Kessler: Disinformation is Putin’s powerful tool in Ukraine


Giovanni Kessler is an Italian prosecutor who worked in the office of famous Sicilian prosecutor Paolo Borsalino in 1995. In 1998-1999 he was appointed as Deputy Head of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission in Pristina, in charge of Police and Justice matters. From 2001-2006 he was been elected in the Italian Parliament as an independent member. In 2003, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, appointed Kessler as his Special Representative during that year’s parliamentary election in Armenia. From 2011 till 2017, Kessler was being appointed as Director-General of OLAF, the Anti-Fraud Office of the European Union (from 2021 this body became the European Prosecutors Office led by Romanian prosecutor Laura Cuveshi). In 2017-2021, he was being appointed by the EU as a Member of the International Anti-Corruption Advisory Board in Ukraine (IACAB), writes Truthmeter.mk.

Under the syndicating agreement between Truthmeter.mk and Meta.mk, we republish the text below:

Author: Goran Lefkov


How was your view on the state of disinformation in the months and weeks before and now during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Is it what you expected as the US intel agencies started reporting about the possible invasion or did you expect something different? Maybe more aggressive use of disinformation?

This is classic disinformation, but in fact this is a way to make war. The disinformation is not from weeks or months ago. Disinformation and propaganda have been spreading for a long time and the Russians are great at it, they are the best in the world. They have dedicated structures, they have powerful tools and financial means, to create and convey their views. This is propaganda because it contains fake information. This was done by Russians years ago. Something interesting and new was the way that they use the army, and their propaganda to fight the war. The war didn’t start one week ago. The war started months before when 150.000 Russian troops were being deployed on the Ukraine border. What was interesting was the fact that their fake news portal broadcast the troops. That was the way to put incredible pressure on Ukraine by Russian propaganda. First, they have the intention to show Ukrainian institutions as very weak, in the end, it turned out that they are not weak, they intended to let Ukraine collapse, just by showing and broadcasting propaganda. War in Ukraine started at that moment when they started to broadcast their propaganda. They wanted propaganda to destroy Ukraine without any single shot. That modern propaganda media does this.


Do you see differences in the Kremlin disinformation warfare practices and scope during the Maidan revolution in Kyiv and Crimea annexation and now?

In that moment in 2014, Russian propaganda intended to show that Maidan is financed by the United States. They said that the fall of Yanukovich was financed by the USA. The real situation was that it was a really popular and spontaneous movement, that happened on the last day when Yanukovich decided not to sign the agreement for Ukraine’s accession into the EU.

What are Russians doing in Ukraine today in Ukraine – for the disinformation, that is not a war, but a military operation. If you say that in Ukraine there is war, you risk up to 15 years in prison. That is law recently passed in the Russian Parliament (Duma). Disinformation is targeting Russian citizens now. They are not allowed to know what is happening.

There was a different target on Russian propaganda in the Maidan period in 2014 and there is a different target now. With this propaganda, Putin is diving his dictatorship to create even his own history and his own reality.


What do you think regarding the EU response when it comes to fighting Russian disinformation now and what kind of measures and steps do you think the EU should take to dull the effects of Kremlin disinformation?

Nowadays there is no free media in Russia, so we don’t want as democracиес to do the same. What was established by European Union, lately, but also too late, is the fighting against disinformation and fighting fake news. The model’s aim is to expose the fake news and give the facts. Another way is to investigate and expose to the public the Russian financing the fake news producers. Also as a part of the disinformation that has to be followed are political parties and movements that are connected to Russia and Russian finances. Russian propaganda is financing also the popular movements, extremists, just they need to be anti-EU and anti-NATO orientation.


While working with Russians on your previous duties, could you tell us more about their techniques and ways of trying to evade/negate/counter the accusations of disinformation and propaganda?

In Ukraine, Russians are using their TV channel that is broadcast in all of Ukraine. Ukraine citizens know the Russian language, so it was easy for Russians to “sell” their propaganda, especially in villages. In the rest of the world, they use mostly the internet, creating fake accounts. The main reason that Putin attacked Ukraine and started the war was that Russia is in danger if NATO enlarges on Ukraine territory. Ukraine even refuses to enter NATO. Ukraine was being told somehow – do not even apply for entering NATO. Knowing that this is not true and can’t promote it like truth, Putin said that Ukraine is a historical error, that was been created by communism, which is not true of course.


Do you expect more organized or stronger propaganda activities by Kremlin as the invasion drags on and/or during the period after the invasion? How will Kremlin organize their propaganda activities in various geographic positions – internationally, domestically, and in Ukraine?

Putin can’t declare that he has lost the war. So he has by force won this war. What is happening on the ground is not completely clear. He can install a puppet government, but you will have guerilla. So he has to come to the end by declaring victory. To declare that, they have won. It will be hard for them. They have to invent a lie and have to invest a lot in it. It won’t be easy for Russians. Whatever it happens they have to say that they won. For this to happen they can create also some fake events, known in history like reasons why Hitler attack Poland. So they will produce, fake facts, fake events to declare Putin’s victory and propaganda will be bigger in the future.

How will the international sanctions  influence Kremlin’s propaganda and „news” operations at the international level? And what do you think Кremlin might do to have their voices heard abroad now when Western countries and the wider international community shut down Russian state media abroad?

Sanctions against Russia Today are just sanctions, not strategy against disinformation. So we need more. I think we need two things. We need more transparency. Transparency is the best way to fight disinformation. So in this manner transparency leads to two things. Unmasking the truth and the second is the transparency of the media-driven and financed by Russia. There need to be more journalistic investigations which are needed for stronger transparency.


What are your thoughts regarding Kremlin disinformation in the Balkans?

Kessler: When I was in the Balkans, propaganda wasn’t so developed in the hands of dictatorship and was not as a powerful tool as it is now. Now I do not know much of the specifics of Russian propaganda, but in the Balkans, I know that Russians have more ties than other European parts so I expect they have very good contacts and very good reunification in Balkan societies, so probably they have more opportunities to convey their propaganda on Balkans than to EU.


What do you expect from the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

The war will not finish as they expected. They thought that part of the population will expect them with flowers and that part of the Ukraine army will not fight against Russians as it happened in Crimea, but that is not the case now. The resistance of Ukraine people is much stronger than they expected. So Russians are going to try to put puppet Government like in Belarus. To do so, they have to get Kyiv or kill the president and the top military leadership in Ukraine.

Maybe he can try to put Yanukovich again or some second Lukashenko, but the war will not be over. There is going to be Guerilla in the country Ukrainians will not accept it.

Another option is to be some dirty agreement that nobody will satisfy. Another option is for Ukraine to be divided into two parts.


Do you see further invasions of Putin on Balkans of Baltics?

Kessler: I don’t think so that Putin will go and attack another country like the Balkans or Baltics. Just Transnistria (Region of Moldova) can be annexed to Russia because right now Moldova hasn’t control over that region that is settled with Russian-speaking people. I don’t think that the Ukraine conflict will continue to NATO countries. If Putin attacks any NATO country World War 3 will break out.


How do you see the response of EU and western countries on Ukraine crises?

Putin gave a lot of attention to NATO. NATO was about to die or to be forgotten it was meant to be useless. But NATO is never more united than today. Also, European Union is united as never before. I think Hungary and Poland were big critics of the EU, now they show more solidarity with the EU than before. This is a side effect of Putin’s war in Ukraine. He thought that the EU will be weak. EU was being a bit slow and a bit late in the reaction.

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