Briefs

Estonia: 25-31 July 2016

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The Russian-language propaganda website Politikus.ru claimed 21 July that the real reason Russian athletes were banned from the upcoming Summer Olympics is the West’s inferiority complex. After losing prestige following Russia’s intervention in Syria, watching Russia win the most gold medals would be doubly humiliating—so the West strikes back however it can. 

Event: In a 21 July commentary on the decision of the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport to ban the Russian Olympic team from the 2016 Summer Games in 2016 following doping violations, the pro-Kremlin Russian-language website Politikus.ru argued that the real reason for the court’s verdict was the West’s desire to regain prestige after Russia’s intervention in Syria. The article, “Western sport is dead, long live Russian sport,” claims it would be “doubly humiliating” for the West to watch Russia win most of the gold medals in this month’s Olympics, so it does anything it can to strike back. It also claimed that the United States needs to restore people’s faith in US athletes. By excluding Russian rivals, the Americans can win more medals.  The article was reprinted in Seti.ee, a Russian-language web portal based in eastern Estonia.

The false fact or narrative: The Politikus.ru article incorrectly cites the West’s intent to take revenge against Moscow for its intervention in Syria as its reason for banning Russian athletes from the upcoming Olympics.

Reality on the ground:  A report published 16 July by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) conclusively found that the Russian government had implemented a drug-cheating program on an unprecedented scale. There is no evidence that the court’s verdict was an attempt to get back at Russia for its involvement in Syria—or for any other reason.  

Techniques
  • No proof; 
  • conspiracy theories.

Audience:  The Seti.ee article drew 1,472 readers, probably Russian-speakers in Estonia.

Analysis: This story is noteworthy not only because it uses conspiracy theories, but also because it helps spread the narrative that Russia has been successful in Syria. This is linked to Russia’s campaign to convince the West to ease sanctions punishing Moscow for intervening in Ukraine, and to work together to fight terrorism. But as the Atlantic Council’s report, Putin at War In Syria, states, Russia has not focused its Syrian air campaign on Islamic State terrorists, calling into question its claimed intention to fight ISIS in Europe.  

Description of sources: Seti.ee is the Russian-language, non-official web portal of Narva, Estonia’s third-largest city. Located at the eastern tip of Estonia near the Russian border, Narva is home to 62,000 people.  Almost 94 percent of them are Russian speakers, and 82 percent are ethnic Russians. Almost 47 percent of the city’s inhabitants are Estonian citizens, 36.3 percent are citizens of Russia, and 15.3 percent of the population has undefined citizenship. Seti.ee is owned and financed by Estonian businessman Roman Gribov. Seti.ee was one of the first web portals in eastern Estonia to be directed to a local audience. Most of its content is not original but is based on content from other channels, nor does it clearly distinguish between journalists and non-journalists. Anyone who has an account can use the web portal to publish an article. Most of its authors write under pseudonyms. Seti.ee receives about 2,000 daily visits