Pro-Russian actors are praising Putin and accusing Slovak government of committing treason
Infosecurity.sk presents an overview of disinformation trends that have been on the rise in information space in the past two weeks:
- Anti-western narratives clearly dominate the flow of disinformation. Many dubious actors are accusing Slovak politicians of being “slaves” to western countries, especially the USA, and undermining Slovakia’s autonomy.
- The delivery of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine is still a prevalent topic among pro-Russian politicians who are shaping the narrative to fit their own political agenda.
- Furthermore, the recent activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin such as his visit to Mariupol or his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping have been closely followed by various disinformation channels praising him.
Slovak politicians are supposedly serving the West, according to disinformers
While deliberate attacks against western structures and values are not a new occurrence in the Slovak information space, it is apparent that western-orientated politicians have gradually become the main targets of this sentiment. The main narrative spreading is the allegation that selected political figures are secretly serving the West, especially the USA, and therefore robbing Slovakia of its sovereignty.
The most prominent actor pushing this false narrative is undoubtedly Robert Fico, a chairman of the anti-system SMER-SD party and former prime minister. In the past two weeks, he published multiple posts and videos on his social media openly calling out certain Slovak politicians and criticising them for aiding the western countries.
In one of his posts, he attacks the interim prime minister Eduard Heger for his firm pro-Ukrainian stance as well as his choice to deliver military aid to the country and states the following: “Mr Heger has become a symbol of an incompetent nodder who has made Slovakia a political slave of foreign interests.” In another post, he turns his attention towards president Zuzana Čaputová and goes as far as to claim that other countries are telling us who should become the President of the Slovak Republic, directly questioning her eligibility. Another of his Facebook posts, this time more vague, reads: “I want a sovereign Slovakia led by politicians who have the trust of the nation and not the trust of Brussels or Washington. The nation must decide who should govern Slovakia, not foreign powers through the media or NGOs.”
Through this kind of rhetoric, Fico attempts to create a false illusion of a puppet government composed of incumbent politicians who serve the interests of Western countries. Moreover, this also advances his own political agenda, especially in the prospect of winning the upcoming parliamentary elections. Fico deliberately creates a sense of urgency amongst the public to replace the current government and simultaneously presents his party as the only trustworthy one.
Fico is by far not the only politician who pushes the aforementioned narrative. Milan Mazurek, a member of the far-right Republika party, claims that the Slovak government is “shamelessly serving foreign interests, betraying the nation and violating the Constitution in the process. They are sacrificing Slovakia for praise in Washington.” He deliberately uses expressive wording, which is typical for far-right parties in Slovakia, to induce a strong sense of distrust in the state administration, similarly to Fico. This kind of rhetoric is also meant to purposefully exaggerate consequences of the discussed topic, which was the delivery of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.
Slovakia sends MiG-29s to Ukraine and disinformers question the decision once again
Ever since the information of Slovakia considering sending scrapped MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, after being asked to do so by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, emerged, many pro-Russian actors had been protesting against the potential aid. On March 17, the Slovak government announced that it has unanimously decided to deliver the jets and this decision has significantly amplified the already hateful rhetoric surrounding the situation.
Many pro-Kremlin actors are trying to question the decision by using the following narratives: the Slovak government is composed of warmongers who are trying to drag Slovakia into war and the Slovak politicians who have approved the delivery are committing treason. These narratives specifically target Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Minister of Defence Jaroslav Naď.
One of the most active pro-Russian voices in this discussion is Ľuboš Blaha, an opposition MP for the SMER-SD party. Even though he is currently banned on Facebook (due to repeated violations of Meta's rules regarding hate speech, bullying and harassment, inciting violence, as well as disinformation), many disinformation pages re-share his content on the platform. He also continues his activity on Telegram and therefore still manages to reach a wider audience. There, he posted a video talking about the government’s decision to provide military aid to Ukraine while questioning its legitimacy. The caption reads: “If Naď and Heger send fighter jets to Ukraine, they will destroy the constitutional order in Slovakia and commit a serious crime… You're asking for serious trouble, you two over-motivated American lapdogs!” The video has been re-shared by the disinformation page Slobodný vysielač (“Free Broadcaster”) and has accumulated over 72 thousand views so far.
The same page shared another video of Blaha speaking about the delivery, this time using more radical wording: “Slovakia is threatened with direct entry into the war, mobilisation, declaration of martial law and cancellation of elections... When to take to the streets, if not now... Slovakia is plunging into the biggest catastrophe since the Second World War.” By this statement, he is trying to create a false correlation between providing Ukraine with military aid and catastrophic events that are highly improbable to happen and have no connection to the former whatsoever. The aim of this kind of rhetoric is to induce fear in the general public by mentioning things such as martial law and sow distrust towards the incumbent government. It is also important to note that Blaha is notoriously known for being one of the most active sources producing and distributing Kremlin propaganda in Slovakia.
