December disinformation narratives published in national media related to foreign influence continue to be predominantly linked to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, with a new thesis claiming that the energy destruction of the Ukrainian energy system is a necessity that will bring about peace faster. Concerning national coverage, apart from the disinformation related to vaccination, narratives connected with the anonimous threats and anti-NATO rhetoric, including the subtle messages “that we have taken the wrong side” can be noted.
Towards the end of December, the former Russian President and Prime-minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is seriously competing for the first place on the number of disinformative propaganda narratives, yet again came out with the newly packaged matrix claiming that ”Western alliances will cease to exist soon” which became obvious in the case of their ancient-long enemy Russia, and that the price would eventually be paid by the European citizens.
Many disagreements existed even before the so-called “common enemy”,
a status that is traditionally ascribed to Russia, wrote Medvedev in a column for Russian Gazette, as published by MKD.mk.
At the end of the column, Medvedev says that “he can only feel for the EU citizens”:
You will not be able to warm-up your homes with solidarity slogans for Ukraine, nor will you fuel up your car tanks. As usual, only the USA have a relative advantage, while the citizens of the EU are facing poverty and long-term suspense.
In the beginning of December, in terms of energy and related prices, a text was published in a Macedonian online medium with a modified title that created an opportunity for a disinformation narrative.
Specifically, it was related to the sales price of the American gas in Europe. The title of the article starts with:
“Growing Rage in the EU:…”
This article seems like a text created from a Politico piece published 24.11.2022 titled:
“Europe is accusing the USA for war profiting“. The Macedonian online medium publishes this analysis after ten days with an even more furious title that could be interpreted as the basis for the disinformation narrative that the EU and the USA are just about to terminate good relations due to the American profits secured from the exports of liquid gas. Such narratives were spread by Moscow in the last few months
(See Truthmeter analysis from October about the “fact” that the greatest victim of the Ukrainian war was the EU).
Dark Christmas message for Europeans by RT
24th December, before Christmas celebrations, a video messages was broadcasted by Moscow in such a propaganda context due to Western involvement in the war in Ukraine about the Europeans paying the highest price as a “greeting”. The video message was sent through the project RT, thereby comparing Christmas celebrations in 2021 and 2022 and the expectations of Europeans for Christmas 2023. The screen-writers decided to depict a peaceful idilic atmosphere in 2021, along with energy disruptions and shortages in 2022, yet the family remains calm overcoming all energy problems, until the fully apocalyptic expression of the family celebrations in 2023, suggesting a destroyed, war-affected home with a family having its pet hamster for dinner to survive.
The video ends with the message:
Merry anti-Russian Christmas! If your media doesn’t tell you where this is all going, everything is available on RT via VPN
Peace depended on, apparently, the recognition of the annexation of Ukrainian territory
Several times in the course of December, the Macedonian information area was penetrated by another narrative with disinformation potential from Moscow related to the peace in Ukraine. Specifically, the claim that peace can immediately go into force only if Ukraine and the West accept the new reality, the annexed territories from the country following the Russian invasion from 24.02.2022.
13th December 2022, Moscow’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov responded to the demand for withdrawing Russian military troops as a condition for peace of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy with the following answer:
Ukraine must consider the fact that Moscow added new territories to the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian side must bear in mind the new actual circumstances that occurred recently – that the Russian Federation has four new annexed territories. Progress is not possible without taking this reality into consideration”,
stated Kremlin’s Press Secretary, Peskov.
In the beginning of December, following the talks between the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Peskov used the same narrative i.e., withdrawal of Russian troops was out of question as a condition for a peaceful solution. This disinformative narrative build onto the first and main disinformation pattern of Russia, that claims that aggression was not carried out on Ukraine last February. Apparently, a special military operation was performed to protect the Russian population in the four newly annexed regions since they were threatened by the pro-Nazi Ukrainian regime that should be defeated, i.e., denazification of the country should be executed.
Such narratives in which the occupied needed to recognize occupied territories as a reality were certified towards the end of December by the Chief of Russian Diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov.
Our proposals for demilitarization and denazification of the territories controlled
by the regime, and removing Russia’s security threats thereof, including our newly acquired territories are well-known to the enemy. The meaning is simple. Meet the requirements for your own good. Otherwise, the Russian Army will make the decisions – said Lavrov.
