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The Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security has analysed the aggregated monitoring of narratives concerning international sanctions against Russia promoted in 11 European countries.
Monitoring of pro-Kremlin narratives from June 13 to August 7, 2022 is carried out by a number of think tanks and research groups in Central and Eastern Europe. The monitoring incudes Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
What narratives about sanctions are spread by Russian propaganda?
One of the main narratives of the Russian propaganda that “Russia is a global power that must be respected by the West” manifests itself through four sub-narratives in the context of sanctions: “EU will go cold and hungry,” “EU has shot itself in the foot,” “American economy is also suffering, which is why they are looking for ways to resume business with Russia,” and “sanctions do not harm Russia but make it stronger instead.”
“The EU will go cold and hungry”
Russian propagandists talk about a growing inflation, a catastrophic energy crisis, high prices for food and petrol, as well as some other negative consequences for the West as a result of the sanctions. Their forecasts are especially negative in the context of the upcoming winter. All attempts to diversify energy and food supply, propagandists believe, are pointless. In this way, they appeal to the fears of citizens, and in order to achieve the desired effect on their audience, they often manipulate numbers and exaggerate.
“The EU has shot itself in the foot”
With this narrative, the propagandists emphasise the dissatisfaction of most European citizens with the consequences of the sanctions. This is how they set up a tactic of alleged pressure from down up. They also try to create a majority effect, making it seem like companies and EU citizens themselves are demanding that their governments abolish sanctions, since they refuse to put up with the price growth and economic instability.
“The US economy is also suffering and is looking for ways to resume business with Russia”
According to this narrative, the US is leading a kind of double life: on the one hand, it is pushing Europe to insist on sanctions, but on the other hand, the US is trying to maintain trade with Russia. However, this narrative is based on fake stories that supposedly “expose” secret American negotiations and trade agreements with Moscow.
“Sanctions do not harm Russia but make it stronger instead.”
Despite all efforts of the Russian propaganda, sanctions are still tangible for Russia and its economy, so using this narrative, Russia is trying to “save” its primary narrative of “a global power that must be respected by the West.” That is why they tell stories about how Russia will easily find alternative markets for their goods, such as China or India. Receiving payments in alternative currencies, they say, will make its economy more diverse and sustainable.
In addition to these narratives, we also see transformed global narratives:
– “The West provoked Russia to attack Ukraine” → “sanctions provoke conflict”
– and “The US is waging a war against Russia” → “sanctions are part of the US war against Russia.”
“Sanctions are part of the US war against Russia, and the EU follows”
The narrative says that “the strategic goal of the US is to weaken Russia, including through the use of sanctions.” The EU is portrayed as a “puppet of the US” that does not care about the price that European citizens will pay, and sanctions are an element of the US-Russian economic war at the expense of Europeans.
“Sanctions provoke conflict”
With the narrative “sanctions provoke conflict,” Russia keeps attempting to find a justification for its invasion into Ukraine. And all this seems to have not only become a reason for the attack, but is still the reason for the further escalation of hostilities.
What are the peculiarities in each of the studied countries?
Slovakia, Hungary. Among the EU member states included in the monitoring, the highest percentage of disinformation messages on the subject of sanctions (up to 31% of all articles published by pro-Kremlin channels about Ukraine) was observed in Slovakia and Hungary.
However, the causes of overexposure differ between these countries. In Slovakia and Hungary, information drives are fuelled by their own political forces. For example, in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán regularly makes statements against sanctions, which are picked up and broadcast by pro-Russian messengers throughout the region.
In Slovakia, some Russian-friendly opposition politicians are using the topic of sanctions to criticise the current government and use it to promote their Eurosceptic agenda.
Georgia. A trend similar to Slovakia and Hungary is also observed in Georgia. Leading actors, including government officials at the highest level, repeat Russian narratives that the West wants to drag Georgia into war (to open a “second front” against Russia) and accuse opposition parties of abetting this conspiracy. Although the topic of sanctions emerges quite often, it rather plays the role of a supplement in anti-Western rhetoric. Such messages are intended to confirm “Russia’s inevitable victory” and “the ineffectiveness of the West’s approach to the Russian-Ukrainian war.”
Bulgaria, North Macedonia. In Bulgaria and North Macedonia, pro-Kremlin voices become the basis for undermining sanctions. Statements from Russian or Western politicians and experts with anti-Western rhetoric are a common technology in local messengers. In Bulgaria, the sanctions are also mentioned, mainly as proof that the country chose the “wrong side” by agreeing to be one of the “puppets” of the West.
Poland, the Czech Republic. Anti-sanctions messages are not too common in Poland and the Czech Republic. The identified narratives regarding sanctions in the Czech Republic were observed in the context of energy issues and domestic political topics. In Poland, Russian propaganda is more focused on distorted historical narratives with the aim of discrediting Ukraine, its citizens and relations with Poland. So while there were messages casting doubts on sanctions in June, they were few and not too popular among the audience.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. In the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian language segments, the topic of sanctions is also not very common (does not exceed 8% of all messages). In Lithuania, for example, sanctions are primarily discussed in the context of the Kaliningrad transit dispute. Although the issue was resolved diplomatically, the dangers of the so-called “anti-Russian” policy continued to be widely discussed, and economic sanctions were cited as a direct source of threats to Lithuania’s security.
However, the topic of sanctions is more widespread in the Russian-speaking segment of the Baltic States. Propagandists try to find every possible explanation why sanctions should be abandoned. Among other things, they refer to the price growth for gas and heating and claim that trade and transportation connections with Russia are critical for the local economy.
Ukraine. The main goal of anti-sanction messages in the Ukrainian pro-Russian segment is to undermine the morale of citizens and trust in the Western partners. All the narratives are about a “weak and divided West,” the propagandists claim that “Western support will end very soon and Ukraine will be left face to face with an economic collapse”, while Russia is portrayed as “a strong adversary completely unaffected by sanctions.” The regularly distributed fakes claim that “Western creditors intend to use high-interest loans which will enslave Ukraine or give them control over the Ukrainian land or other resources.”