Other radical politicians have also seized the opportunity to advance their own political agenda and took to social media to comment on the situation. Milan Uhrík, an MEP and a member of the far-right Republika party, stated the following: “Today's government decision to send our Migs to Ukraine is plain treason! It is dragging Slovakia into a war, an extremely serious threat to our security and defence.” An identical narrative was also pushed by Robert Fico who said: “These fools are dragging us into war and have painted targets on our backs just to please the Americans and the European Union.” The accusations of warmongering are not a new occurrence when it comes to discussions surrounding military aid, because they serve as a powerful tool for undermining the legitimacy of the government. In this sense, pro-Russian politicians are to a large extent utilising the fear of the conflict spreading to other countries to turn the general public against the ruling parties.
Putin’s steps were closely followed by disinformation actors
Pro-Russian actors also took to social media to comment on and praise the recent activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin. These included his visit to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Moscow.
The Russian Embassy to Slovakia, which is a prominent source of Kremlin propaganda and also the most active on Facebook in comparison to other Russian embassies across the EU, posted a video of Putin visiting the occupied city of Mariupol. In the caption, it quoted supposed Ukrainian citizens who were thanking the Russian president for visiting their home and for providing them with new housing. In another post, the Embassy showcases the housing and adds that it has been built after “liberating the city”. By this, the Embassy tries to paint a picture of Putin as a generous hospitable liberator who is saving the Ukrainian citizens, while completely omitting the fact that most of the city occupied by Russia is destroyed due to shelling by the Russian military forces.
The arrival of the Chinese President Xi Jinping was also a subject of discussion among disinformers. Popular disinformation pages such as InfoVojna (“InfoWar”), Armáda Ruskej federácie (“Army of the Russian Federation”) or Informácie bez cenzúry (“Information without censorship”) all published content praising the visit.
The common sentiment in these posts was supportive of the Russia-China cooperation and strongly anti-western with talking points such as the downfall of the West and the “new world order” represented by the aforementioned countries. One post from InfoVojna stated that “the US is confronted with a harsh reality: Russia and China are building a new world order. The tangible results of the visit of the President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping, who signed an agreement on strategic cooperation between Russia and China with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, roughly fit into this scheme.”
Since the activities of Russian President Putin were one of the major topics in Slovak information space in the past two weeks, we also looked at them through an optic of a list of disinformation actors in Slovakia. We used the CrowdTangle analysis tool to analyse the most popular posts on Slovak Facebook that include the keyword “Putin“. Posts were evaluated based on the total number of interactions (the sum of all reactions, comments, and shares).
Informácie bez cenzúry posted an interview with Eduard Chmelár, a former presidential candidate and a questionable political commentator who has repeatedly spread pro-Russian disinformation. He states that the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court in Hague against Putin made peace negotiations more difficult because it narrowed the number of states where negotiations could take place. He also calls it an “Anglo-Saxon provocation”. Chmelár essentially suggests, that the West is deliberately prolonging the war and preventing peace talks, which is not the case.
The three following posts belong to Armáda Ruskej Federácie. The first one is a video of Putin visiting Mariupol. The caption reads: “The same people who cry about how Russia is rebuilding the destroyed Mariupol represent countries that have never done anything like that. Only a flag-waver without any values can whine about someone rebuilding a war-torn city.” This kind of propaganda once again tries to distort reality and depict Russia as the saviour of Ukraine, when in fact, it was the Russian forces that destroyed the city in the first place.
The second post is a video of Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting Moscow and shaking Putin’s hand. The aim of sharing this kind of content is to show the public that Russia still has allies even during its aggression in Ukraine and create an image of Putin’s actions being supported by other actors.
The third post by Armáda Ruskej Federácie is a meme made by the page which shows Putin and Lavrov laughing and says: “You've got a warrant for your arrest from an international court… Throw it in the trash, the USA and Israel and many others don't recognize it.” The aim of it is to undermine the importance of the arrest warrant and also question its legitimacy.
The last post belongs to Bádateľ, a disinformation site known for sharing conspiracy theories. The post states that “the arrest warrant for Putin by the International Criminal Court is a sign of the desperation of the losing West. It means only one thing: Victory is near!”. Here as well as in other posts, Bádateľ tries to falsely distort reality by mentioning fictional military victories and openly rooting for Russia, therefore creating an illusion that Russia is close to winning the war.
Project Infosecurity.sk organized by Adapt 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.