of obstacles instigated by Joe Biden and his “Ukrainian reforms”.
Czech fringe pro-Russian news outlets also covered the visit of Nadiya Savchenko in the Czech Republic and her meetings with several representatives of the Top09 party, the Czech centre-right opposition. One article even suggested that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that was trying to influence the campaign before the presidential elections in the United States. The disinformation website also argued that the annexation of Crimea was necessary in order to prevent Ukraine's junta from expulsion or a genocide of civilian Russian-speaking population. On the other hand, one Slovak fringe media reported that Savchenko might end up in prison again, this time in Ukraine.
The Russian Federation is committed to holding onto Eastern Ukraine. The disinformation spread has served the campaigns against pro-Western organizations and pro-EU politicians in Ukraine. However, the Russian Federation also breached the national sovereignty of an independent country - Ukraine. The Russian Federation breached international conventions and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. Furthermore, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court proclaimed that the Russian Federation deployed members of its armed forces to gain control over some parts of the Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian government.
Tweet of the week
Edited by Katarína Klingová, GLOBSEC Policy Institute; Daniel Milo, senior fellow at GLOBSEC Policy Institute; Veronika Víchová, analyst of Kremlin Watch Program, European Values Think-Tank; Lóránt Györi, Political Capital Institute; Patrik Szicherle, Political Capital Institute. This document was published in the framework of projects run by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.
© GLOBSEC Policy Institute
The opinions stated in this report do not necessarily represent the position or views of the GLOBSEC Policy Institute or the National Endowment for Democracy. Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies entirely with the authors.