Briefs

Estonia: 1-7 August 2016

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Pro-Kremlin political commentator Anatoly Wasserman, writing in Izvestia.ru, has claimed that the real reason Russian athletes were banned from Olympics is because Anglo-Saxon civilization is attempting to restore its influence in continental Europe. After Brexit, he said, the influence of that civilization is weakening, and the World Anti-Doping Agency is one of the remaining tools available to restore Anglo-Saxon power.

Event: Writing 5 August in the pro-Kremlin, Russian-language website Izvestia.ru, political commentator Anatoly Wasserman argued that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)—whose 16 July report concluded that the Russian government had implemented a program of drug cheating on an unprecedented scale—released that report not to highlight the athletes’ violations but to restore Anglo-Saxon influence in continental Europe, which is fading due to Brexit. The article claimed that WADA is Anglo-Saxon civilization’s tool for taking control of world sports, and that with its report—which allegedly contains no evidence— WADA violates the basic principles of justice and jeopardizes not only athletics but Europe’s entire civilization. The article was reprinted in Stena.ee, an Estonian Russian-language web portal.

The false fact or narrative: Izvestia.ru incorrectly argues that the WADA reports contains no facts, and that it’s an attempt to restore Anglo-Saxon influence in continental Europe.

Reality on the ground: The WADA report presents substantial evidence that Russian athletes not only used performance-enhancing drugs, but that Russia’s Ministry of Sports directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athletes’ analytical results, with the participation and assistance of the Federal Security Service, CSP (Center of Sports Preparation of National Teams of Russia) and doping control laboratories in Moscow and Sochi. There is no evidence the report was an attempt to restore Anglo-Saxon influence in continental Europe.

Techniques: No proof; conspiracy theories; narrative laundering; denying facts; ridiculing, discrediting and diminution; false dilemma.

Audience: The Stena.ee article got 1,110 clicks, probably Russian-speakers in Estonia.

Analysis: This case is remarkable not only because it uses yet another conspiracy theory to blur the facts of the Russian doping scandal, but also because it offers insight into why public opinion in Russia has become “infected” with anti-Western conspiratorial worldviews. Other examples: the US wants to dominate the world; it created the Zika virus as a biological weapon; the West “invented” the Panama papers to attack Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Partly as a result, according to an October 2015 survey by the respected Levada Center, Russians’ attitudes towards the US have become much more negative in last few years. In 2013, only 17 percent of respondents considered US-Russian relations tense or hostile; this had grown to 74 percent by 2015. In addition, 71 percent now consider the US global role to be negative.

Anglo-Saxon “civilization” refers to the English-speaking societies of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand—areas sometimes called the anglosphere. But to some Russian philosophers, “Anglo-Saxon civilization” or “Atlantic civilization” usually means the US and Britain. Russian political thinker Alexander Dugin, an advocate of neo-Eurasianism, describes in his book The Foundations of Geopolitics the “ineluctable” conflict between two geopolitical realities: Eurasia (which includes Russia), and the Atlantic countries (led by the United States). The conflict between these two, he argues, is inevitable; the Atlantic countries aim nothing less than to destroy Eurasia and achieve world domination.

Description of sources: Stena.ee is a Russian-language news portal registered by Estonian citizen Vyacheslav Vorobev. Most of its content is not original but rather picked up from other Russian-language news sites with attribution. All registered users can post their news to the site. According to hypestat.com, stena.ee gets about 3,000 unique visitors per day.

Izvestia.ru is the website of propaganda newspaper Izvestia, which is owned by National Media Group, a Moscow-based media holding company with close ties to the Kremlin. It also owns 25 percent of Russia’s top-rated Channel One (the Russian government owns the other 75 percent) and several other TV channels, radio channels and newspapers in Russia.

Anatoly Wasserman is a Ukrainian, pro-Kremlin political commentator. In 1994, he ran for the position of deputy in the Ukrainian parliament. After Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Wasserman became increasingly critical of the Ukrainian government. On 27 January 2016, he received Russian citizenship by a Putin presidential decree. He is also on the party list for “A Just Russia”—a social democratic political party—in September’s Duma elections.