The NATO Summit in Vilnius drew attention from pro-Russian actors condemning Ukraine’s accession to NATO point of pro-Russian disinformation

Infosecurity.sk: Bi-Weekly Report on Emerging Disinformation Trends July 27, 2023
© Oleg Chumakov via Canva.com
  • The recent NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania became a major talking point for pro-Russian actors who utilized social media to condemn the summit and spread misinformation about Western leaders profiting from the conflict in Ukraine, while portraying Ukraine's role as a pawn in a proxy war.
  • Disinformers continue to push narratives suggesting that Ukraine will never become a NATO member, and if it does, a global conflict will ensue, undermining public trust in Western structures and questioning NATO's credibility.
  • In the wake of record-high temperatures, actors in the Slovak information space deny manmade global warming, promoting conspiracy theories and baseless claims without providing credible evidence.

NATO Summit as the main talking point of pro-Russian actors

From 11 to 12 July, a NATO summit was held in Vilnius, Lithuania, during which top representatives of member countries met to discuss the challenges facing the alliance. As one of the main topics was the Russian aggression in Ukraine, pro-Russian and anti-Western disinformers turned to social media to publicly condemn both the results and the summit itself.

Slavěna Vorobelová, an MP for the far-right Kotlebovci-ĽSNS party, wrote in a post that the outcome of the NATO summit in Vilnius is that “Washington does not dare to go directly against Moscow's interests over Ukraine, but the bloodshed is unlikely to end so soon… however, this apparently did not take the smile off the faces of the NATO leaders, because the Slavs will continue to die in a fratricidal war and the profits of the Western (mainly American) arms factories will continue to increase.”

The identical narrative was also pushed by a disinformation site Bádateľ: “When will the Ukrainians realise that the US and NATO are just using them for their own geopolitical ends and will eventually give up on them anyway?”

By these claims, the disinformers point to the longstanding false narrative that Western leaders are purposefully prolonging the fighting to profit from it as well as try to paint the war as a proxy conflict, in which Ukraine is doing the “dirty work” for the West. This kind of rhetoric diverts attention from the fact that the sole aggressor in the conflict is Russia, which can withdraw its military forces from Ukraine at any time and secure the peace that the disinformers are persistently demanding from Western countries.

Accession of Ukraine to NATO continues to fuel disinformation narratives

In the context of the NATO Summit, we have observed one point that has been the most discussed among the pro-Russian disinformers, and that is the future membership of Ukraine in NATO. The main narrative is that Ukraine will never become a member of the Alliance, and if it does, a global conflict will break out.

Andrej Danko, a chairman of the nationalist SNS party, wrote that “anyone who talks about Ukraine's membership of NATO today is a threat to security and peace”. Similarly, Robert Fico, chairman of the anti-system SMER-SSD party, said that the party does not support Ukraine's NATO membership because it does not wish for a “third world war”. The post has been re-shared over 4.9 thousand times at the time of writing this report.

Ľuboš Blaha, a member of the SMER-SSD party, repeated the same talking point, but also added: “Ukraine did not receive an invitation to join NATO in Vilnius… The reality is that the Americans were scared of Russia and threw Ukraine overboard. Cheap platitudes about the prospect of membership are laughable.” The clear aim of this rhetoric is to undermine the public belief in Slovakia’s Western ties and to portray NATO as untrustworthy, thus questioning the credibility of the organisation.

It is also important to add that Ľuboš Blaha is currently banned on Facebook for violating Meta’s rules regarding hate speech, bullying, harassment and disinformation. However, he continues to be active on Telegram and his posts are usually re-shared by disinformation sites, such as in this case, by Slobodný vysielač (“Free broadcaster”). This only confirms the fact that in the Slovak information space, disinformation actors are considerably interconnected and repeat the same narratives in an amplifying manner.

Since the NATO Summit in Vilnius has been one of the major topics in Slovak information space in the past two weeks, we also looked at it 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 keywords “Vilnius“ and “NATO”. Posts were evaluated based on the total number of interactions (the sum of all reactions, comments, and shares).

Top Posts about the NATO Summit

The most popular post by far was the one made by Robert Fico, in which he condemns the potential membership of Ukraine in NATO.

The second place belongs to a post written by a SMER-SSD party member Ladislav Kamenický, which was re-shared by the official page of the party. In the post, Kamenický criticises the decisions of Slovak president Zuzana Čaputová during the Summit, such as to support the accession of Ukraine to NATO or supply the Slovak neighbour with more military equipment. According to him, by giving aid to Ukraine, Slovakia is stealing from its own citizens and robbing its defence. This is intended, as in the case of Fico, to undermine public support for Ukraine and to falsely give the impression that being part of NATO or Western structures means forgetting one's own citizens, which has no basis in reality. 

The third place belongs to the original post by Ladislav Kamenický.

The fourth place belongs to the already-mentioned post by Slavěna Vorobelová, in which she claims that NATO is deliberately prolonging the war to profit of off it.

The last place belongs to another post by Slavěna Vorobelová. It reads: “At the Vilnius summit, the NATO "elite" made it clear to the "hero" Zelensky what and whom the territory and people of Ukraine are really for. The same promises of membership as in Bucharest in 2008, the same tales of how Ukraine cannot stop fighting Russia and how that crucial help from the West is coming, just to keep them in the war for a while longer and in any case not even to think about peace.” Not only does she, once again, accuse NATO of refusing to make peace, but Vorobelová also claims that the organisation uses the prospect of a future membership as a tool to keep Ukraine in the war for as long as possible. In reality, the NATO enlargement process is very elaborate and, most importantly, involves a consensus amongst current members, which in this point in time needs to be thoroughly discussed.

Climate change becomes a talking point among disinformation sites

In July, three continents saw record-high temperatures as a result of heatwaves, while the entire world was affected by devastating flooding brought on by severe rains. Researchers claim that the recent hot flushes in several parts of Europe and the US would not have been possible without manmade global warming. However, in the last two weeks, we have encountered actors in the Slovak information space who try to deny this scientific fact and deflect the devastating impacts of climate change.

Site Bádateľ, which is also notorious for spreading conspiracy theories, wrote: “The media is lying again. It is not climate change that is to blame for the heat wave in southern Europe, but the change in measuring the temperature close to the ground instead of 2 metres!” As a source for this information, it provides a link to an article by a Czech disinformation site Zvědavec. In a different post, they once again allege that the mainstream media misinforms the public about climate change, even though it merely reports the scientific finding regarding the topic.

Rastislav Blaško, a dubious political figure who repeatedly spreads disinformation on his Facebook page, went as far as to say that global warming is a “scam of the century” orchestrated by Bill Gates. He calls this alleged hoax “Climategate” and proceeds to say that in the year 1980, the weather was just as hot as it is now, even though the average annual global temperature is getting considerably higher.

The belief that global warming is a deliberate hoax with secret global elites acting as the masterminds has become one of the leading narratives when it comes to climate disinformation. It is also important to state that the actors spreading these baseless claims amongst people prone to believe conspiracy theories as well as climate skeptics rarely provide any evidence for their claims.

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.