The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States was extensively elaborated by the disinformation outlets in Central Europe. Some media outlets spreading distorted and biased information even took Trump’s rhetoric and narratives when reporting on events and international cooperation:
CIA plans to assassinate Donald Trump
In January, disinformation outlets in Central Europe dedicated much of their coverage to the inauguration of Donald Trump and his first days as a President of the United States of America. For a long time, pro-Kremlin outlets believed the Western establishment would not allow Donald Trump to get elected and to take office. Since his election, pro-Russian disinformation outlets began to spread the distorting claim that the CIA had plans to assassinate Donald Trump on the eve of his inauguration. The assassination narrative disseminated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia cited “increasingly aggressive measures from the leaving Obama Administration” and “Putin received intelligence on CIA’s planned assassination of Trump, for which the Russian Federation would be blamed.” One of the Czech outlets even concluded that if Trump wants to survive his presidency, he must destroy the CIA.
The second narrative about the Trump Administration, disseminated primarily in Hungary, characterized Donald Trump’s election as a second American revolution and demonstrated a fundamental change in Western power structures. Articles specifically hailed the transition as an event which would help replace “the corrupt mafia state EU” with a “democratic EU”. In the USA, a large-scale cleansing operation is claimed to be underway, in which 150 FBI agents are investigating the Clinton Foundation. The “change” could also be observed on the White House’s website, which supposedly erased all mentions of LGBT rights and the African Americans.
“Donald Trump started: The roar of zombies from the West proves his success! Soros continues to pour dollars. Counter-revolution manifest of white men and women. Fighting for survival just begun”
Part of the revolution is Trump’s pledge to “eradicate radical Islam terrorism”. Hungarian disinformation outlet Vilaglátó even called the president’s words the “prelude to considerable changes” and a decisive factor in the fight against Jihad. The article claimed that the Obama Administration deleted the words Islam and Jihad from the training material of law enforcement agencies, which prevented the US from effectively combatting violent Islamic extremism, making jihadists more daring and aggressive than ever. In fact, Trump’s move earned praise for ISIS members for helping with recruitment efforts.
Inauguration day and the subsequent demonstrations were covered by disinformation outlets. Paul Craig Roberts, whose commentaries often appear on pro-Kremlin outlets, stated that the protesters were paid employees of the Demand Protest organization. This dismaying story was first published by Global Research and then Sputnik, which shared ads allegedly offering full time jobs for operatives. In addition, several pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets in Central Europe asserted that George Soros was funding the anti-Trump protests. Several articles commented on Donald Trump’s inauguration speech and the reactions of his opponents, which were supposedly panic-stricken and hateful. One even claimed that the United States stood on the brink of civil war.
Following Trump’s ban, there is chaos in the US, claimed one pro-Kremlin article, which pointed to protests and chaotic situations in US airports. This picture was portrayed in stark contrast to Russian unity, where a law decriminalizing domestic violence was passed by 385 votes to two, and only a lone human rights activist protested against the measure.
Donald Trump’s persona, his narratives, and style of communication often align with the Kremlin’s interests. The US president is highly critical of the EU, which he views as an opponent rather than a partner, and NATO. The characterization of Trump as a populist president is used by the Kremlin’s media as proof that the old-world order and liberal democracy are finished. The increasingly prevalent anti-refugee sentiment in Europe is bolstered by Trump’s rhetoric and his ongoing ‘Muslim ban’. Moreover, Trump’s rhetoric about “radical Islam” and his anti-Muslim ban could actually make it harder to fight terrorism as it provides radical Islamist organizations additional munition in recruiting.
Furthermore, disinformation outlets exaggerate American division on Trump, claiming the U.S. is roiled by turmoil and chaos, in stark contrast with the ‘united’ Russia.
NATO as a terrorist organization
Pro-Russian disinformation outlets in Central Europe emphasized and disseminated rhetoric and criticism of Donald Trump about NATO. NATO, supposedly obsolete, does not do enough to fight terrorism and its member states do not contribute as much as they should.
The anti-NATO narratives of the German left-wing populist party were also promoted in disinformation outlets. In particular, the comments of Die Linke president Sahra Wagenknecht resonated in pro-Russian media. Wagenknecht said NATO must be dissolved and the EU must form a new defense union with Russia. “Russia must also be a member of the new defense structure, and we need to push for solving conflicts peacefully through negotiations.” – said the president of Die Linke. Peacefully, through negotiations as Russia does.
In an interview with Bild, a German tabloid, French PM Bernard Cazeneuve supposedly called for an independent EU Army, not dependent on the United States. However, no such interview could have been found around the time of the article’s publication.
Some disinformation outlets argued that NATO is not only obsolete, it is a terrorist organization as well. One article with Samil Tayyar, an MP for AKP in Turkey, claimed NATO was responsible for the coups in Turkey in the 20th century and it was the remnant of the Cold War. The article also reported that NATO helps its terrorist organizations expand in the area.
