Slovak Disinformers Try to Portray Ukrainians as Ungrateful to Halt Slovakia's Support for Ukraine

Infosecurity.Sk: Bi-Weekly Report on Emerging Disinformation Trends August 18, 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:

  • On August 9, the oil shipments to Slovakia were halted. Although it turned out the very next day that a technical error was behind it and supplies were restored, the disinformation was already widespread.
  • Various disinformation actors are trying to push a narrative that Ukrainians halted oil shipments deliberately and that this is a sign of their ungratefulness for Slovakia's support.
  • The disinformation media were also filled with Western artists like Roger Waters and Steven Seagal – Russian supporters. Even though pro-Kremlin actors often criticize the decadence of Western culture, they did not mind sharing statements of the artists mentioned above.
  • Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan and increased tensions between Kosovo and Serbia attracted attention. According to the disinformers, both events were caused by the US warmongering and their efforts to start other conflicts.

Who Halted Oil Shipments to Slovakia? According to Disinformers, the Ungratefulness of Ukrainians Is to Blame

On August 9, it was announced that oil had stopped flowing through the Druzhba pipeline to Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. According to early reports, Ukraine halted oil shipments after they did not receive payments for transit by Russia.

The following day, however, the Ministry of Economy of the Slovak Republic announced that the situation had been resolved and oil was flowing to Slovakia again. Minister Richard Sulík explained the situation: “There is no need to look for some political steps behind the interruption of oil supply. The situation was caused by an administrative error outside Ukraine and Russia, resulting from an incorrect assessment of the payment as a violation of sanctions."

However, various disinformation quickly started to spread. They claimed that the oil had been stopped directly by the Ukrainian Government or even by the Ukrainian President himself. Quite common, ironic remarks appeared that this was a gesture of gratitude for all the help we gave them so far. The disinformers aimed to undermine support for Ukraine in Slovakia.

One of the first to exploit the situation for political gain was the former Prime Minister Robert Fico. He published a video, in which he accused Ukraine of deliberately stopping oil for Slovakia, defended Russia, and described the whole situation as a perfect example of how sanctions against Russia are not working.

In the video, Fico even implies that Ukraine pre-arranged the halting of the oil shipments with the West. At the end of the video, he called on people to support a referendum on early elections. As of August 11, the video had over 266,000 views on Facebook and over 75,000 on YouTube.

The narrative about ungrateful Ukrainians became dominant immediately. The website Bádateľ published a short post: "Ukraine has stopped oil shipments to Slovakia. Slovakia should immediately stop all aid to Ukraine and benefits to its citizens in our country!" Later that day, they wrote another one: "New saying: Help a Ukrainian, he'll shut off your oil."

The disinformation website Inenoviny published an article titled: "Ukraine Cut Off Oil to Slovakia, Is This the Reward for Helping Ukrainians?" The article claims: "Ukraine made this hostile move against Slovakia, which helped with millions of euros, weapons, oil..."

Another well-known website Veci Verejné reacted with the headline "NOT RUSSIA, BUT THE CRIMINAL REGIME IN UKRAINE HAS STOPPED OUR OIL!!! Transpetrol and Slovnaft Have Confirmed the Suspension of Oil Shipments to Slovakia”.

Although, in the end, there was no major problem, and the situation was quickly explained and resolved, disinformation narratives already spread spontaneously on the internet. Some are already questioning whether this was a technical error and will probably continue to use it as an example of why not to support Ukraine.

Pro-Russian Celebrities Take the Stage

Websites of pro-Russian actors have recently been filled with interviews of various Western artists, such as Roger Waters and Steven Seagal, who support Russia. As the Slovak police's anti-hoax page points out, pro-Kremlin trolls hate the rotten West and its corrupt culture, but at the same time they share statements of Western artists widely.

Dozens of articles have been written about Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd. Waters argues that the United States is prolonging the war in Ukraine. Articles about Waters are massively shared on Slovak Facebook; for example, an article from the Magazín 1, which is linked to the extremist party ĽSNS-Kotlebovci, has a total of 12.5 thousand interactions.

Waters also called President Biden a warmonger. He said that the war could have ended tomorrow if the United States and Biden would want to. But they would have to persuade President Zelensky to negotiate with Russia. When the interviewer pointed out that Waters got it reversed and was blaming the country that was invaded, Waters answered with an attack on NATO. “This war is basically about the action and reaction of NATO pushing right up to the Russian border, which they promised they wouldn’t do when Gorbachev negotiated the withdraw of the USSR from the whole of Eastern Europe,” he said. This is another false narrative used by Moscow's apologists. No such promise was ever made, as confirmed by Gorbachev himself.

