Russia’s information strategy entails using any tension existing in a particular society. If there are disputes and differences between social groups, they are deliberately portrayed as over-the-top to intensify popular unrest. For instance, russia did precisely that during the “yellow vest” protests in France.
Political tensions and internal conflicts undermine developed democracies by forcing such countries to focus on their internal agendas rather than try to promote their values and support the progress in developing countries. This has a negative effect on countries seeking political assistance from the West. And russia wants just that.
Russia uses well-known methods, namely manipulation (blurring the facts using false interpretations), presenting lies as “alternative points of view,” and emotional lies that are hard to believe but easy to remember. Knowing these methods and narratives can help increase societal resilience to russian disinformation campaigns.
That is why VoxCheck has created a database of russian propaganda in the Italian and German media titled “Propaganda Diary” rusdisinfo.voxukraine.org. Please read on to learn why we chose these particular countries, how to use the database, and for whom it will be helpful.
Why Germany and Italy?
VoxCheck chose to study Germany and Italy because these two countries are among the primary targets for russian propaganda in Europe.
According to EUvsDisinfo, a European External Action Service project, no other EU member has been subjected to such a powerful disinformation attack as Germany. Since late 2015, the EUvsDisinfo database has documented 700 fake items targeting Germany. For comparison, more than 300 fake pieces were spotted in France, 170 in Italy, and 40 in Spain. (The number of disinformation pieces produced by russia over the years can be much more significant since we are talking only about documented and debunked cases.)
At the same time, Germany is thought of as a country advocating dialog and cooperation with russia. Germany has also been and remains one of Ukraine’s strategic partners, which was particularly critical within the context of launching russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Even though russian disinformation messages targeted France more than Italy, according to EUvsDisinfo data, we at VoxCheck and our international partners saw a significant increase in the number of fake reports about russian aid to Italy during the Covid pandemic. The main channels for disseminating them are still active, and russia continues to use them to spread disinformation narratives against Ukraine. That is why we selected Italy as the second country for the study.
What are the consequences of russia’s disinformation campaigns?
Disinformation campaigns conducted by russia in European countries, including Germany and Italy, can directly impact the level of public support for their governments’ actions to help Ukraine in the face of russian aggression (financial aid, weapons, or support at the diplomatic level). A study of russia’s narratives disseminated for many years in Germany and Italy helps to understand how resilient these countries’ societies have been to disinformation.
Why this is still important within the context of russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine
On February 24, 2022, putin made an emergency address to citizens, announcing his decision to start a full-scale war against Ukraine. However, he referred to it as a “special military operation” to protect people from “genocide by the Kyiv regime,” “demilitarize,” and “denazify” Ukraine and condemn those committing “numerous bloody crimes against civilians.”
These ideas do not seem an embodiment of absurdity if we study russian disinformation campaign narratives about Ukraine since 2014, both in Ukraine and European countries, including Germany and Italy.
The Propaganda Diary database of russian disinformation in Germany and Italy lists about 100 fake items about NATO forces militarizing Ukraine, the West preparing Ukraine for a war against russia, and the Ukrainian authorities’ plans to resolve the conflict in Donbas by force. A natural response to this expanding propaganda narrative is the need to “demilitarize” Ukraine to neutralize the “threat” to russia.
The Propaganda Diary database lists about 50 documented fake items about neo-Nazis and ultranationalists in Ukraine, over 100 fake reports about the Ukrainian authorities’ crimes against civilians in Donbas, and nearly 30 about discrimination against the russian population in Ukraine.
Russia has been building its information strategy for years to make putin’s reasons for attacking an independent sovereign state on February 24 sound justified or legitimate.
Who will benefit from Propaganda Diary?
The Propaganda Diary database will enable anyone willing to understand the ecosystem of russian propaganda about Ukraine in the Italian and German information spaces to explore the main narratives, fake items, and russian disinformation cases, including the sources and timeline of their dissemination. The database can be helpful to you if you are:
- a researcher studying russian disinformation in Europe;
- a journalist seeking to counter the Kremlin’s narratives and create counter-narratives;
- a representative of the NGO sector engaged in combating misinformation;
- a university student majoring in journalism, political science, sociology, or international relations and studying the impact of disinformation on society;
- interested in the topic of russian propaganda and willing to strengthen your fact-checking skills and learn to distinguish the Kremlin’s narratives from the truth when reading foreign media.
How to use the Propaganda Diary database
The homepage of the Propaganda Diary website contains a list of narratives that the VoxCheck team systematized based on the findings from studies of the German and Italian media. By clicking on a narrative, you go to a page containing a list of fake items or sub-narratives. Then, clicking on each fake report (sub-narrative), you see the debunking of this fake item and a list of documented disinformation cases in the Italian and German media.
The database lists 13 narratives, 69 fake items, and 659 disinformation cases. If you need to download all the cases for further analysis, you need to click on the “Download” button in the website’s upper right corner. NB: The language version of the database for download depends on the website’s language.
The site also contains a list of media outlets spreading false information about Ukraine in Italy and Germany. The list titled “Black List” is on the site’s left panel. The same panel also contains a “White List,” i.e., a list of media outlets disseminating reliable and truthful information about Ukraine in their respective countries.
In the “About” section, you can get information about the project and a list of articles that will provide more context to the current state of affairs in Ukraine. The “Method” section describes the methods used to compile the database, the “white” and “black” lists of the media outlets, and a list of useful resources providing reliable information about Ukraine.
Note that the database is operating in test mode. If you notice any errors in the database or its contents, please email us at [email protected]. For cooperation in spreading and adding to the database, please write to VoxCheck project manager Svitlana Slipchenko at [email protected].
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations