Russian disinformation is a hot topic these days as more people, here in the U.S., in Europe, and presumably also in Russia, are becoming more aware and more discerning consumers of what is presented as news across the worldwide web and other media outlets. The four articles outlined below provide snapshots of what has been observed in the Nordic countries, a Ukrainian-based view of the extent of propaganda infiltration in the EU, and a U.S. military assessment of the impact on strategy and policy decisions of deceptive information promulgated by Russia. While there is no shortage of press on the topic, these articles stood out as relevant to the Baltic region and to the broader scope of the problem.
The first article from the New York Times (NYT), titled “A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories,” describes how the awareness of Russian disinformation has grown in Sweden and how their reaction to it has evolved. There, and in Finland, the Kremlin’s main goal is to keep both countries out of NATO. Much of the propaganda is aimed at discrediting NATO, and the Swedish public, which wasn’t accustomed to their news sources being unreliable, has been left confused and unsure what to believe.
The next article is also from the NYT and portrays a similar situation in Finland from the perspective of a respected journalist who is trying to fight back, only to find herself the brunt of vicious attacks by pro-Russian trolls. The story also refers to the actions of Johan Bäckman, whose writings have shown pro-Putin and anti-Estonian bias. He published a controversial book in 2008, harshly criticizing the Estonian government for its anti-Russian policies and actions during the 2007 Bronze Soldier protests. The article can be found at: “Effort to Expose Russia’s ‘Troll Army’ Draws Vicious Retaliation.”
StopFake is a fact-checking website launched in March 2014 by the journalist community in Ukraine. Its mission is focused on information published about events in Ukraine, but the Kremlin’s widespread disinformation campaign throughout Europe has widened their area of interest to media across the continent. Their article, “Commission: Russian propaganda has deeply penetrated EU countries,” paints a clear and disturbing picture of the Russian campaign’s far-reaching tentacles.
Finally, Military.com’s article, “Russian Deception Delays Strategic Decisions, General Says,” shows how military planning can be delayed as planners sort through information to identify fact from deception. Higher-level policy decisions are also influenced by Russia’s actions and motives. No solution to the problem is offered, but experts agree that determining the depth and breadth of the problem and becoming more resilient to it are important first steps.
This brief overview by no means covers all aspects of Russia’s weaponization of information, which has a long history rooted in imperial Russia’s and the Soviet Union’s culture and methods. Countering Putin’s information war has become a priority for NATO and U.S. leaders and we are likely to learn more about it as resources are applied to develop effective strategy for countermeasures. In the meantime, the best we can do as consumers of the news and information presented by the sources we’re exposed to is to do diligent fact-checking of our own and be cautious about what we choose to believe.