The actor Steven Seagal, who openly admires Putin, Alexander Lukashenko, or Nicolás Maduro, has also attracted attention. Seagal has visited Donbas, where he wants to make a film to show people the truth. In his words, 98 % of the people writing about Donbas have never been there, therefore the world does not know the truth.

Steven Seagal has supported Russia and President Putin since at least the annexation of Crimea in 2014. He later gained Russian citizenship and is currently a member of the pro-Kremlin political party A Just Russia.

Seagal caused controversy when, as a special representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Humanitarian Relations between Russia and the U.S., he visited a wreckage of eastern Ukraine's Olenivka prison, where a recent attack left 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war dead.

On the spot, Seagal pushed the Kremlin narrative that Ukrainians had attacked the prison with a HIMARS system. Seagal added the conspiracy theory that Ukrainian forces used HIMARS because President Zelenskyy wanted to silence a "Nazi" who was being held in the prison. However, according to the experts, available images of the destroyed building at the prison appear inconsistent with a HIMARS-launched attack.

Taiwan and Kosovo Join Ukraine as Targets of Disinformation Actors

Two highly watched international events also got attention in Slovakia. The first one was the visit of the US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, and the second was the increased tension between Serbia and Kosovo. The disinformation scene in Slovakia did not miss the opportunity to support authoritarian leaders around the world and to take a dig at the West and the US by spreading disinformation and false narratives.

Eduard Chmelar, a former presidential candidate and commentator who has repeatedly spread pro-Russian disinformation, claims that Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is a targeted provocation by the US. In his words, just as the US provoked the war in Ukraine, it wants to start a conflict with China as well. Claiming that the United States started the war in Ukraine is at least highly problematic, given that it was President Putin's decision to launch such a massive and aggressive invasion of Ukraine. Chmelár compares Taiwan to Ukraine, oversimplifying complex issues and comparing the incomparable.

Chmelár is also misleading when he claims that Nancy Pelosi cannot make foreign policy independently without coordination with the White House. In the United States, the branches of government are clearly separated, which has led to decades of debate about the foreign policy powers of the President and Congress. Nancy Pelosi is independent of the executive and can therefore act without the President's consent. This can be seen on the fact that Pelosi visited Taiwan despite Biden’s statement describing the trip as a bad idea. Among other things, Nancy Pelosi has a long history of opposing China.

Eduard Chmelár is trying to push the narrative of endless US warmongering. According to it, Washington's goal is to deliberately provoke new conflicts in the world, including World War III. The disinformation website InfoVojna has published several articles on the subject, including pieces with headlines such as "Nancy Pelosi's Visit to Taiwan Is Set to Trigger Another US Proxy War like in Ukraine!" or "Pelosi's Visit to Taiwan Is Pure Provocation. China Has Every Right to Take Measures to Protect Its Sovereignty, Russia Reacts to the US Provoking Further Tensions".

Disinformers often compare increased tensions between Kosovo and Serbia to the war in Ukraine. MEP Milan Uhrík claims that the war in Ukraine is, in fact, a proxy war of NATO against Russia. He goes on to say that Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan was a provocative visit with no other aim than to militarily provoke China, which still enjoys 'unacceptably' good relations with Russia. And he also refers to Kosovo as an American colony that provokes Serbia, the only state in Europe maintaining friendly relations with Russia. He links all three events and argues that this is a purposeful attempt of the US and its vassal states to destabilize countries still resisting American influence.

Slovak Disinformers Shared False Narratives about Taiwan

Since Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan was also closely followed in Slovakia, we decided to look at it through the analytical tool CrowdTangle, which showed us the most popular posts on this topic among Slovak disinformation actors. Posts were evaluated based on the total number of interactions (the sum of all reactions, comments, and shares). The analysis filtered posts with the keyword Taiwan.

Disinformation posts Taiwan
© infosecurity.sk

The first place belongs to the MEP Milan Uhrík, the leader of the far-right party Republika (Republic). He published a video in which he linked events in Ukraine, Taiwan, and Kosovo. According to his words, the US is trying to destabilize Russia and China, which are still resisting the US influence.

Eduard Chmelár also tried to push the narrative of the US warmongering being the source of all conflicts.

Milan Mazurek, member of the Slovak parliament, shared a video by Milan Uhrík.

Mário Vidák, who is behind Magazín 1, shared an article with the headline: “Zero Respect for the US? China Fires Missile after Missile in Front of Taiwan. Terrifying Footage Captured on Video!”

Lastly, Hlavný denník takes the place. They report on the visit of two Slovak coalition MPs to Taiwan. However, in the article's headline, they mockingly ask: “Slovak MPs in Taiwan? They Were Waiting Just for You!"

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.