Disinformation and Fanciful Tales

December 23, 2020 | Editors of Novel Science

DISINFO: We Don’t Assault Freedom of Expression in Russia

STORY: Why are Latvian citizens kept in custody, why are they threatened with legal persecution? They have shared pictures and exercised self-expression. What is wrong with that?

Russia finds the approach needlessly brutal and does not practice such censorship. Everyone writes where they want and what they want in Russia.

DISPROOF: Alexei Navalny would disagree. The leading political opponent to Putin nearly died earlier this year when a Russian agent put a toxic agent in his underwear. Navalny survived and got his assailant to admit it on the phone earlier this week by calling him and impersonating a high-ranking Russian aide.

Video: Navalny’s Gets Assassin to Incriminate Himself by Impersonating A Superior Officer


Recurring pro-Kremlin narrative aimed at portraying Russia as protector of freedom of speech and the press.

Contrary to the claim, the Kremlin organizes regular briefings with the leading media outlets to hand out instructions on how to write and about what and independent journalists are subjected to frequent threats, attacks and prosecution if not more.

According to the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Russia is in 149th place out of 180 countries. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 83 journalists and have killed media representatives in Russia since 1993. Out of them, 38 have been murdered directly for being engaged in investigative journalism related to corruption, politics, and human rights violations. According to the report, the murders can be traced to the Government. According to Reporters Without Borders, pressure on the independent media, blocking websites, and draconian laws became even more severe in the last years. Leading independent news outlets either ended up in the governmental control or were shut down under suspicious circumstances. That comes in addition to the 2020 report by “RWB that states that “at least 37 Russian professional journalists have been killed in connection with their work since 2000,” compared with 40 reporters killed in 1992-9

The Russian parliament conversely passed a law in 2019 criminalizing “public insult of a representative of power” and stipulating up to one year of “corrective labor” (i.e. penal colony) upon conviction (Art. 319). Although the law criminalizes not only insults directed at the Russian president, half of all cases (51 out of 100) and three-quarters of all convictions (38 out of 51) between March 2019 and March 2020 concerned individuals who criticism including at least two journalists. See here and here


A variation on this is playing out right now.

A data scientist who took issue with data she claimed was manipulated in the state of Florida, received a visit from police with a warrant. DeSantis has said she was fired because “she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors,” USA TODAY reports. In the case of scientists, they have a duty to speak the truth, and dismissal for defending information integrity is telling. 

Although there was no reason to suspect she would be violent, police were filmed pointing their guns at both her and her children. 

The highly-publicized search and seizure, for which the state of Florida is now facing a lawsuit, drew outrage from Americans. It also drew the Russian state media. 


Sarasota attorney Ron Filipkowski, the now-former Republican who was reappointed by DeSantis to the 12th Judicial Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission last year, had this to say: 

“I have handled a lot of these kinds of cases in my career, and generally, the way that this statute is used, is to prosecute people who are hacking into other people’s systems to steal their identity, to steal their money, to crash their servers, to cause some sort of harm to that person or entity, which is not present here.”

Filipkowski resigned after he reviewed the warrant and said the raid was “unconscionable.” 

DISINFO: The West Wants to Discredit Sputnik V Vaccine

STORY: Claims the West is spending money to discredit Russian vaccine Sputnik V and that they link this to a NATO effort to detain Russia. The false narrative asserts that we will discredit the vaccine using “pseudo-analytical researches” and fake testimonials about the danger of the vaccine.

The creation of the vaccine is part of national policy and security. Russia asserts that Western efforts to discredit the vaccine are part of a fight between Russia and NATO, and especially with the US.

DISPROOF: The messages are part of a disinformation campaign to promote the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and discredit the Western vaccine, which launched after Sputnik V’s approval met skepticism and criticism from international and Russian specialists. The west has not campaigned against the Russian vaccine.

Credible evidence says Russia may have pushed scientists and researchers to be the first to develop a vaccine, raising concerns about the safety and efficacy of Sputnik V. For further debunking, see Polygraph.

RELATED: Other messages about Sputnik V have claimed Western versions are more dangerous because private businesses developed them, driven by profits. Private companies made them, and yes, they must generate an income, but this venture is not only about profits. Several companies have pledged not to profit from the vaccine. The positive press likely motivates companies taking part.

Selected region


NYTimes Vaccine Tracker | Dec 21, 2020

The corrupt “big pharma” trope is a frequent theme in Russian disinformation, dating back to the time of the Cold War. They successfully convinced countries that Americans were responsible for HIV, and also that Americans harvested adopted children’s organs.