A disinformation narrative and a disinformation related to the possible peace in Ukraine was sent by the Belorus President Aleksandr Lukashenko. The specifics, however, were connected to an old Russian narrative published for the first time as an editorial in the newspaper of the Chinese Army claiming that the Ukrainians were NATO’s ”minced meat”.
If they want to fight until the last Ukrainian or the last Pole or any other mercenery, that is their prerogative. For the time being, neither our secret service,
nor I see readiness to get involved in negotiations to end the conflict, said Lukashenko.
Russia spread similar disinformation in the beginning of December. NATO’s meeting in Bukarest towards the end of November was used by Russia to spread a disinformation narrative that NATO was the one that had a chance to restore peace in Ukraine, but did not accept it. First the spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused NATO, then the Chief of Diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov stated that:
The West has a “real chance” to avoid the conflict in Ukraine, but “instead it decided to discard Russia’s proposal to stop NATO’s enlargement and to agree on a special security status for Kyiv”.
Putin: Energy destruction of Ukraine – necessary for peace!?
Throughout December, Russia was shelling and rocketing intensively Ukrainian critical energy infrastructure, leaving 80 percent of the country in darkness and shivers in some circumstances. The Russian disinformation narrative for such procedures beyond warfare rules – since we are referring to, above all, civilian infrastructure – was clarified by Putin himself in his telephone conversation with the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, as a necessity, requirement and essential to achieve a diplomatic solution. More information can be found here.
Another subtle disinforamtion narrative from Moscow was spread, in the style “you did the same” pinpointing that NATO did the same in Serbia in 1999.
It is not up to Nuland to teach the World – USA and NATO were destroying energy networks, responded Maria Zakharova for Telegram, reminding the public about the attacks on Serbia in 1999.
This is a very subtle semi-information used as disinformation that such military tactics was legitimate. Indeed, NATO at a later stage from the bombing of Yugoslavia, within a single day, attacked 5 larger transformers enabling electricity supply from the power plants to the end-users in May 1999. Yet, the difference is that NATO did not destroy the transformers fully, but only incapacitated them temporally. According to NATO’s interpretation, the so-called “soft bombs” were used at the time i.e., special bombs filled with coal and intended to cause power outages. Unlike the current situation with the Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy targets and the ramifications on society, the debate of the Western public could not have been avoided and subsequently, New York Times at the time immediately published its position that by bombing the electrical infrastructure, “NATO overstepped its authority”. Although until end of June, NATO’s planes attacked 9 of the main Serbian power plants and approximately a dozen transformers and even though within one single day – 22nd June 1999 – 70 percent of Serbia was in the dark, the Serbian Power Economy was not hit even close as is the case of Russia’s hit on Ukraine.
More information on this can be found in the 6th chapter of the book published in 2001 “The Conflict Over Kosovo: Why Milosevic Decided to Settle When He Did” by Stephen T. Hosmer.
The disinformation narrative spread by Moscow was that NATO did the same thing, but does not clarify that unlike NATO, Russia was fully destroying energy infrastructure since October. Especially in November and throughout December the attacks were intensified and showed no intention to stop. Although NATO violated some of the Protocols of the Geneva Convention from 1949, during the 11-week bombing of targets in Yugoslavia, according to the acknowledgement and calculations of Belgrade, the Western military alliance fully destroyed 1 sub-station and two transmission lines out of a total of a 102 attacks on electrical power facilities, which debunked the Russian disinformation narrative that “NATO did the same” in 1999. In addition, that specific narrative does not take into consideration the most important part of the current events. Even if NATO did that in Serbia and in Iraq twenty or thirty years ago, that did not give Russia the right to brutally use its military arsenal against civilian targets in Ukraine and to claim that such an action was legitimate to reach peace sooner as interpreted by Putin himself.
Manipulations with prisoners from Russian jails
Russia made an attempt to disinform with a narrative about foreign prisoners who voluntarily take Russia’s side as to participate in the aggression in Ukraine with the ultimate goal of counteracting the negative information from such actions, while at the same time strengthening the narrative that it is leading a just war.
