Russian Media Takes Aim at Belarus Protesters and Claims Germany Poisoned Navalny

September 11, 2020
Emil Filtenborg and Stefan Weichert
6 min read
Russian media channels are  propping up the Belarusian president of 26 years, Alexander Lukashenko
Russian media channels are propping up the Belarusian president of 26 years, Alexander Lukashenko

Emil Filtenborg and Stefan Weichert are independent journalists based in Ukraine. In a weekly series for IranWire, they examine the landscape of disinformation in Russia and some of the false information that has emanated from the country since the outbreak of coronavirus.


Russian media outlets have shown their true colors in Belarus. At the beginning of the Belarus protests following the August 9 election, Russian media played to both sides, with state-controlled channels such as RT even  indicating support  for the democratic movement. But now it seems abundantly clear that they are propping up the Belarusian president of 26 years, Alexander Lukashenko, who is accused by Belarusians of manipulating the recent election result.

In a talkshow entitled 60 Minutes, RT editor Margarita Simonyan called the main opposition figurehead, Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya, a “freak” of sub-human intelligence.

“I don’t understand why the West needs to choose the biggest freaks possible," she declared. "Telegram channels wrote today and yesterday received a leak... that her [Tsikhanouskaya’s] IQ was tested. Her IQ is 82. An IQ of 82 is a little bit higher than an orangutan. There are also some psychological problems that are evident even in her videos."

The entire segment was translated by the Digital Forensics Lab – an organization under the Atlantic Council – and can be found here. The authors of this article have interviewed Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya twice since the beginning of August while covering the Belarus protests, and while that does not make us experts on the anticipated IQs of primates or presidential candidates, but Tsikhanovskaya in no way came across as unintelligent, a "freak" or one with “psychological problems”.

Smearing the opposition has long been a mainstay for Lukashenko, who has variously accused the protesters of being deadbeats and drug addicts, being paid by foreign powers to protest, or just being foreigners in general.


Foreigners Protest Against Foreign Intervention

Western interference is still a major sticking point for the Belarusian government and its supporters. Even in Lithuania, a small protest was held in support of the government, demanding that the Western powers stop meddling in its affairs. According to DFRL, Belarusian media attempted to use it as an opportunity to claim Lukashenko enjoys a great deal of support abroad. But the footage it used was misleading.

Ironically, the most prominent criticism of the European Union regarding Belarus is that the EU is not doing enough to help the protesters get rid of Alexander Lukashenko. One of many examples is this article, in which the foreign minister of Lithuania criticizes the EU for being too slow to act.

The West also figures elsewhere on the current Russian information battle lines. Aside from the Belarus protests, the other news story dominating Russian headlines is the poisoning of Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, who is believed to have been incapacitated with a nerve agent by allies of Putin.

Spreading disinformation and attempting to divert attention has been Russia's tactic since Navalny was poisoned. Latently the blame has fallen on the West, first and foremost because Navalny was transferred to a German hospital, where the test concluded that he was poisoned with Novichok: the same toxin that was used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.

On Wednesday, last week, a member of the Russian State Duma Committee on Security and Anti-Corruption, Andrei Lugovoi, said the “incident” was a another provocation of external forces. In an interview with the state-owned news agency Tass, he said “If something related to Novichok was found there, then, most likely, it was introduced to him in this clinic. A nurse, a doctor could leave any mark if they wanted to really mark Navalny in some way with poisoning substance. I'm sure that's exactly what happened.”

This seems unlikely given that Navalny had already slipped into a coma before Germany became involved. Russian media outlets have also desperately claimed that Navalny was poisoned by Western powers to stop the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas line between Russia and Germany, which is heavily sanctioned and opposed by the US government. No proof of such a conspiracy exists.


Queensland Terrorist Trained in Ukraine

On of the more curious pieces of disinformation to surface recently was in South Front, an English-language "news" website with ties to Russia. In an article about how the West is losing its power (and also about how the West is using radical Islamists as proxy fighters in the Middle East), the writer – a J. Hawk – states that Ukraine is being used as a training ground for Western proxy warriors. That includes Islamist fighters, but also, apparently, a diametrically-opposed set of extremists: the far right.

“Right-wing militants are treated with kid gloves," the article asserted, "and like their Islamist brethren, are allowed to travel to Ukraine and obtain combat training and experience in the Azov Regiment. Occasionally this leads to 'blowback', as in the case of the Queensland mass murderer whose fighting skills were honed in Ukraine."

There has not been a terrorist attack in Queensland, Australia for years. An arsonist burned down a hostel almost 20 years ago, killing 15 people, but he did so long before there was a warzone in Ukraine in which to hone his skills in. He also had no known connection to Ukraine. Assuming the writer mixed up New Zealand and Australia and was thinking of the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, in which a gunman killed 51 people in a mosque, he remains short of a Ukrainian connection.


Also in this series: 

Missing Data, Mud-Slinging and “Miracle Cures”: Why Disinformation Is Bad For Your Health

Iranian Online Network Still Peddling Coronavirus Disinformation

Putin’s Domestic Problems Eclipse Russian Disinformation Campaigns

China's Campaign to Protect President Xi against Coronavirus Criticism

Chinese Embassies Work Overtime to Diffuse International Fury Over Coronavirus

Russia Bans Coronavirus "Fake News" and Slams US Over Press Freedom

China Blocks Investigations Amid Refusal to Shut Down Wet Markets

From Coronavirus to the Second World War: On the Frontlines of the Russian Disinformation Battle

Russia Blames West for Propaganda While Reporting Unlikely Number of Covid-19 Deaths

As Criticism of China Falters, Time for a NATO for Human Rights?

Guest Post From Russia: How do You Put the Brakes on a Fake News Machine?

Has China Really Given Assent to a Global Coronavirus Review?

Russian Disinformation Back to Targeting Ukraine as Putin Declares Covid-19 Peak has Passed

Will the Post-Coronavirus World Stand Up to China's Bullying Business Tactics?

Coronavirus: An Opportunity to Advance Russian Interests in Latin America

The Shi Zhengli Identification Criteria: How Do We Know Where Coronavirus First Emerged?

Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter Unrest Targeted by Russian Disinformation

Occupy First, Talk Later: China Turns Border Conflict Into PR Opportunity

China Deploys Coercive Tactics to Deal with Disinformation Accusation

Putin Tries to Rewrite War History to Assert Russia's Position on the World Stage

Behind the Smokescreen: What are China’s Anti-EU Pandemic Narratives Really About?

Kremlin Has the Upper Hand as Covid-19 Puts Independent Media Under Pressure




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