“Russian disinformation in general is a centralized effort and financed by people, oligarchs or different agencies within the Kremlin Administration”, Ruslan Trad,
Security Researcher at Atlantic Council and a member of the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria, said in an interview for The Geopost.
In addition, he also spoke about what Russian propaganda is and how it is understood by Western countries, stressing that he is pessimistic and thinks that it is too late to oppose this campaign.
Trad also spoke about the crisis in Syria and Russian propaganda there, as well as how similar or different it is to the crisis in Ukraine.
Regarding the Balkans, he says that this is one of the next regions with great tensions in the future, thanks to the active role of Russia with propaganda, with active political assets both in Bulgaria and in other countries, especially in Serbia, which Trad considers as a very important country for Russia.
So according to Trad, “The West should pay very serious attention to the Balkans”.
Below you can find the full interview of Ruslan Trad for The Geopost:
The Geopost: How is the Russian disinformation functioning in general?
We should say directly that such campaign or companies involved in one bigger campaign, is coordinated directly by the Kremlin Administration. This is not just a campaign funded by some Oligarchs or media linked to the Kremlin, this is a centralized effort. So when we are discussing such campaigns and how these campaigns are affecting electoral process or affecting local politicians and political processes in different countries, these should be very clearly understood that we are speaking about a centralized campaign funded by different people, oligarchs or agencies inside the Kremlin Administration but all orders are coordinated. So we are not speaking just for ordinary campaign, and this is the reason why, when we are speaking about Russian campaign, mostly we are using “state baked” campaign, that’s a term.
The Geopost: Is Russian propaganda finally been understood by the Western countries as a serious problem?
I think so, but I am little bit pessimistic about that, the reason for my opinion is that we are already late in countering this campaign. The first signal of the current propaganda campaign baked by the Kremlin administration under Putin rule in Moscow is around 10 years ago, or even more.
If we speak, for example of Ukraine, you should mention that such campaigns existed even in 2004, when was the first attempt for influencing the government of Ukraine by the Kremlin.
Also we have such signals in the Balkans, which is one of the main targeted regions of the Russian propaganda, and we can also see how this campaign and the whole structure of the campaign is evolving in Middle East, thanks to the Russian involvement in Syrian civil war, and later in Libya and Central African Republic, which is one of the newest examples of how this infrastructure works. So, yes in one hand EU and the West in general already knew about this campaign and the propaganda tools used by Kremlin. Some of the analysts arguing that this is not so sophisticated campaign or structure, but in my opinion, this is one of the reasons why the Russian propaganda is so successful. We underestimated the power of this tool. The democratic values are one of the reasons why such propaganda won so many hearts and souls in western Europe for example, because the principle of not interfering in personal opinion or giving the two sides visibility in the news editions, and Russians are working very well to make this in their benefit, their own benefit. So in that line, yes, the EU already acknowledged that this campaign and the whole network of propaganda and propaganda tools by the Kremlin is dangerous even for the security of the union and they acknowledged already that this campaign effected deeply, even the electoral processes in different countries, member states of the European Union, but still the answer is slow.
The Geopost: You mentioned Syria crisis, and that is one topic you have analyzed a lot, can you tell us how Russian propaganda works in Syria crisis.
Yes, this propaganda is continuing in Syria and in the wider region also. Comparing different fields of this propaganda, we can see very common tools used by Kremlin in different regions, despite they localized these attempts. For example, in Syria, we have attempts to affect and influence local population, when in the same time, Russian command is working mostly with political elite and officers in Syria. But media, like Russia Today or other versions of Russian state funded media in the region, not only in Syria, but whole Middle East.We can see the pattern of using the same tools for propaganda used in the Western Europe or Eastern Europeand the Balkans, trying to make the West guilty for every bad thing in the world, in the same time promoting the peaceful mission of the Russian Federation and how Russia is actually helping local Syrians with distributing humanitarian aid. This is one of the main points of the Russian propaganda in Syria, how Russian state provided humanitarian aid to affected by the war Syrians.
This one side story is very popular in the region, but in my opinion not like, for example Africa or Eastern Europe. The local population is not so satisfied with talking points promoted by the Kremlin, but in the same time, many of the locals, when we are reading comments for example in social media, “twitter” or “facebook” under articles shared by Russia Today or other Russian media, we can see that, Syrians for example are dissatisfied with both, Russia and the west. And this is also an opportunity for Russia, used many timed last 10 years, how to use dissatisfaction for own benefit. In the Syrian example, this is promoting the stabilizing role of the Kremlin, as I mentioned before, the humanitarian aid and also that the west forgot about the Middle East and that is why Russia is there and helping people, this is the talking point in general.
The Geopost: Can you compare disinformation and Russian propaganda in Syria and now Ukraine, does it have similarities, differences or it is a same strategy?
In general, the strategy is the same, with every kind of tool we experienced it in the Eastern Europe, you can see it in Syria and the Middle East in general, but we can see also localized content. And if you take for example from “Telegram” Channel, there are many such “Telegram” channels baked and linked to Kremlin administration, and the talking points are almost the same, but translated into local languages, which is actually very successful tool and part of the propaganda, because people are much more delighted to read news in their languages and in the same time, in that way, Russia can promote its own talking points.
So Syria and Ukraine, Russians are using the same infrastructure like “Russia Today” or “Sputnik” but with local content and they are hiring local editors, for example local journalists, promoting very good salaries which is, you can imagine this when your country is at war, so you need this material thing.
This is interesting, I expected the talking points to be a little bit different between Ukraine and Syria, but Russians are really using almost the same content, just a little bit localized on the field. I am not sure why they are doing it like that, because this is, in my opinion a weak link in the whole campaign, but for now it’s some kind of successful for their purposes.
The Geopost: How is the influence of Russian propaganda and disinformation in the Balkans, in which state do we see more Russian presence?
Serbia is very important country for Russia and the whole region, Western Balkans is traditionally part of the propaganda tools and campaign by Kremlin, even if we go back to Yugoslavian wars and if we speak recently for example the situation between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, the Russian funded campaign is currently active, promoting Russia’s alternative to the West in Macedonia, also the topic of Kosovo and the whole discussion between the West and local politicians is also part of propaganda heavily used by Russia, so in my opinion the West should pay very serious attention to the Balkans, and I think this is one of the next regions with big tensions upcoming, thanks to active role of Russia with propaganda, with activating political assets like in Bulgaria, we see the recent news from Sofia, they are very disturbing and signaling that Russia is deeply influenced and infiltrated the security agencies in Bulgaria and I think it is very possible that Russia is already influencing agencies across the region including in Bosnia and Herzegovina and for sure they are trying to attempt influencing in Kosovo , but I am not sure how successful, because in general the society in Kosovo and Albania for example and in Montenegro already are not so satisfied with Russia because of the recent events.
So, that is not the reason Russia to stop this campaign, I expect actually the campaign to be intensified in the next few months or year in general.