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Russian fake news and their ban

Putin and his “Goebbels” propagandists are not victims and should not be given media space, and it is not undemocratic to exclude the undemocratic and aggressive regime from the media space, writes Truthmeter.mk

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Starting in 2022 the EU banned several Russian media outlets, then on the 17th of May 2024 another four outlets were added to this list, which is completely justified. Unfortunately, disinformation has a rich tradition in Russia, dating back to the time of the czars, continuing in the USSR, and persisting under Putin’s leadership. He has stifled media freedoms in Russia but hypocritically exploits those in the West, where he now pretends to be a victim of censorship. This is also true for Facebook, which has been banned for a long time now in Russia, yet Russia’s supporters around the world still use it and even complain when moderated by Facebook. Putin and his Goebbelspropagandists are not victims and should not be given media space, and it is not undemocratic to exclude the undemocratic and aggressive regime from the media space, writes Truthmeter.mk.

Under the content-sharing agreement between Truthmeter.mk and Meta.mk, we republish the text in full below:

Disinformation in Russia in the Past 

Unfortunately, Russia is the cradle of some of the most infamous fake news and disinformation in history. 

The well-known phrase ”Potemkin’s villages” originates from Russia, referring to Prince Grigory Potemkin who built fake structures (i.e., mere facades) to deceive Czarina Catherine the Great into thinking he was developing the newly conquered territories she had granted him control over. 

The notorious antisemitic pamphlet “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (1903) also originated from Imperial Russia. According to some sources, the pamphlet was fabricated independently by the head of the foreign division of the Imperial Police, Pyotr Rachkovsky. Other opinions, however, exist about this as well. 

USSR was particularly notorious for its fake news. It even established a specialized bureau for such a purpose – Disinfobureau (Russian: Дезинформбюро), under the initiative of Jozef Unszlicht, the deputy chief of the repressive secret service GPU (later known as the KGB). 

The KGB carried out so-called active measures, which involved spreading fake news globally, such as claims that the USA had created AIDS, harvested organs from children in poor countries or fluoridated the water to control birth rates. They also spread discrediting details from the private lives of Western politicians to influence the elections in their countries. Putin, a former KGB agent, continues these practices even today. 

In 1993, the “Dulles’ Plan” was published in Russia – a fabricated plan attributed to the American CIA to undermine the USSR – a document used by Russian conspiracy theory maniacs to explain the collapse of their superpower, which had occurred two years earlier. 

Starting in 2014, the Kremlin was spreading lies that the Ukrainians crucified children – which the Russians themselves later dismissed the claim as unsubstantiated – that Nazism prevailed in Ukraine, even though Ukraine banned this ideology through a law passed on the 9th of April 2015; that a Russian invasion in Crimea did not happen but rather an uprising of local residents; that Putin did not plan a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but only maneuvers; that Russians in Ukraine were fighting against NATO and captured the American General Roger Cloutier; that the Ukrainians had secret biological weapons and laboratories and that they sent pigeons to Russia to spread diseases; that they organized the terrorist attack on “Crocus” hall near Moscow, etc. 

Current Disinformation from Russia 

The lies continue, although they are not as colorful as before. It is unclear whether this is due to a lack of ideas or funds to pay for the ideas. This could also be influenced by the fact that many key players in this disinformation milieu are no longer alive. The most notable among them was Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the so-called troll factory and the Wagner mercenary army. 

Here are a few fake news stories from (pro-)Russian sources, which fact-checkers from Ukraine, VoxUkraine and StopFake, have covered in the past month or two: 

Ukraine and the West are avoiding an investigation into the Bucha massacre to prevent the discovery that it was fabricated.  

 This is a lie. The massacre was investigated and confirmed by the independent International Commission of Inquire on Ukraine, OSCE, and other organizations worldwide 

Ukrainian soldiers are drugged before battles with a banned substance like ketamine.

This lie is based on an article in the Times that was distorted on the pro-Russian Telegram channels. The article was about the treatment of post-traumatic stress with ketamine, a legal anesthetic. 

