This Week in Info War

Editor’s Note: 7 August 2016

Unlike Soviet-era propaganda, Russia’s contemporary methods of information warfare do not crudely promote the Kremlin agenda. Instead, as demonstrated by CEPA’s new report by Edward Lucas and Peter Pomeranzev, Winning the Information War: Techniques and Counterstrategies to Russian Propaganda in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia calibrates these methods to advance its interests by being confusing, befuddling and distracting. Russia aims to exploit ethnic, linguistic, regional, social and historical tensions while promoting anti-systemic causes, extending their reach and giving them a spurious appearance of legitimacy.

My CEPA colleague, Urve Eslas—who monitors the media scene in Estonia—has devised an instructive typology for analyzing the methods Russian information sources use in her country to accomplish the Kremlin’s goals. They include so-called “gathering sites” like Baltnews and Rubaltic whose content is mostly local news. Their main goal is to collect news that discredits Estonia, create disinformation and then publish it, so that other Russian-language or overseas media channels also can disseminate it.

The Kremlin also utilizes local distribution channels like MK Estonia, Seti.ee, PBK and Stolitsa whose content also is mostly local news. These outlets not only spread disinformation about Estonia but also about other states or events; they appear to target mostly Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority.

Likewise, the Kremlin propaganda machine uses Russian-language global distribution channels like NTV Mir and RTR Planeta, and websites like Eurasian Daily, RIA News and Regnum which deals mostly with international news. Estonia is infrequently mentioned. Their main goal is to create and spread disinformation about international current events. They target mostly people in Russia, as well as Russians living abroad.  

Last on the list are English-language distribution channels like RT and Sputnik International which also mention Estonia infrequently. These outlets aim to create and spread disinformation about international current events, and are targeted primarily to international media consumers.

This week’s CEPA briefs show that Eslas’s typology applies to other countries as well, though none fit neatly. A Polish-language web portal, for instance, picked up a story from the Russian web portal Sputnik that distorted a recent Atlantic Council report, arguing that NATO cannot defend Poland from attack. This story spreads information about international events, but also targets Polish readers. Another brief, from Latvia, tries to exacerbate divisions among linguistic communities by using a vandal’s attack on a war monument to accuse Latvia of dishonoring Soviet heroes. Finally, a Russian-language story from Lithuania that accuses the Baltic states of destabilizing foreign policies targets Russia-speaking segments of society in those countries.

The impact of Russian information policy on the three Baltic countries it targets is unclear; so are the media-consuming habits of their Russian-speaking minorities. We also know nothing about the audience for RT and Sputnik in many countries. But analyses such as this one provide valuable insights into how we might measure the effectiveness of Russian media attacks.