As you know, a consultative referendum failed in fiasco this week in Macedonia, in which residents of this country were asked to vote for its renaming to “Northern Macedonia” that would significantly speed up its integration into NATO and the EU. However, despite the positive results of the vote, during which 90% voted “for” renaming, the referendum was declared invalid, because voter turnout was less than 50%.
The failure of the referendum on the one hand turned out to be beneficial to Greece, which was against the renaming of the former Yugoslav republic into a name almost identical to one of the country’s regions; Macedonian nationalists who called for a referendum boycott; and also to the Russian Federation, which in every possible way preventing the spread of NATO and the EU.
And, frankly, there is nothing surprising in the fact of another Russian intervention in the will of citizens of another state, because this is a long tradition of the Russian Federation, which has been inherited from the USSR. It is worth to recall at least the presidential elections in the United States in 1948, when the USSR tried to influence the will of the Americans in favor of Henry Wallace who favorable for Stalin. But, 70 years ago, the pro-Soviet progressive party and directly Wallace lost the election with a bang, gaining only 2.3%.
Over the years, Russia’s desire to influence on elections in other countries, which are sphere of Russian geopolitical interest, has not only not diminished, but also improved, taking into account the new tools of influence on the social and public environment and directly – the choice.
For example, if we talk about the recent referendum in Macedonia, a wide range of Kremlin propaganda tools was involved in it. Social networks were used through which informational stovepipings were used that discredited the referendum and urged to boycott it. Surveys were conducted with relevant narratives, as well as riots involving local hooligans. For example, riots involving football fans were provoked in Skopje, an, fake messages about acts of violence committed by the police against “peaceful” protesters against the referendum were spread in social networks and Internet resources.
The Prime Minister of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, also reported that Greek businessmen of pro-Russian views are financed right-wing nationalist groups opposing the referendum, and the transaction of $ 21,000 by one of these groups was known for organizing unrest.
Russia’s intervention in the referendum in Macedonia was so aggressive and obvious that in July 4 Russian diplomats were expelled from Greece. And the Ministry of the Interior of Macedonia suspected a Russian businessman with Greek citizenship, Ivan Savvidi, in carrying out a transaction worth over 300 thousand euros to a number of Macedonian politicians, leaders and members of nationalist organizations and football hooligans to participate in protests against renaming Macedonia.
In essence, a clear scheme is being built from the “interest” of the Kremlin to implementation through financing of street protests and information waves in the media and social networks. At the same time, all resources are used, from banally obsolete television, to banner ads on sites such as Facebook, etc. Moreover, intervention can be not only a format of discredit, as in the case of a referendum in Macedonia, but also to carry narratives in favor of one or another party person, as in the case of elections in the United States.
American history of interference
One example of such informational influence is the resource previously known as “Usareally, Wake Up Americans,” and now existing under the name USAReally. A resource talks about acute issues of racial, gender and social inequality for US citizens. Here is just one “BUT”, the head office of USAReally is located in Moscow, and it is funded by the Federal News Agency, controlled, in turn, by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The resource, founded by Russian Alexander Malkevich, is engaged in publishing not so much serious analytics as conspiracy and materials spreading a narrative that “everything is bad” in the USA, society decays and lawlessness reigns in the country. At the same time, the site strongly encourages the policy of US President Donald Trump, up to the conversion of content to the the_donald forum of the social resource Reddit (in 2015 was susceptible to blockage on the territory of the Russian Federation), where the US president is called the “Emperor of the United States.
In general, the interference of the Russian Federation in the elections of the United States in 2016 can be called the pinnacle of such actions over the past 70 years. After all, if we compare the experience of 1948 and 2016, the path was taken from a deafening defeat, to the victory of the desired candidate. At the same time, the US electoral process turned out to be absolutely not ready to those methods that were used during the Russian interference.
We cited the example with USAReally and themes that were raised on the pages of this resource for a reason. The fact is that in 2017, during the elections to the German Bundestag, very similar methods were used.
Deja vu in Germany
German public opinion was influenced by the distribution of favorable messages to the Kremlin through the Russian-speaking population of Germany, representatives of left and right parties. The fact is that these groups of voters were more susceptible to populist slogans and were poorly versed in the political processes of the country, preferring nationalistic and primitive appeals that arouse, including the motivation for aggressive actions.
The main tool of manipulation was again Internet resources and social networks, in which, through suddenly formed publics that quickly gained popularity or advertising, were spread narratives that arouse negative attitudes toward migration policy, were increased social tension, and anti-European ideas were cultivated.
In many ways, these methods contributed to the popularity of the right-wing Populist Party “Alternative for Germany” with pro-Russian views and to take third place in the elections.
As we see, the main stakes of Russian interference in the electoral process of other countries are representatives of those strata who are less savvy in political processes, and are more quickly served not only by populist appeals, but also by panic.
France and the Netherlands – work on proven schemes
During the presidential elections in France, when the leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, and the globalist Emmanuel Macron participated in the fight, the servers of the Macron’s party were hacked, for which Russian hackers were accused. In addition, the Russian information resources RT and the Sputnik agency in every way distorted information about the course of the elections, manipulating data in favor of the pro-Russian candidate Marine Le Pen.
Also in 2017, Russia held a large-scale information company in the Netherlands, where a referendum was held on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. And in this case not only methods of fake stovepipings were used through media resources, but also fake Ukrainians.
On the eve of the referendum, the deputy of the left wing of the Parliament of the Netherlands, Harry van Bommel, received at his disposal a whole army of Russians who campaigned in the streets, spoke at public events, television and radio against the EU-Ukraine association, posing as Ukrainians.
In general, if we talk about the Russian propaganda in the Netherlands, it follows a similar pattern of fear and distrust among the Dutch towards Ukraine, spreading narratives that a positive association decision will lead to an influx of refugees from Ukraine; Ukraine is a neo-Nazi country; the Dutch will pay more taxes intended for reforms in Ukraine, which the authorities of the country will rob; Ukrainians shot down Boeing MH-17.
In fact, it is a standard set covering the fears and experiences that the Kremlin needs to manipulate the opinion and result of the elections.
We live in a time when dozens, hundreds, thousands of kilometers between countries, in fact, mean nothing. We live in a time when the banal bribery of voters, agitators, and influential people is no longer the tool that predetermines the outcome. Misinformation, fakes, stovepiping, hacking mail, databases and websites, information attacks and discredit are the set of measures of influence that can be implemented without taking into account the distances and the number of agents of influence on the spot.
In the twenty-first century, an important component of the electoral process in regions of geopolitical significance is not only the observance of the lawfulness of the will, but also information security and, sometimes, counter-propaganda. After all, it was in the format of a full-scale information war that the RF influenced the US elections and the referendum in Macedonia.
To be continued…
Military-political columnist Alexander Kovalenko, IR