• Revision ID 60688 REVISION
  • 2018-04-05 14:15:49
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Title Title
26978248582_0799818705_z Russia's 'disinformation campaign' on Salisbury attack follows familiar script
Summary Summary
  Experts say pro-Kremlin officials and media are effective a spreading doubt and confusion, but can be countered by transparency
Highlights Highlights
  Various theories spread to undermine UK stance on attack on Skripals , UK Foreign Secretary under pressure to clarify evidence , Deniability key to hybrid warfare
Content Content
  <strong>Since fingers pointed toward Russia after an attack against a former double agent in Britain, dozens of alternative theories have been proposed by figures linked to the Kremlin. Experts told <em>WikiTribune</em> the allegations fit an established pattern of Russian disinformation campaigns that should be met with careful and transparent use of facts.</strong>
  Sergei and Yulia Skripal <a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/06/espionage/former-russian-double-agent-critically-ill-after-contact-with-unknown-substance/53558/">were attacked in the English city of Salisbury on March 4</a>, perhaps because Yulia was engaged and the mother of her future husband disapproved of the match, <a href="http://www.mk.ru/incident/2018/03/14/smi-skripalya-otravila-nesostoyavshayasya-svekrov-yulii.html">reports Moscow newspaper MK.ru</a>.
  Alternatively, the attack was ordered by UK Prime Minister Theresa May, on the request of her friend Gina Haspel the proposed CIA Director, <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20180313211620/https://tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201803131813-odpd.htm">according to TV Zvedza</a>, a network run by Russia's Ministry of Defence.
  In fact, the UK government might have ordered the attack to distract the public from how poorly they are doing in their negotiations with the EU on Brexit, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-russia-poison-lavrov/russia-says-london-spreading-propaganda-over-spy-poisoning-idUKKCN1GL10U">suggested</a> Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. His <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-43609505">spokesperson also suggested Britain</a> is trying to isolate Russia so it cannot host the World Cup.
  <span style="font-family: inherit; font-size: 1.6rem;">EUvsDisinfo, a European Union-backed website, has <a href="https://euvsdisinfo.eu/disinformation-cases/?text=&amp;disinfo_issue=&amp;disinfo_keywords%5B%5D=85457&amp;date=">tracked at least 25 alternative theories</a> propagated by pro-Kremlin officials and media over the use of a nerve agent against former double agent Skripal and his daughter.</span>
  The UK government was quick to say they had concluded the attack was either ordered by the Russian government or the Kremlin was otherwise responsible. Russia has consistently denied involvement as the incident escalated into a diplomatic crisis, with 24 countries, plus the UK, expelling Russian diplomats.
  The UK government has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/04/russia-looks-to-discredit-uk-with-special-meeting-of-un-security-council">urged to contend</a> (<em>Guardian</em>) with this disinformation campaign by setting out the facts it has clearly. Observers agree<em> </em>that this is the best way to counter a well-established pattern of Russian obfuscation.
  <h2>Stick to the facts</h2>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been <a href="https://labour.org.uk/press/seems-boris-johnson-misled-public-abbott/">criticized by opponents</a> who say he misled the public when <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/boris-johnson-russias-position-in-skripal-case-is-increasingly-bizarre/a-43043873">telling German broadcaster Deutsche Welle</a> that Porton Down chemical weapons experts had told him the nerve agent definitely came from Russia.</span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">The head of the government laboratory <a href="https://news.sky.com/story/porton-down-experts-unable-to-identify-precise-source-of-novichok-that-poisoned-spy-11315387">told Sky News</a> that the nerve agent could not be directly traced back to Russia, and the office running the laboratory</span><a href="https://twitter.com/dstlmod/status/981220158680260613"><span style="font-weight: 400;"> tweeted that</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> establishing the source of the nerve agent is not its responsibility. Previous statements from the government have said the nerve agent was identified as novichok, a type developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.</span>
  Russia is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/04/russia-looks-to-discredit-uk-with-special-meeting-of-un-security-council">expected to try to discredit</a> (<em>Guardian</em>) the UK's allegations at a UN Security Council meeting it called to discuss the diplomatic crisis, to be held on April 5.
  Ben Nimmo, an expert in information and disinformation at Washington D.C.-based think tank Atlantic Council, told <em>WikiTribune </em>that countering Russian disinformation requires "clear and consistent" statements.
  "That means being careful with the language and not getting ahead of the evidence, and ultimately, it means publishing as much of the evidence as possible," said Nimmo.
  As well as alternative theories, the disinformation around the Salisbury attack has included outright denials and contradictory statements on various details, said Nimmo.
