Disinformers in Slovakia are trying to downplay Russian activities in Ukraine by discrediting the US and NATO

Infosecurity.sk: Bi-Weekly Report on Emerging Disinformation Trends June 14, 2022
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Infosecurity.sk presents an overview of disinformation trends that have been on the rise in information space in the past two weeks:

  • Pro-Kremlin propagandists are trying to discredit Slovak allies, mainly the United States. Their goal is to downplay Russian aggression in Ukraine by pointing out that the US has also waged wars.
  • Many new articles about the NATO Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999 are popping out, suggesting that it had committed war crimes. However, those articles are full of misinformation and false allegations.
  • As the European Parliament had voted on its position on the proposed ban on fossil-fuel cars, conspirators immediately picked up on it to spread lies. While some eurosceptic politicians use it to criticize Brussels, alternative media started to spread absurd conspiracy theories.
  • Even though we did not observe a growing trend of health-related disinformation, we have noticed a constant production of new dangerous conspiracy theories on the popular website Bádateľ.net.
  • Analysis of Facebook posts from Slovakia has shown us that all of the most trending posts are of a disinformation nature. They try to shift attention from Russia and its crimes in Ukraine by pointing at previous wars and military operations of the US.

Many attempts to discredit the United States and NATO

In relation to the war in Ukraine, we can see an increasing effort of pro-Kremlin propagandists to discredit partners and allies of Slovakia, to shift the blame of the war on them, and justify Moscow’s actions.

Alternative media in Slovakia are specifically pushing for a narrative that demonizes the United States and NATO. According to them, Russia is not the only country that wages war. The United States should be responsible for many more wars, violating international law, and committing crimes against humanity. They suggest that the United States should be tried in front of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The United States is very often a target of whataboutism. Whataboutism is a prevalent manipulation and propaganda technique used to change the topic and thus avoid uncomfortable questions. Pro-Kremlin propagandists use it in debates about Russian war crimes in Ukraine by diverting attention to the former wars or military operations in which the United States participated. What about Afghanistan? What did the Americans do to the Iraqis? What about Libya? What about NATO bombing Serbs?!

We can see many new articles about NATO’s Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999. However, those articles are full of disinformation and pro-Kremlin propaganda that is repeatedly coming up.

Comparing Russian aggression to the involvement of NATO in Kosovo is problematic. One article in disinformation web Zem&Vek, claims that the United States and NATO committed “neo-Nazi crimes” in the former Yugoslavia. Supposedly, they started bombing on fabricated causes. The operation was long in preparation, and it did not have a mandate from the UN. The article is full of phrases like American criminals, aggressor alliance NATO, and CIA criminal organization. There is, of course, a claim that NATO focused on killing civilians, and it caused the deaths of over 2500 civilians.

The disinformation narrative about NATO’s alleged aggressive policies is nothing new. Operation Allied Force was launched to stop ethnic cleansing by Serbian forces against Kosovar Albanians. The decision to intervene was taken only after all diplomatic efforts got a peaceful solution failed. "Thousands" of civilian deaths have been previously claimed, for example, by the Russian FM Sergei Lavrov. However, this disinformation narrative was debunked already.

Even former Slovak education minister Juraj Draxler suggests that we are looking at the current situation in Ukraine through the lens of war propaganda, comparing it to the bombing of Yugoslavia.

Joe Biden is also under attack. Pro-Kremlin propagandists are denying any concerns about the health of Vladimir Putin, but they do not hesitate to conspire about the health of the American president, claiming he has many health conditions, including dementia. This claim is often linked to the suggestion that Joe Biden does not have sufficient cognitive ability to make decisions and is only used as a puppet in the hands of the powerful, the so-called deep state. The narrative about the deep state was heavily promoted by Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and it is ever-green among conspiracy theorists.

The vote on a ban on fossil-fuel cars and the plans of shadowy globalist elites

European Parliament lawmakers voted to support an effective EU ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035. As one could expect, a backlash from disinformation actors followed.

Even though MEPs only voted on parliament’s position for upcoming negotiations with EU countries on the final law, it has been manipulatively misinterpreted  by different actors. While some eurosceptic politicians exploited the topic to criticize Brussels, other actors used it to spread ludicrous conspiracy theories.

