News outlet: Vesti.lv
Date: 15 March 2016
Title: Западу советуют отказаться от „параноидальной пропаганды”
Author: Анатолий Тарасов
The false fact or narrative: On 15 March, Vesti.lv published an article titled “The West is advised to restrain from ‘paranoid propaganda.’” The story was based on a column by global affairs scholar Mark Galeotti in The Guardian, a British newspaper. The Vesti.lv writer said Galeotti had argued that Kremlin propaganda is “rooted in a belief that the West has let it down and wants to prevent it from attaining global stature.” Likewise, Vesti.lv quoted Galeotti as saying “many accusations toward Russia are unsubstantiated.” It is also highlighted Galeotti’s suggestion that “if the West aspires to higher standards, they should acknowledge that demonizing Russia and choosing counterproductively belligerent policy plays against them.”
The truth: The Vesti.lv story is based on an inaccurate translation of Galeotti’s opinion piece, changing the meaning to the original article. Firstly, Galeotti does not urge the West to restrain from “paranoid propaganda” as the title of the Vesti.lv article suggests. Instead, Galeotti says the West should understand Russia better, which “will deprive the Kremlin of some of the best material for its own paranoid propaganda” [sic]. This is the only place where the notion of “paranoid propaganda” appears in the original text. Notably, in the article itself—unlike the title—Vesti.lv correctly attributes the “paranoid propaganda” reference to the Kremlin.
Secondly, regarding the need to obtain a more nuanced understanding of how and why the Kremlin weaponizes information, Galeotti insists that Russian propaganda is rooted in a belief that the West “wants to prevent Moscow from attaining what Vladimir Putin regards as its rightful global stature.” The Vesti.lv version omits Galeotti’s reference to Putin (“what Vladimir Putin regards as”) though it does attribute to Putin—and not Russia in general—opinions on the world order and implicit responsibility for such an opinion. In addition, Galeotti’s column didn’t argue that “many accusations toward Russia are unsubstantiated.” While he mentions a few instances such as the refugee crisis and the rise of right-wing extremism in Europe in which the role of Russian propaganda has been exaggerated, he also argues that “Moscow does do more than its share of bad things, from annexing Crimea to turning a blind eye to assassinations and corruption at home.” But this critical opinion of Russia does not appear in the Vesti.lv news story.
Finally, Galeotti’s column does not suggest that demonizing Russia and choosing counterproductively belligerent policy plays against the West itself. The original argument containing the idea of “counterproductively belligerent policy” states something else: “The West rightly aspires to higher standards. […] The debasement of much public discussion of Russia does us a disservice, and helps explain why Western policy towards Moscow has so often been counter-productively belligerent and absent of nuance.” A comparison between the original excerpt and the translated one reveals that Vesti.lv has invented a conditional construction of Western aspirations (“if the West aspires to higher standards”) which weakens the convincing power of the author’s premise. The original excerpt has also a rather different focus; instead of illuminating the unsubstantiated demonization of Russia, it focuses on the Western reluctance to invoke a more thorough public debate on Russia, which in the context of Galeotti’s column should be read as an invitation to look for better approaches how to appease Russia. Galeotti certainly does not advocate the idea that the West should reconcile with Russia, as the Vesti.lv article implicitly suggests.
Technique: This disinformation is based on an intentionally inaccurate and selective translation of an article published by a prominent Western newspaper.
Audience: The target group of this disinformation is Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority as well as the citizens of Russia.
Analysis: This disinformation highlights the practice of reinterpreting the content of Western media to make it completely or partly sympathetic toward Russian policy and ideological stances—a practice regularly employed by Latvia’s Russian-language media and Russian media as well. In this particular case, Galeotti’s column, as reinterpreted by Vesti.lv, helps support the argument that aggressive Western rhetoric prevents a civilized dialogue with Russia—an argument often heard in Russian public diplomacy and media discourse. In this case, Russian disinformation strategists attempt to use every expression by a respectable Western expert that includes even the slightest benevolence toward Moscow. By removing these expressions from their context, the pro-Kremlin media misuse Western discourses to demonstrate how prominent Western scholars support Russia and criticize their own political elites.