Specifically, a previously imprisoned student from Zambia, Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda, released from prison was killed on the Ukrainian fronts last November, while the information was published by Zambia demanding clarification from Russia. Russia responded through the leading person of the private fighting group “Wagner”, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who claims that he knew the person and that he was the hero who broke through the front first on 22nd September.
This unpleasant affair for Russia occurred after the amendments of the Law and when Vladimir Putin, by means of a Decree, granted amnesty to prisoners in Russian prisons provided that they voluntarily report for duty in the war. More information on this case can be found here and here. However, to make the Russian disinformation narrative even more unsuccessful, a character with suspicious background turned up at the same time, warning that “the gangs of Kadirov and the gangs of Wagner”were the real threat for Russia once the prisoners became members of the Wagner Group. More information about this can be found here and here.
In a similar fashion, but this time in the middle of December, Russia spread disinformative narrative that Kyiv was mobilizing and using Ukrainian female students to oppose Russia. Russian channels of Telegram spread the disinformation, but the journalists from the Ukrainian National Agency UKRINFORM denied the allegations. More about this disinformation, which was spread in the RNM as well, can be found here and here.
Number of casualties – disinformative element
Official Ukraine announced the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed in the beginning of last February when the Russian aggression began. That number, according to the data from Kyiv, is between 10 and 13 thousand. This information is convinient for creating disinformative narrative by the Russian side, especially since an American active general previously made an estimate of appriximately 100 thousand killed persons on the Ukrainian side. The same data was reported by the Head of the EC, Ursula fon der Leyen, but that part of her speech in the EP was retracted by the press-services of the EC later on which can be seen here.
After that, the EC explained the reason for retracting that part of her speech – because it referred to both killed and injured casualties.
National politicians were busy with the bomb-threats and the anti-NATO rhetoric
The main topics in the media sphere susceptible to disinformation, by definition, or those that are frequently used to disinform were related to the anonymous e-mail bomb-threats and anti-NATO rhetoric from the leader of a political party.
Threats via e-mail were registered end of October for the first time. With a moderate timetable, they were registered in November as well. They especially became more frequent in December. Although the authorities claimed that everything was done to catch the perpetrators, except for two separate cases – one in Kavadarci and one in Delcevo that were connected with national threat-senders – the main anonimous perpetrators that sent threats on daily basis during work hours to schools, trading centres, governmental institutions and the airport in Skopje, were not discovered.
All this leaves room for a very frequent rhetoric of some oppositional political parties, especially of the main one – VMRO-DPMNE – regarding the lack of capacity of the government and demanding resignation from the first person of the MIA, Oliver Spasovski. Although the political messages directed to the citizens seem legitimate in the creation of narratives about the incompetence of the political opponents, with the everyday repetition of such rhetoric that also contains semi-truths or false allegations – such as “only in our country the perpetrators cannot be discovered” – in actual fact, creates an atmosphere suitable for the senders of anonimous threats. Noone however, doubts that the purpose is spreading defeatism, fear and panic, apart from scanning the operational level of the system under threat. The following examples are from December when officially such threats became part of the hybrid war treatment.
Hacking/monitor. Photo: Pexels.com
For Kovacevski – hybrid war, for VMRO-DPMNE, maybe, but…
For the first time, Prime-minister Dimitar Kovacevski confirmed that a hybrid war was in question on 13.12.2022, adding that “it was almost absolutely impossible to detect where the tip was coming from”. The same day, one of the security analysts pointed his finger towards Russia (Ismet Ramadani in the same text), while another security analyst and professor believes that such a conclusion cannot be excluded and deems that “certain political subjects – regardless of weather they are from Macedonia or from the neighbouring countries – use such modern hybrid methods for destabilization purposes for achieving political goals”(Stefan Budzakovski also in the article of RFE).
A day earlier, on 12th and that same day on 13.12.2022, VMRO-DPMNE continued with the narrative that the Government was incompetent to guarantee peace and security for the citizens. That same day – 13th December – this party, yet again, talks about “chaos and panic” and that Spasovski was the one to blame for that, and therefore his resignation must follow.
