Polish-Ukrainian relations in the crosshairs
According to a report by Info Ops Polska, an infospace watchdog, 23% of Sputnik messages in Poland are aimed against Polish-Ukrainian relations and designed to shape a negative image of Ukraine. The authors argue that to do this, the disinformation actors manipulate all areas of the infosphere: virtual area (cyberspace), physical area (actual events), and cognitive area (perception of the events).
In the first area, the cyberspace, Russian disinformation mainly focuses on three narratives that are adapted to current events. The first narrative depicts Ukraine as a nationalist country unfriendly to Poland. The second one focuses on shaping an image of Ukraine as a corrupt failed state. The third narrative specifically targets Ukrainians in Poland who are blamed for unemployment and portrayed as a risk to the pension and healthcare systems.
In the physical area, provocations are organized to facilitate the propaganda messages. A grenade launcher shooting of the Polish consulate in Lutsk or attacks on Polish cemeteries in Ukraine serve as good examples.
To influence the cognitive area, special models for disinformation distribution are used. The model that the authors focus on starts with disinformation originating on Sputnik. It is then picked up by other websites almost unchanged. Afterwards, the stories are spread on different blogging networks, usually as opinions on the articles published by the second-stage websites. Now, the disinformation is disguised as opinions of users and designed to influence perception. Then, a different team of operators, fake forum users, adds disinformation to their other original content. Finally, the disinformation actors attempt to “sell” the fake stories to Internet opinion-makers, individuals or social groups.
The report thus concludes that combating Kremlin influence activities requires attention to all the areas of the infosphere, especially to actual or simulated events designed to support propaganda messages.