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">"Most of the disinformation so far around the Skripal case has been about confusing people, rather than convincing them. It’s a simple technique, because it doesn’t need any evidence," said Nimmo.</span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">Such an approach can be counterproductive, said Nimmo, "all the different Russian accusations are mutually exclusive. When one official says Russia destroyed its novichok, and another says Russia never had novichok, there’s an obvious flaw."</span>
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, by US Department of State via Flickr <h2>Disinformation a strategic tool</h2>
  <span style="font-family: inherit; font-size: 1.6rem;">EUvsDisinfo argues that confusing audiences is part of a "strategic narrative" created by the Kremlin. This fits with what U.S. think tank the Rand Corporation <a href="http://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/sites/default/files/webform/RAND_PE198.pdf">identifies as an attempt to discredit all information</a>, and undermine public trust in institutions such as government.</span>
  EUvsDisinfo <a href="https://euvsdisinfo.eu/defensive-disinformation-as-decoy-flare-skripal-and-flight-mh17/">draws parallels</a> between the disinformation around the Skripal case and the shooting down on Flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine in July 2014.
  When the passenger jet was shot down, killing 298 passengers and crew, with what investigation site <a href="https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2018/01/05/kremlins-shifting-self-contradicting-narratives-mh17/">Bellingcat later identified</a> as a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile, there was a similar range of disinformation.
  State-backed news channel RT featured a guest claiming to be a Spanish air traffic controller, who said the plane may have been shot down by the Ukrainian government.
  The guest's testimony was carried by a range of other pro-Kremlin media and even cited by President Vladimir Putin. Last month, U.S.-backed outlet RFE/RL, in collaboration with Romanian website RISE, <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/catch-carlos-if-you-can-mh17-russia-ukraine/29065244.html">published an investigation</a> that found the "air traffic controller" to be no such thing, but a man who claimed to have been paid $48,000 for his testimony.
  Disinformation, providing deniability, is a key part of Russia's "<a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/14/war_&amp;amp;_conflict/russia-changes-the-rules-of-warfare-perfecting-hybrid-war/54989/">hybrid war</a>" strategy, said Arch Puddington, from U.S. government-backed NGO Freedom House.
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">"Unless an assassin is actually caught in the act, on camera, the Putin leadership will deny the act, accuse the target country of lying, and play the role of aggrieved victim," said Puddintgon. </span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">"To a certain degree, this is what is happening in the Olympics<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doping_in_Russia"> doping case,</a>" said Puddington. The Kremlin continued to deny the existence of a state-sponsored doping program after a whistleblower revealed its existence. Russia only <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/30/sport/vladimir-putin-russia-winter-olympics-doping/index.html">began to acknowledge</a> (CNN) its existence after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barred Russian athletes from competing in the Winter Olympics under a Russian flag.</span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;"> "The fact that a medical professional who was intimately involved in the doping scheme came clean about everything didn’t faze the leadership.  But the penalties imposed by the world doping agency sent a message that Moscow couldn’t ignore," said Puddington.</span>
  <em>See related stories on WikiTribune and by all means, add your own or say what's missing:</em><em>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/26/diplomacy/us-expels-60-russian-diplomats-over-attack-on-former-spy-in-uk/57990/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Russia promises response after 23 countries expel diplomats</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/06/espionage/former-russian-double-agent-critically-ill-after-contact-with-unknown-substance/53558/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Earlier: Diplomatic crisis sparked by nerve agent attack on former Russian spy</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/13/espionage/who-is-sergei-skripal/54858/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Who is Sergei Skripal, target of the nerve agent attack in Britain</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/09/espionage/how-nerve-agent-attack-could-be-a-new-chapter-in-kremlins-playbook-experts/54186/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Nerve agent attack would be new chapter in Kremlin playbook</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/13/espionage/what-is-novichok-the-nerve-agent-blamed-for-british-attack/54881/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">What is novichok, the nerve agent blamed for British attack?</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/13/diplomacy/britain-could-weaponize-londons-safe-haven-against-putin/54765/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Britain could weaponize London's "safe haven" against Putin</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/16/diplomacy/voices-of-russians-in-londongrad-speak-of-fear-and-propaganda/55758/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Voices of Russians in ‘Londongrad’ speak of fear and propaganda</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/26/diplomacy/russian-ministry-of-foreign-affairs-publishes-questions-about-skripal-case/57064/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry publishes questions about handling of Skripal case</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/24/diplomacy/cleaning-up-london/56952/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">‘Examples will be made’: UK looks to target Russian assets and improve scrutiny</span></a></em></li>
   <li><em><a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2018/03/14/war_&amp;_conflict/russia-changes-the-rules-of-warfare-perfecting-hybrid-war/54989/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Russia changes the rules of warfare, perfecting ‘hybrid war’</span></a></em></li>
Categories Categories
  Crime, Current Affairs, Diplomacy, European Union, Human Rights, Justice, Law, North America, Politics, Russia, United Kingdom, United Nations, United States
Article type Article type
Tags Tags
  RT, Sergei Lavrov, Sergei Skripal, Sputnik, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin
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