Ukrainian border guards have been ordered to kill deserters from conscription. 

 Asproof of this claim, a photo of a warning sign supposedly posted at the border was circulated. Still, the Center for Countering Disinformation at the Security Service of Ukraine reported that it was photo-edited. Ukrainian law permits the use of weapons by border guards only for self-defense, stopping criminals, and for similar situations. 

On the 20th of May 2024, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s term ends, but he will illegitimately retain power, and Ukrainians will be prohibited from protesting against this. 

This is a lie. According to Ukrainian law, the President’s term is extended during martial law until a new president is elected after this period ends. Until then, no elections are organized. According to the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, this lie is part of a Russian disinformation operation called “Maidan 3”. 

Russian media banned in the EU 

Since the onset of the comprehensive Russian invasion of Ukraine in March 2022, the EU has banned Sputnik and RT (Russia Today), along with their various foreign language branches. 

New bans followed in June 2022, covering interconnected TV channels: Rossiya RTR, RTR Planeta, and Rossiya-24, as well as the foreign market version of TV Center. 

On the 17th of May 2024, the list was expanded to include RIA Novosti, Izvestia, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and Voice of Europe, although the latter is not a Russian media outlet but is closely associated with Russia. 

The roots of RIA Novosti lie in the Soviet propaganda agency Sovinformbureau, established under Stalin in 1941. In 1961, it was renamed into AP (Press Agency) Novosti, with one notable employee being Yuri Bezmenov, a press officer at the Soviet Embassy in New Delhi, India, who defected to the West in 1970, exposing the manipulations carried out by his employers. This news agency was a disinformation bureau filled with KGB agents. 

In 1991, the agency was renamed RIA (Russian Information Agency) Novosti, and like all Soviet media, it remained state-owned, as it is today. In the 1990s and 2000s, attempts were made to develop objective journalism in Russia, but Putin gradually suppressed those efforts. He was particularly alarmed by the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine (2013-2014) and decided to impose stricter media control. He liquidated RIA Novosti and incorporated it into the new media group Rossiya Segodnya, headed by the propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov. Interestingly, Rossiya Segodnya means the same as Russia Today, but it is unclear if there is any connection between the two of them. The Rossiya Segodnya group also includes Sputnik and other media outlets. 

Izvestia was a Soviet regime mouthpiece, once called Izvestia Sovetov narodnykh deputatov SSSR. Until his death in 2008, the newspaper’s caricaturist was Boris Yefimov, known for his caricatures of Stalin and for depicting Josip Broz Tito as a Western lackey, a Nazi, etc. This too was part of the propaganda story. In 1992, the newspaper was privatized, and attempts were made to develop objective journalism, but those efforts failed, especially after the newspaper was acquired by Gazprom in 2005, and later by the National Media Group, both close to Putin. 

Rossiyskaya Gazeta was founded as a government newspaper in 1990, during the liberalization reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, promising objective reporting. This promise, however, failed once Putin came into power. It is also the official gazette where newly enacted laws are published. 

Voice of Europe is a website run by pro-Russian politicians from Ukraine: Viktor Medvedchuk (now living in Russia, with Putin as the godfather of one of his daughters) and Artyom Marchevsky (who also holds an Israeli passport). The website is also linked to the Serbian politician Dragan Stanojevic and the Dutch politician Thierry Baudet. In 2016, Baudet initiated a consultative referendum on whether the EU should sign the Association Agreement with Ukraine, and with the help of Voice of Europe, he influenced the majority of Dutch voters to vote against it. 

In the same year, the website was registered in the Czech Republic, which was recently sanctioned for disinformation and for bribing European politicians. Marchevsky moved to Slovakia, which granted him asylum, although he claimed this was unrelated to the pro-Russian policies of the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, stating that he received asylum like any other Ukrainian citizens who had come because of the war. Eventually, the website found refuge in Kazakhstan. 

This analysis presents only a part of the myriad manipulations stemming from the “Russian cuisine”, indicating that the ban, unfortunately, on Russian media in the EU was a logical consequence of the events. 

Written by Vangel Bashevski

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