The Slovak National Party again uses the rhetoric of "dictate from Brussels" that will cause only harm to ordinary people and benefit the rich.

Some conspire that it is a well-prepared plan that “they” are implementing on us. The rising cost of petrol and diesel, the chip shortage, the internet censorship, and the rising cost of “everything” are a part of the plan. Another conspiracy theories say that we are entering a new age forced on us by Zionist globalists. In the era of “Total Control,” there will eventually be no individual freedoms, and in the name of ecology, people in “New Europe” will be allowed to eat insects or recycled corpses of dead people.

Conspiracy theories about "the plan" of world elites already include even the current war in Ukraine. Kulturblog, one of many communication channels of the far-right ĽSNS party (People's Party - Our Slovakia), had broadcasted a live stream titled "Putin, Ukraine, and the Great Reset." In the stream, they have suggested that "everything is planned," and that the origins of all current crises can be found in the US. According to them, the war in Ukraine was planned by the Obama administration as the best way to destroy Russia and enforce total control over the world by globalist elites.

It seems that disinformation and hoaxes about health-related issues have not been on the rise recently. They appear only sporadically.

Recent health-related disinformation is mainly dealing with the COVID vaccination. Currently, most of the COVID patients in Slovak hospitals are vaccinated. According to the disinformers, it is caused by the vaccination as it weakens the immune system. However, most hospital patients are elderly or have other conditions, which makes them more vulnerable to more severe COVID, despite vaccination.

Popular disinformation website Bádateľ.net is standing out. It is still spreading dangerous conspiracy theories which are further widely shared. When we look at the articles published on the site, we find that most of them are conspiracy theories. The Spanish government is said to have admitted to poisoning people through Chemtrails on order from the UN. Allegedly, the monkeypox virus was modified by scientists and intentionally “released.” A “new study” proved that the long-COVID does not exist. According to the conspirators, “the globalists” moved to the next phase of depopulating the world. And the pope was supposed to manipulate world leaders to make them push for vaccination.

All of the claims above are fabricated lies to manipulate the audience into fear and distrust.

Disinformation actors are trying to shift blame to the United States

As we identified that disinformation narratives about the United States had recently been on the rise in Slovakia, we decided to look at the topic through the CrowdTangle analysis tool.

The chart below shows the most popular posts on Slovak Facebook that include the keyword USA. Posts were evaluated based on the total number of interactions (the sum of all reactions, comments, and shares).

TOP 5 disinformation posts

First, we must note that all the posts in the chart above are of a problematic and disinformation nature.

Far-right MEP Milan Uhrík shares a video excerpt from a speech of Croatian MEP Kolakušić  and argues that if the European Union wants to sanction Russia, it should also sanction the United States, as it also wages wars. If “they” do not want to take Russian gas and oil, they should not take them from the US either, as it is allegedly obsessed with wars.

Mário Vidák, a popular disinformer on social networks, also shares the same video as Milan Uhrík. Vidák is also behind disinformation media Magazín 1 and is connected to the far-right extremist ĽSNS opposition party.

The third and the fifth place belongs to Ľuboš Blaha, Slovak MP from the opposition party SMER-SD. In both posts, he claims that the war in Ukraine is actually a war of the US against Russia. According to Blaha, the Slovak government and the Slovak president are in power only thanks to the US, serving only American interests.

Alternative disinformation medium Inenoviny.sk shared an article from their website arguing that the United States should be tried in the Hague for their war crimes.

Project Infosecurity.sk organized by STRATPOL – Strategic Policy Institute and Slovak Security Policy Institute, which is supported by the Prague office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, continuously monitors the activities of both Slovak and foreign disinformation actors, but focuses mainly on the former. The project activities are built upon daily monitoring of emerging disinformation, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories in the online information space. This approach allows the analysts to identify disinformation posts and narratives that resonated with the public the most, as well as to find out where they originated, and how they spread and evolved on social media. The report takes the form of a bi-weekly summary of arising trends in the spread of malicious information content online. Based on that, Infosecurity.sk can warn the public about emerging and current trends in the field of disinformation, manipulation, and propaganda.