Kremlin disinformation: dismiss, distort, distract, and dismay – at home and abroad


While Russia is employing active measures and perpetuating disinformation abroad, it is also using allegations of fake news to silence domestic critics and analysts who query the official ideological narrative.

Yuri Dmitriev spent years locating and exhuming the mass graves of people executed during Josef Stalin’s Great Terror. Eight decades after one of Russia’s darkest chapters, it is his reputation, not Stalin’s, that is on trial, Reuters reports:

Fellow historians, rights activists and some of Russia’s leading cultural figures say Dmitriev has been framed because his focus on Stalin’s crimes has become politically untenable under President Vladimir Putin. They say his real crime is dedicating himself to documenting Stalin’s 1937-38 Great Terror, in which nearly 700,000 people were executed, according to conservative official estimates.

His arrest followed close on the heels of the release by Memorial, the organisation for which he works, of a list of more than 40,000 Stalin-era secret policemen, a move that raised an outcry among some of their descendants. With a national election due in March that Putin is expected to contest and win, anything that jars with a Kremlin narrative that Russia must not be ashamed of its past is unwelcome.

“It’s unfortunately not a one-off case,” said prominent historian Nikolai Svanidze, who sits on an official body that relays human rights concerns to Putin. “The authorities are taking a hard look at historians. They regard history, or our past, as an ideological selection process. Honest historians are seen as political opponents.”

When blogger Vladimir Luzgin reposted an article on social media which said Stalin’s Soviet Union conspired with Nazi Germany to invade Poland in 1939, a court found him guilty of distributing false information and fined him 200,000 roubles ($3,368.43), Reuters adds.

“During Soviet times, the KGB launched deliberate disinformation campaigns, like planting the idea that President Kennedy was killed by the CIA,” notes analyst Nick Schifrin. “Today, Western governments accuse the FSB of launching the same kinds of campaigns, except, instead of offering communism as an ideological alternative, they are waging a kind of hybrid war against their enemies, with a new kind of soldier, hackers.”

Russian propaganda is actually very predictable and relatively simple, based on the four D’s – dismiss, distort, distract, and dismay, the Atlantic Councils Ben Nimmo tells Schifrin:

You get your own people to write this, but then you pretend it’s not your people, it’s just some do-gooders in Russian society. All the different parts of your machine then amplify it, and what you’re doing is you’re pushing out in a dozen different languages on all the different platforms there are, one story. And what that story is what the Kremlin wants it to be.

The attempted coup in Montenegro is a further illustration of Russia’s malign influence in Europe, CSIS analyst Lisa Sawyer Samp told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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