Fake doves of peace in the European Parliament?

9 Jun 2024 | Reports

Voters’ decision-making processes are dependent on emotions. One of the techniques in Russia’s Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference (FIMI) efforts is to influence the emotional state of the voters. One of the techniques used is intimidation, which in recent months has been prominent in Russia’s FIMI activities. 

The Kremlin’s apparatus of influence targets fear-inducing information (fear of war or nuclear annihilation) in two basic lines of persuasion: 

  • war intimidation as a consequence of alleged provocative Western policies; 
  • nuclear intimidation as an alleged consequence of supporting Ukraine’s defence effort.  

These operations are used to damage public opinion about military donations to Ukraine and the security of Europeans. The operations in question can influence the electoral process by promoting an alternative to the threat, i.e., extreme left and right organizations with pro-Russian vulnerabilities that stand for “peace” – no more support for Ukraine. 

Case Study

One of the goals of information operations conducted by the Russian influence apparatus is to falsely portray the West’s opposition to Russia’s policy of aggression.  Russian government entities are using information about NATO’s support for Ukraine to falsely portray the international situation as a result of provocative Western policies. The internalization of Russian disinformation narratives is limited. Therefore Russia disrupts Western support for Ukraine by intimidating Western audiences. Depending on the specific audience in a given country, Russia tries to influence public opinion mainly using the following narratives and manipulation techniques: 

  1. Economic pressure: claiming that sending armaments to Ukraine is against the interests of the society in question and will bring with it an economic disaster, which will be reflected in the deterioration of the quality of life.’
  2. Empathy management: claiming that sending armaments to Ukraine results in increased and prolonging the suffering of the civilian population, and is therefore inhumane. It is better for the Ukrainian people that Russian government entities achieve their goals as soon as possible, then the war and suffering will cease. 
  • Psychological pressure through intimidation: claiming that supporting Ukraine’s defence effort will bring retaliation from the Russian Federation, including retaliation with nuclear weapons. Claiming that supporting a preemptively lost Ukrainian cause is not worth the security of major European cities.
  • Disinformation: diverse operations designed to misrepresent Western/NATO security policies. 

At the strategic level, the communication of the above narratives is handled by key representatives of the Russian government, such as Mariya Zakharova – Spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov – Spokesman for the President of the Russian Federation, and Dmitry Medvedev – Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. 

At the operational level, the narratives are promoted by movements operating in European countries, pretending to be a “local voice” and posing as anti-war 

After the first donation of military equipment to Ukraine, “spontaneous” movements began to spring up like mushrooms, proclaiming the need to conclude peace in Ukraine as soon as possible and “limit the suffering of the civilian population” by limiting or halting the supply of arms to Ukraine. They did not advocate limiting the flow of arms and ammunition to the aggressor state, but rather only to the Ukrainian people defending themselves from an unjustified invasion. Under the guise of pacifism, these movements seek to generate opposition to supporting Ukraine’s defence effort.  They propagate in favour of the aggressor state – the Russian Federation.

It is no coincidence that these goals work in favour of the aggressor state (Russia) and de facto mean a reduction in the possibility of resistance. First of all, it is important to understand that this is no new phenomenon. The method for anti-war posturing movements originated in Soviet Russia, and its first targets were US and NATO military bases in West Germany, which were established to deter the Soviet Union from possible attack and escalation of aggression. The KGB officers who fled to the West and the archives of the Western services over the years have provided us with a lot of information on the process of setting up sham anti-war movements or the penetration of genuine pacifist movements by the Russian services and the centrifugal change of their trajectory to anti-NATO looked like.   

in the context of the European elections, pro-Russian movements, whether externally or internally inspired (ideology) appeal to these schemes by preaching populist slogans in an attempt to discredit political opponents. 

Very quickly these narratives and influence techniques were “picked up” by European far-right and far-left parties with pro-Russian sensibilities. An example can be found in Germany where the far left (Die Linke) and the far right (AfD) simultaneously and with similar intensity use graphics with a dove of peace and manipulate public opinion using the aforementioned techniques. However, this phenomenon has its justification in the social sciences that study extremism and is called the horseshoe theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoe_theory). In Poland, far-right and extreme pro-Russian movements that began as “fake doves of peace” have transformed themselves into political parties. The three of them want to run for the European Parliament to represent Russia’s interests, fight democracy and deepen divisions in Europe. Populists across Europe, on the eve of elections, are trying to position themselves as:

  • Saviours of the nation;
  • Those who will stop the “madness” of those in charge of supporting Ukraine, as it will surely lead to an imminent disaster: whether economic or military;
  • They use and will continue to use cloying comparisons: the money spent on tanks could go to schools, hospitals, etc. 
  • They use conspiracy theories and other extreme claims, like those about eating worms, to hit the EU. 

Unfortunately, in times of unrest, when we feel anxious or threatened, we are much more easily manipulated. y These groups suggest simple solutions that promise us immediate solutions to complex problems. Solutions they promise will bring us relief. European security and stability will be restored when the aggressor and threats are repelled, not by pulling them in, meeting their demands and keeping our fingers crossed that they won’t have another immediately. We have already tried this once in history and everyone knows how it ended for Europe and Europeans. 

Let’s not let this Trojan horse into the European Parliament!   

Remember information can be a weapon and you can be its target! Don’t be deceived! 

Bibliography:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/04/21/germany-russia-interference-afd-wagenknecht/ 

https://jameslate.medium.com/how-the-soviet-union-helped-shape-the-modern-peace-movement-d797071d4b2c 

https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP85T00153R000300020014-2.pdf 

https://www.heritage.org/europe/report/moscow-and-the-peace-offensive

https://www.jstor.org/stable/45307818 

https://neweasterneurope.eu/2024/05/31/why-pacifism-kills/ 

https://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/26/world/kgb-officers-try-to-infiltrate-antiwar-groups.html 

https://etheses.lse.ac.uk/3479/

Author: Maksym Sijer INFO OPS Poland Foundation 
Correction: Saman Nazari Alliance4Europe. 

Text produced as part of cooperation in the “EU Election ISAC” project, which aims to identify and defend against disinformation threats ahead of the European Parliament elections.