Currently, Russia is pushing the idea that Sputnik V is a target of a corporate Cold War. The EU’s decision not to purchase the Sputnik V relates to the concerns about safety, rather than anti-Russian sentiment, but Russia is likely looking to sell the vaccine and so needs to discredit concerns. 

Sputnik Lithuania
News Front – German

DISINFO: Germany’s COVID-19 Situation Is Worsening Because of Migrants

STORY: The COVID-19 situation in Germany is worsening because the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, where migrants from Turkey, Albania, and Arabic countries live, refuse restrictions.

DISPROOF: This story uses two popular pro-Kremlin narratives. The first one is about the West not being able to cope with the pandemic, and the second one is claiming anything negative is related to migrants.

A poll recently showed an overwhelming majority of people in Germany support current regulations aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus or favor even stricter rules. A mere 10% considered the current regulations to be over-the-top. That’s who often makes headlines, but they are a small minority.

No evidence has tied case increases to any migrants’ breaking restrictions. Kreuzberg has a low infection rate and migrant residents. Another district, Steglitz-Zehlendorf, has few migrants but the highest rate of infection.

SIMILAR STORY: “Refugees from Greek camps will jeopardize Germany’s health and safety“–this story is likewise devoid of evidence and most likely aimed at stoking discord.

Polnyi contact – Radio Vesti

Image: NATO StratCom CoE

The report Russia’s Footprint in the Nordic-Baltic Information Environment presents Russia’s activities in the disinformation landscape in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden—the Nordic-Baltic region.


Pro-Kremlin Media Narratives

The report summarizes narratives about the Nordic-Baltic countries (NB8) that the Kremlin is trying to promote internationally and how have they changed. This includes the pro-Kremlin media—Sputnik, RT, and Pervyi Kanal—and compares findings in the year 2016 with 2018.


Narratives present in both years:

  • Refugees and migrants as a destabilizing factor
  • The Nord Stream 2 project will not fail
  • Child welfare issues in the NB8
  • The idea of a Russian threat is ridiculous
  • Radical Islam is a destabilizing factor
  • Rise of far-right nationalists
  • Islamic culture is a destabilizing factor
  • Finland and Russia are good partners
  • NB8 countries discriminate against minorities
  • Some NB8 countries glorify Nazi collaborators
  • May 9 is commemorated around the world
  • NATO lures Finland and Sweden into joining the Alliance

Several new narratives emerged and old ones, broadened. The claim “Russia does not agree that the Soviet Union occupied the Baltics,” from 2016 morphed into “Baltic people disrespect the Great Patriotic War and the Soviet legacy.”

Not present in the 2016 study was the Soviet-era term shpionomaniya or ‘spy mania’, implying groundless fears of Soviet espionage in the West. They revived this ridiculing expression in 2018 in connection to the poisoning of the Russian ex-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury 2018 and the expelling of Russian diplomats by many countries.

Russophobia and anti-Russian sentiment, closely linked with the ’spy mania’, comes from the old narrative that the West conspires to make Russia a scapegoat for everything. In 2018, Russia claimed NATO threatened security in Europe and claims that some countries have developed to absurd extremes by fostering a very liberal understanding of human rights. Human Rights have remained the same since 1950.


Information Laundering

The report concludes with a deep-dive into information laundering operations. Similar to money laundering, false information legitimized by filtering it through a network of intermediaries—fringe bloggers are a frequent method Russia uses for the US. Bloggers and writers frequently have no idea they are spreading Russian disinformation.

An analysis of 570 single actors across 52 representative laundering cases revealed laundering in all NB8 countries, with domestic actors enabling the spread of Kremlin influence within the country and across the region. Several countries have issues with right-wing extremists enabling and furthering Kremlin disinformation because it advantages them.

Outlets, offering content in English and hiding their connections to Moscow, are an important segment of the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem. The EU has written about South Front, the Strategic Culture Foundation, and the Journal of New Eastern Outlook. Sometimes, those outlets function as “information laundering” mechanisms, making it easier for an international audience to stomach pro-Kremlin disinformation. In other cases, they function as piggy banks for various fringe activists: anti-Semitistsanti-vaxxers, anti-western Westerners.

The Kremlin happily supports activists abroad, giving a platform to xenophobiahomophobiafascism, or conspiracy theories. An entire Community of Collapse has developed Kremlin Cowboys, fed by the Kremlin, permanently hungry and impatiently demanding more and more and even expressing discontent with their masters.



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