16th December the same narrative about the authorities being incompentent to deal with the bombs was repeated, but this time stressing late coordination and request for help. Also, on 17th December, for the first time a recognition came from VMRO-DPMNE that the bomb-threats “might be a hybrid attack”. Such rhetoric from this party proceeded on 20th December, a day after the Government announced that an operational team for dealing with hybrid threats was established after the meeting of the Council for Coordination of Security Services.
That same day revealed that a new country became goal of renewed anonymous bomb-threats in the region
on the Balkans – Bosnia and Herzegovina again.
Expert explanations in silence
What differentiates these narratives from the oppositional political party is that not even once, in not one announcement or reaction, do they respond to the constant IT expert claims that such threats are indeed difficult to unravel due to the nature of operation of the Internet, the service providers such as the large mail systems and due to the privacy policies introduced by them and the virtual networks VPN systems. This was very vividly explained by the IT professor and President of the ICT Chamber, PhD. Orce Simov, as a guest in the
debate programme on 24 TV on 15.12.2022 (around 13th minute of the video). There is no information either related to the claims of security experts and professors such as PhD. Metodi Hadzi Janev who wrote a
detailed explanation why, in general, but also in our country it is difficult for the authorities to deal with anonymous attackers in digital warfare. In addition, the party never communicated to the public that they considered the threats as regional and even wider, as noted by the news and analysis that these events have occurred all over the Balkans including Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Croatia and, as already mentioned B&H.
Because of this not mentioned element of the threat phenomenon, the tendency noted in the responses of VMRO-DPMNE may be assessed as an attitude of the oppositional party to communicate with the citizens with semi-information (incompetence of the authorities and the MIA), that leave room for spreading disinformation. More information on this potential disinformative narration context and the way it is used in the political circumstances of daily life, for example in the work of the Parliament, can be found in the counterspin of “Truthmeter” recently published.
Apasiev’s “Pro-Russian people”
The leader of Levica, Dimitar Apasiev, in the programme “Argument Plus” on 24 News in the course of the interview, at one moment, mentioned that the attacks on the Government and SDSM were coming from Russian players in the RNM.
With the sole intention to cause damage… but what they do not understand is that Levica only articulates what the people think. In a situation when the people are
pro-Russian inclined, Levica states that openly and they say – oh, your pro-Russian.
No, the people are pro-Russian, not Levica. When talking about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia as a World force, we are talking about a global clash.
With this statement he disinformed the public by assessing the people of the RNM – probably referring to the Macedonian people – as Russophiles and claiming that the politics of the Government is wrong. However,
the best denial of this disinformation came the next day when Deutsche Welle published the opinion polls of Gallup International explicitly showing that most of the respondents in the country were oriented towards the EU as an economic partner and the USA as a security factor. At the same time IRI’s survey was also published and the numbers – yet again – proved Apasiev wrong (more information in counterspin of “Truthmeter”).
Dimitar Apasiev. Photo: screenshot
Albeit, even from the beginning of the interview Apasiev, talking about something completely different, said – now, every day we are witnessing bomb-threats. We were more secure outside of NATO than inside NATO
(4th minute of the video).
And somewhere in the middle of the interview, Apasiev “planted” another piece of disinformation that
Some German analysis showed up recently claiming that with such a pace we will become a member of the EU in 2100 and something… This means that we have to accept this fact and look elsewhere for a solution because the World is becoming multi-polar.
This is a classical disinformation because no such analysis exists. This is a tweet – position of the German journalist Michael Martins, who last December, for the second time tweeted this opinion unsupported by facts.
Another, not so classical disinformation, but an assumption with a narrative that we have sided with the wrong party is the statement made by Stevce Jakimovski, Mayor of municipality Karpos. In an interview for the weekly “Focus”, he said:
God forbid if a Third World War should happen! Nothing would be important.
It will be – do your best to survive! If the conflict in Ukraine escalates, our NATO membership does not make a big difference. On the contrary, it puts us in danger to be shelled by the other side.
Otherwise, the disinformation tendency regarding the alleged harm of the vaccines and the consequences of the Covid pandemic did not change last December. Quite frequently, disinformation originated from abroad and it is quite visible from the rubric “Fact-Check” of “Truthmeter”.
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