It is true that most European members of NATO do not comply with the requirements of NATO to spend 2 percent of their GDP on their military. Due to the recent economic crisis, several European nations’ made severe cuts to their defense budgets. However, EU nations have articulatedlong-term action plans to reach the 2 percent GDP mark. Disinformation pro-Kremlin outlets use Trump’s skepticism towards NATO to criticize it and support their narrative that NATO is obsolete.
The European Union compared to the Third Reich
Disinformation outlets published a number of articles which juxtaposed the centennial anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution and with the current state of the European Union. According to the sensational stories of disinformation outlets, while global elites planned for the Union to continue Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, the plan has failed and the EU is now set to collapse. Several articles proclaimed that the Union is collapsing due to the shift of the power shifted from Brussels to Germany, which was plans to take over and control the EU.
Other disinformation outlets stated that the Eurozone was collapsing due to the EU’s massive indebtedness and political corruption. Faced with this dire scenario, many member states want to return their national currencies. Similar narratives were used by Marine Le Pen, who proclaimed the EU to be “dead” and a “failed experiment”.
The critique of EU’s lack of democratic principles also continues. AC24.cz outlet claimed that the low statistics on the drafts of legislative acts getting to the second reading in the European Parliament clearly proved that the EU “makes laws in secret”. Other pro-Kremlin disinformation website even disseminated the speech of Nigel Farage in the European Parliament, in which Farage called the Union a “criminal organization legalizing illegal migration and launching processes against its own nations and citizens”.
While the European Union might not be perfect, its processes reflect the long-held agreements between individual member states and their representatives. The EU is also not systematically annihilating its “unwanted” citizens and opposition, which occurred in the USSR and Nazi Germany. By contrast it is a common practice in today’s Russia, where the list of dead critiques of the government has been slowly growing. Furthermore, disinformation outlets fail to mention that Farage and Le Pen may not be reliable authorities, both having been accused of misspending EU funds on Brexit campaign or activities of own political party.
The traitors and foreign agents
Disinformation outlets have long been waging discretization campaigns against investigative journalists, activists and civic organizations. Hungarian disinformation posts on Facebook jovially comment that seven things that make an “independent NGO cry (picture below): logic, patriotism, a good stew, the people’s will when a non-liberal force is in government, respect for Christianity, love of the family and national holidays.
Pro-Kremlin sites were active in quoting Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó’s interview with RT and hidfo.ru. They provided a summary quoting the Minister as saying that “Soros-financed civil society organizations make up a dangerous anti-democratic force that try to influence the Hungarian population. No one elected them and because they are supported from abroad they work less transparently than political parties.” In Slovakia, the disinformation outlets wrote about the support of the President of the police force of Slovak Republic for the statement on migration of Economic Club Informal Economic Forum. The statement of this forum, among other things, talked about conspiracy of NGOs supported by foreign donors and bias interpretation of events by media. The rhetoric criticizing the work of media, NGOs and activist was also proclaimed by Matica Slovenska, the Slovak national language and cultural organization – “we are WORRIED about current activities of groups of citizens and media, which consider themselves to be the sole bearers of truth, democracy and dignity”.
Some outlets wrote that a “fake news” filter Facebook is going to tested in France and Germany with the help of “independent journalists”. The Russian secret service-operated Hungarian outlet hidfo.ruquoted a German lawyer, Joachim Steinhöfel, who claimed that the independence of “independent journalists” involved with the censorship was questionable, and the journalists were presumably going to be chosen from journalists who often criticize AfD. Similar narratives were used in connection of the Czech public broadcaster and the Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threads newly established within the Czech Ministry of Interior.
Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets also declared the worldwide Women’s March protests to be organized by Soros. What was their argumentation? There was no Women’s March in Russia, where Soros’s organizations are banned. Other targeted the EDISON program of the AISEC, international student NGO, promoting cultural diversity and tolerance in schools.
Liberal media and NGOs are pursing activities that are expected of them in liberal democracies, acting as the watchdogs of society. However, there are significant differences between the freedom of press and the deliberate dissemination of disinformation and sensationalized stories for political ends—something pro-Kremlin outlets continue to do.
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In order to stimulate exchange of knowledge, and to identify promising practices to counter information war, the GLOBSEC Policy Institute organised Advanced Research Workshops in Tbilisi on 27-28 September 2016 and in Bratislava on 28-29 November 2016. Both workshops were kindly supported by the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme and organised in partnership with the Information Centre on NATO and the EU in Tbilisi. They attracted more than 100 participants from 15 counties and produced a number of relevant recommendations reflecting different aspects of information war. Read our latest publication Countering Information War Lessons Learned from NATO and Partner Countries: Recommendations and Conclusions.
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.
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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.