Russia’s disinformation ecosystem is expanding. The tentacles of pro-Kremlin propaganda on the conflict in Ukraine have stretched across Central and Eastern Europe, with a growing number of websites that, in addition to systematically reporting news reported from Russia, advocate the rhetoric of Alt-right movements imported from the United. According to the report published by the “cross-border” newspaper VSquare, in several EU countries the media manipulation of the fate of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is becoming increasingly invasive. These are the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Germany.
The report shows how the websites observed in the investigation directly report the propaganda speculations from Russian sources such as NewsFront, SouthFront, Katehon, Geopolitica.ru, The Strategic Culture Foundation, New Eastern Outlook, Ruskaya Vesna or others still considered in the orbit of online disinformation such as the English-language blog Zero Hedge, the American Breibart and the Canadian Global Research.
Through the web analysis services Ahrefs and SimilarWeb, VSquare has detected a significant concentration of pro-Kremlin sites in Bulgaria, where Zero Hedge has registered its domain. In Slovenia and Croatia, however, the disinformation of the Alt-right is making its way. While in Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia there is an increasing number of contents tainted by both pro-Russian and Alternative Right rhetoric circulating.
The provision of the European Council
According to VSquare, therefore, the Kremlin channels are only the tip of the iceberg of media manipulation. In December 2022, the European Council started the process of suspending the broadcasting licenses of the state channels Ntv/Ntv-Mir, Rossiya-1, Ren-Tv and Channel One, considered under the “direct or indirect control of the leadership of the Federation and used for their continued and concerted military propaganda and disinformation activities, which legitimize Russian aggression and undermine support for Ukraine.”
The Serbia-Kosovo crisis
Russian disinformation has also reached one of the most volatile fronts in Europe. The tensions between Serbia and Kosovo they worsened during 2022, forcing the EU leaders to summon the Serbian president Vučić and the Kosovar premier Kurti to diplomatically resolve the risks associated with the “incendiary rhetoric” which had already degenerated into violent episodes in the past. The plate crisis in August and the arrest of a Serbian policeman aggravated relations between the two nations until Belgrade announced an immediate military mobilisation. The alarm for a new escalation in the Balkans then subsided following the reopening of the borders by Kosovo.
Furthermore, according to the report published by Balkan Free Media (Bfm) – an organization that monitors information warfare in the Balkans – the majority of Serbian citizens said they were in favor of a political and military alliance with the Putin government (a figure that has already emerged in a 2021 survey). So also several national media. In the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, the tabloid ‘Informer’ headlined “Ukraine attacks Russia”. “The battles for media freedom might seem insignificant – said the director of BFM Antoinette Nikolova – but they help to combat the serious decline of the information environment that makes Kosovo a perfect target for Russia and for those who want to poison the political climate of that area”.
Russian disinformation makes its way into Europe. 13 countries at risk of manipulation – Primaonline