Stanisław ŻARYN: Propaganda in the time of virus

Propaganda in the time of virus

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Stanisław ŻARYN

Spokesperson of the Minister-Special Services Coordinator. Head of National Security Department in the Chancellery of Poland’s PM.

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While the efforts of governments in various countries concentrate on fighting COVID-19, Russia conducts an operation of disinformation and propaganda, using global pandemic for its own political goals. The Kremlin strives towards lifting the sanctions imposed after military aggression against Ukraine. At the same time, it strikes against the countries standing in the way of achieving this goal. Poland is amongst them.

Global pandemic is considered by Russian Federation as an opportunity to get out of international isolation, which they got themselves into after the aggression against Ukraine. Vivid manipulations used by Kremlin, are aimed towards image enhancement, and consequently convince Western countries, including the United States, to lift economic sanctions.

Russia is consequently trying to portray itself as a leader in fight with the virus, by selflessly delivering medical help to other countries including, blamed for lack of adequate action, European Union. Through these mechanisms, Russia is trying to push to the background distinct rationale, which were the basis for imposing sanctions in the first place. Furthermore, a strong pressure is being used on drawing a picture of possibility of much greater assistance, should sanctions be lifted.

Poland in consequently warning its Western allies against fatal credulity, submission, and vulnerability towards Moscow, at the same time urging to keep the sanctions in place. Russia not for a moment renounced its neo-imperialist policy, quite often reaching out for most brutal methods. It is worth mentioning, that Poland is a target of strong and aggressive disinformation campaigns, which aim to undermine its position on international arena, embarrass and discredit as a country in the eyes of its allies and consequently turn against Poland the rest of Europe. It is an important element of Russian strategy, also in times of Coronavirus.

Russian propaganda uses various communication channels to convince, that Poland is received negatively by European Partners.

After implementing travel restrictions between countries, pro-Russian web portals argued, that Poland triggered off diplomatic crisis in Europe, which resulted in conflict with its Partners. In recent days, Lithuanian branch of Russian Sputnik published an article stating, that Poland is engaged in an internal political game around COVID-19, and that our country is for some time on the carpet of EU. The attempt to isolate Poland and turning other EU countries against us is a fixed point on Russian propaganda menu. The most obvious and brutal example was apparent, when allegedly Poland was causing problems for countries, which wanted to bring aid to Italy. Shock waves were sent across about Poland blocking its airspace for Russian planes carrying medical aid to Italy. This information was published in the social media by Russian senator Aleksey Puszkov. This fake news was broadly commented, resulted in negative shock wave pointed at Poland and accusations of lack of solidarity, breaking the principles of the EU, as well as irrational Russophobia which resulted in Poland not allowing Russian Federation to help other countries in times of crisis. Once again, an attempt was made to portray Poland as a country that lacks solidarity and creates problems in Europe based on low motives. The entire campaign aimed at Poland was a lie. Although fake news was denied, Russian propaganda goal was reached – hate campaign against Poland was a reality.

Similar actions by Russian propaganda were taken, when Alessio D’Amato, government official of Lazio region in Italy, accused Poland of taking possession of protective masks. Fake information was first distributed to the most important media representatives in Italy, and then passed on by Russian media agencies. Once again, Poland was described as a country undermining basis of solidarity of the European Union. Undermining credibility of Poland is aimed to put pressure on allied countries not to treat Poland seriously, since its actions are based on lack of rationale, Russophobia, and should not have an influence on EU policy towards Russian Federation. Attacking Poland, along with other countries presenting hard line towards the policy of Kremlin, is a strategic goal of Russian Federation.

Trying to target the credibility of Poland, Russia also conducted more dangerous propaganda actions. One of the examples is a multistage informative operation aimed at territorial integrity of Polish Republic. Russian news websites, based on web users picked commentaries under the “Gazeta Wyborcza” online newspaper article, published alarming information stating, that there is a ongoing debate in Poland concerning annexation of Kaliningrad Oblast. That was the starting point for further propaganda actions against us. Based on false information, influential Russian news websites started promoting an idea of referendum in Suwałki region regarding the possibilities of incorporating it to Russian Federation. Some voices in public space implied, that this region of Poland is historically connected to Russia and Belarus and its inhabitants are “tired of Polish totalitarianism”. Some Russian publications implied, that Poles support such referendum. Such ideas were seen in the past in Crimea, in the first phase of Russian war against Ukraine.

This whole war on disinformation was triggered in order to accuse our country of creating a confrontation with Russia. Global scale confrontation.

Poland was portrayed as an aggressor, driven by self interest in this exceedingly difficult time for the entire World. It is not only information warfare aimed at Poland, but also provocative actions against all NATO member states.

It is worth mentioning, that so called Suwałki gap is a crucial region for NATO. It is the only land connection between northern member states – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – and Western Europe. It is a key area for logistics, energy supply etc. This region is a basis for safety of NATO’s eastern flank. This particular region and its status have become a target for Russian propaganda, which aim was not only to question territorial integrity of Poland, but also insinuate, that Poland’s “plans” of Kaliningrad Oblast annexation, is a threat to the entire Alliance. Again, Poland has been portrayed as unreliable and its actions being threat for Europe and entire Western world. The Kremlin uses different methods, while playing the same game.

.Kremlin efforts to gain as much as possible in time of global crisis are becoming clearer. Top political priority is to bring back, what Moscow describes as “normal”, diplomatic relations. However, Poland is paying the bill, constantly being attacked by Russian propaganda. The success of Russian policy can have major effect also for the West since it will legitimize impunity from aggression on Ukraine. Occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine would be practically legalized. This could possibly encourage Russia, which still conducts aggressive policy towards West. Make no mistake, this is a serious, high stake game.

Stanisław Żaryn

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