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Russia staging protests for anti-Ukraine propaganda — report

May 8, 2023

According to research by several media outlets, Russian secret services are infiltrating or staging demonstrations in major western European cities to create anti-Ukraine sentiment or hamper Sweden's bid to join NATO.

Pro-Russian demonstration in Munich
Russian agents not only stage their own fake demonstrations, but also hijack demonstrations organized by others, the research uncoveredImage: Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

Russian secret services have been staging or infiltrating demonstrations in major cities in Europe for propaganda purposes, several news outlets reported on Sunday.

The joint research by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, German broadcasters NDR and WDR, French paper Le Monde, Swedish paper Expressen and the Scandinavian broadcasters DR (Denmark), NRK (Norway) and SVT (Sweden) is based on leaked strategy papers that are said to have come from the Kremlin's security apparatus.

The documents were leaked to the Dossier Center, a research organization run by the Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Their authenticity cannot be verified, but the links and information given there actually lead to demonstrations that took place as described.

The aim of the staged demonstrations is, among other things, to create anti-Ukraine sentiment or to make Sweden's NATO accession more difficult, the news outlets reported.

Fake anti-Turkish protests in European cities

According to the strategy papers, Moscow recommends for small groups of Russian agents to simulate fake protests in major European cities.

Some Kremlin-directed fake protests are already believed to have taken place, including anti-Turkish rallies where agents pretend to be Ukrainians — all while agitating against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This is apparently intended to give the impression of a broad anti-Islamic mood in Europe.

Examples include a demonstration by alleged members of a Ukrainian community in Paris at the beginning of March, who demonstrated against Erdogan by using a Hitler salute and balaclava and also mocked the victims of the devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria in February.

The propaganda war for Ukraine

Provocateurs hijack other protests

According to the research, provocateurs also apparently infiltrated demonstrations in several cities that were being held on other topics, such as the nursing shortage, pension reform and climate change, with the aim of spreading  propaganda directed against support for Ukraine.

The goal, according to the reports, is to generate propaganda material for internet platforms. The Russian strategy paper lists several cities to target — including Paris, The Hague, Brussels and Frankfurt.

Photos of the fake demonstrators have circulated on social media, appearing to give the impression of widespread anti-Ukraine sentiment in western European countries, the outlets reported.

The journalists were able to trace the origin of some of the content back to three social media accounts that are controlled from the Russian city of St. Petersburg.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Kremlin did not comment on the allegations when asked.

dh/rs (AFP, dpa)

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