The amount of disinformation into the region is not decreasing, even two years after the Russian aggression in Ukraine, Jana Kazaz, Researcher at the GLOBSEC Organization, points out to The Geopost, but there are some countries, according to her, that are more flexible and do a good job. Disinformation narratives are different, she adds.
Kazaz says that because of the media, the recipients of information are in a vulnerable situation because there are still Russian channels that freely pump disinformation into these media, especially in the Balkans. This is not the case in the EU, due to sanctions against these media. They have taken very valuable initiatives in this direction, Jana Kazaz points out for The Geopost, among other things.
TheGeopost: How do you see the situation almost two years after the Russian aggression in Ukraine?
When it comes to disinformation, we definitely see that the amount of disinformation fed into the region is not decreasing. It actually is very, very active, and we see the prevalence of this disinformation in some countries more, in some countries less. There are some countries in the region which are really resilient, and they are really doing a good job, such as Poland, Czech Republic, and then there are countries, based on our research, that are more vulnerable to Russian disinformation, such as Slovakia.
TheGeopost: Which topic of disinformation in your country is most high from Russian influencers?
Well, there are a lot of Russian narratives that are coming through. They are taken over by local actors and it’s about, like, who is responsible for the war.
At the beginning of the war there were these disinformation narratives that were completely debunked about the biolabs in Ukraine, for example. Also, it was interesting that when the invasion started, already, the receivers of disinformation were aware of the fact that there are Nazis in Ukraine, that this is a reason why it has to be helped, so, a lot of disinformation at the beginning why this invasion is happening and this perceives and then the narratives are changing based on how Russian government is changing them you know.
TheGeopost: How do you see the disinformation in Balkan and Russian narratives?
So, directly we did research in two countries and that’s Romania and Bulgaria and the rest of the countries we don’t have the current data now. What we see from our previous research is that due to the media landscape, the receivers and information are in much more vulnerable situation because there are a lot of Russian channels still who are freely pumping this disinformation into the media landscape. This is not the case in EU anymore because of the sanctions and Russia Today and Sputnik were taken down. Although, of course, whoever wants to access these channels can do so over the Internet or there are ways how to find access to them, but their activity is slowed down by the fact that they were sanctioned. So, I think that the situation is much more complicated in Balkan due to the fact that the Russian media can operate here really successfully. And when it comes to Romania and Bulgaria, it’s interesting to see that the situation is worse in Bulgaria based on our data. The fact that there is a much higher buyout to disinformation narratives says that the country itself is much less resilient to the disinformation, which is, as we discussed today at the event due to the combination of factors such as education and the fact that Russia is still perceived as a savior throughout the history, and this is how children are taught, but also due to the media landscape and ownership, et cetera. For example, Romania, the neighbor, due to the historical events that they faced and experienced, they are much more resilient and the citizens know where they stand much more, that the orientation is to the West is the right one, and so on.
TheGeopost: Does the EU and NATO do enough to fight this disinformation of Russian influence?
I think there are a lot of very valuable initiatives recently, for a long time already this is taken as a really serious issue, like information operations from Russia. However, we have to say that Russia has it in its core, this submersive messaging, it was during the Soviet Union it was later on, I think that we joined and started to counter fight much later, but I think that European Union is fighting and European institutions are fighting on various fronts. So, for example the Data Structure and Algorithms is coming into force this year, which is the act that will give power to find social networks for helping to spread disinformation and hate speech. Of course, like, Facebook is not responsible for Russian disinformation, but it’s responsible for amplifying it, you know. So, the reason why European institutions are taking this stand is because of the protection of freedom of speech itself. Unfortunately, when you are fighting an enemy which doesn’t adhere to human rights and freedoms, it’s much more complicated. So, it’s much easier for regimes such as Russia and China to spread this information because they don’t have any human rights standards, or you can argue with me, but I would say that just look at how many journalists or how many people are in prison for their opinions. So, if you want to respect freedom of opinion and freedom of speech then you have to be really careful how you are going to curb them because you don’t want to go that way. You don’t want to limit it too much so at the end we will be the same as the enemy. So, there are new tools in the European Union which helps to on one hand limit info ops coming from Russia and disinformation coming from Russia but it’s not an equal playing field so it’s very challenging because of that.