Leak Shows UK Attempt to “Derussify” Former Soviet Bloc
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Johanna Ross, journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland
Back in 2018, the Anonymous hacker group unveiled documents detailing the UK’s global anti-Russian propaganda campaign, otherwise known as the Integrity Initiative. A covert operation, funded by the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, it involved academics like Mark Galeotti, security analysts such as Ben Nimmo and journalists like Deborah Haynes of Sky News, who were all paid to provide negative coverage of Russia in various media settings. In true James Bond fashion, they were all part of a giant global syndicate, instructed to counter the Russian government narrative wherever possible, whether it be in articles, or on social media.
It was a shocking revelation for a country constantly accusing Russia of pushing propaganda and spreading disinformation; it turned out that the UK’s Integrity Initiative was doing exactly that. (Some of the claims made in the documents were nothing less than Russophobic. For example: “The Russian Federation is not a normal country in any sense of the word” (!)) After pressure from independent journalists, such as myself, who covered the scheme, the organization shut down its website. It did not disappear altogether however, and instead quietly rebranded itself with a different name – the Open Information Partnership, and with partners including Bellingcat and Zinc Network, it seems the unit has carried on from where the Integrity Initiative left off.
In the latest twist to the story, a new batch of documents were published last week which appear to show that the UK has now set its sights on manipulating Russian speakers in the former Soviet republics. One project, using the British Council is to promote English language in various Russian satellite states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The cost of this project alone is £1.5million. It describes how through English language lessons, debating competitions and community events it will challenge the “one-sided, unbalanced information” citizens of these countries get from Russian media.
In another scheme, which it describes as “Independent Media Interventions in the Baltic States Aimed at Promoting Plurality and Balance in the Russian Language Media” it is said how BBC Media Action will work together with three public service broadcasters – ETV+ in Estonia, LSM in Latvia and LRT in Lithuania and their digital and social media platforms in all three countries, to produce Russian language content. It also mentions working with the biggest Russian language portal “Delfi” in the region, to target the Russian-speaking youth. It states that Russian speakers in the Baltic States will be targeted differently according to age: the over 40s through traditional media and the under 40s primarily through social media.
The agenda of working with local media in Baltic States is described as being to promote ‘the values of objectivity, impartiality and trust’. But given the fact that this is a UK Foreign Office project, promoting the English-language world view, how can it possibly be described as ‘objective and impartial’? If any of the authors had ever studied cognitive linguistics, then they would understand that every language speaker has his/her own world view, intrinsically associated with the language he/she speaks. English speakers have their own view of the world which is not “objective” or “impartial” but a product of their own historical and cultural experience.
Therefore it is clear that this is a British soft-power propaganda campaign under the guise of aiding independent media in Eastern Europe. It is reminiscent of the Christian missionaries of the 19th century, who set out to “change the ways” of people they thought as uncouth and “savage” in parts of Africa and Asia. Although this time, it’s not Christianity but liberal or “western” values. It’s Britain projecting its imperial power, just as it did in the past.
Let’s not beat about the bush here. This is a Foreign Office project; it is about information warfare and soft power manipulation to achieve geopolitical goals. It’s essentially about de-russifying the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, to ensure that these populations will fall under the spell of the western liberalism, and reduce any Russian influence lingering from the Soviet era. Fundamentally, it’s to ensure that Russia’s sphere of influence is reduced and the West’s/Nato’s is increased – important if at a future date one needs these populations on side if war was to break out.
In another document it is detailed how the organisation helped Russian Youtubers (unnamed) “creating content promoting media integrity and democratic values” – otherwise known as anti-government bloggers – to hide any foreign funding they were receiving, to manage their online profiles, connect them with legal advice if required and to support “them to develop editorial strategies to deliver key messages”. It has already been suggested on one site that opposition blogger Alexei Navalny could have been helped in this way, as his aide Vladimir Ashurkov was not only mentioned in previous Integrity Initiative leaks, but was recently exposed as having met up with a British diplomat whom he asked for financial assistance for Navalny’s campaign.
If all this doesn’t constitute meddling in Russia’s affairs, I don’t know what does. It would be interesting to know what the British taxpayer would think of all these millions of pounds being spent on interference in an entirely different part of the world, which is Russia’s sphere of influence. Such imperialist behaviour belongs in the 19th century, and doesn’t accept the reality of the multipolar world which is emerging. It shows complete disregard for the ethnic Russians living in the post-Soviet bloc, who should be allowed to live freely as they wish, and not be persecuted for their language and cultural values. Quite frankly, the UK has no business involving weighing in on Eastern Europe; its imperialist ambitions belong in the past.
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