Independent Russian media is reporting that anti-Western disinformation is making surprising inroads in eastern Europe, a region once dominated by Moscow and with a deep resentment of Russia. According to a Moscow Times report:
February 23, 2022 In eastern Europe, a region once dominated by Moscow and with deep resentment of Russia, anti-Western disinformation is making surprising inroads as the Ukraine crisis deepens. In recent weeks, videos have circulated online in the region, supposedly showing Ukrainian troops getting ready for an invasion or entering Russian territory — claims rejected as false by Kyiv. AFP Fact Check found some of these videos showed unrelated military drills filmed years earlier. Some of the footage came from 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, while another was a 2018 video masquerading as a BBC report. Some fakes “portray NATO as the one being responsible for the current situation, while Russia is supposedly just resisting long-standing efforts to threaten its security,” said Bohumil Kartous, a spokesman for the Czech Elves, an online vigilante group. “This resonates with a certain segment of the population,” he added, referring to the Czech Republic, which has sent ammunition to help Ukraine. “For some, it builds on similar earlier claims and cements their conviction. For others, it creates a sense of insecurity which in turn creates resistance to the (Czech) government’s efforts to help Ukraine defend itself,” he said. Many misleading posts portray the Ukrainian government as corrupt, neo-Nazi and russophobic. That kind of rhetoric is “straight out of Putin’s mouth,” according to Frantisek Vrabel, the founder and CEO of Prague-based Semantic Visions, which identifies potential disinformation based on the use of language patterns online. Vrabel told AFP that the sheer amount of anti-Ukrainian and anti-NATO rhetoric increased 75 times online since last October in the Czech Republic alone and has replaced Covid-19 as the main topic of disinformation.
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The Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) recently reported on a study examining the susceptibility to malign foreign influence in eight Central European and Western Balkan countries. The study identified the following key factors as playing an essential role in facilitating malign foreign influence across Central Europe and the Western Balkans:
- Post-communist legacy
- Role of the Orthodox Church
- Information environments affected by rampant disinformation and information manipulation
- Deeply embedded cultures of corruption