Last week's events concerning the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign


The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is a global one. That means that various countries in the world are facing similar, if not identical, challenges and problems. The Czech Republic entered this fight a few moments and stages earlier than other countries in Eastern Europe, like Ukraine and Georgia, among others. Czech civil society (in the broader understanding of this term) has already shown a high degree of innovation, creativity, voluntarism, and solidarity when it comes to the fight against this disease. We believe that there is no need for others to reinvent the wheel and waste precious time in the face of a potentially fatal disease. Therefore, we decided to compile the best practices and lessons learned by Czech civil society and offer them as this shareware toolkit to other countries.



This report is an output of year-long cooperation between non-governmental organisations and think-tanks from Central Europe and the Eastern Neighbourhood with the support of the European Commission. Authored by the European Values Center for Security Policy team based on consultations with several security specialists. The document raises the awareness of potential security incidents, which can occur during business trips abroad and offers an overview of useful tips what you should follow before, during and after the trip in order to protect yourself and your data. You can access the document after typing the password: security2020.



How are China & Russia manipulating the global pandemic? (on-line panel debate)

The global pandemic is already being used by the Chinese and Russian governments for disinformation and geopolitical power-play. How should democratic countries react?


Friday, April 3 2020

07:00 – 08:30 EDT (Washington, Ottawa)

13:00 -14:30 CET (Europe)

16:00 -17:30 (Tbilisi)


Jakub Kalenský, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
Charles Burton, Senior Fellow at Mcdonald Laurier Institute & Senior Non-Resident Fellow at European Values Center for Security Policy
Mariam Tsitsikashvili, Research fellow at Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS), Non-Resident Fellow at European Values Center for Security Policy
Edward Lucas, Vice President, CEPA

For more information, including how to watch the stream and how to pose questions to the panellists, follow our Facebook event.

Topics of the Week

The questionable Russian COVID-19 "aid" to Italy: Military deployment "From Russia with Love"

A coordinated effort of Russia, China, and Iran to harm the United States and hinder efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic reported by Voice of America.

Kremlin's Current Narrative: The defence of Nicolás Maduro

Good Old Soviet Joke

Why do the KGB thugs always walk around in threes? 

One can read, one can write, and the third keeps an eye on the two intellectuals.

Facebook Twitter

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter!

Policy & Research News

General doctor, or doctor general? Russia’s "aid" to Italy

On Sunday, March 22, Russia started shipping its COVID-19 aid to Italy, in an operation, sardonically tagged by Moscow as: “From Russia with Love”. The nine Il-76 from Moscow’s Chkalovsky military airbase landed in Pratica di Mare Rome’s airport, bringing instruments and personnel to be deployed in the overwhelmed Northern Italy. But 80% of it was useless, Italian newspaper “La Stampa” reports. In fact, while devices most needed were shipped in poor numbers, the most part of what was provided consisted of generic disinfection tools, that Italy doesn’t lack. The goods came along with ranked military personnel, including Sergei Kikot – head of mission, general-major,  Gennady Eremin – colonel; Viacheslav Kulish – colonel, all of them experts in biological and chemical warfare, that previously served in theatres such as Syria, Guinea, Africa - plus an unspecified number of “support technicians”.

The mission under the Ministry of Defense (not health) of the Russian Federation then moved in trucks-convoy for 600 km northwards to Bergamo, and the manoeuvre was widely broadcasted through TV footage and social media posts. This Russian move is more than a mere COVID public diplomacy campaign - that can come at much less cost, without military engagement.

Russian outlets understated or kept silent about the EU and other countries’ aid to Italy, and while international journals questioned this operation’s goodwill, Italian concerns were dismissed by Russian outlets and by an open letter by Russian Ambassador to Italy, as “ingratitude” or “disorienting” claims. None of those replies succeeded to explain how this “helping hands” “with no second purpose”, turned into a Russian military deployment in Italy.

Abnormal Russian warship activity off UK coast

Russian warships undertaking abnormal activity in the Channel were shadowed and forced to route changes by a joint UK-Allies effort.

The seven heavily armed Russian vessels reached the Channel and remained off the coast for more than one week, eliciting prompt UK-NATO response.

While no official comment was released about the incident by Russian authorities, Russian state channels intended for external audience clumsily tried to dismiss it as “Russophobia” and to ridicule it by focusing on trivial details.

The incident happened after a wave of other recent Russian kinetic moves around Europe, and along with the ongoing Russian massive disinformation campaign around COVID.

Already in February, Lavrov warned a Russian offensive campaign would have taken place against Europe, justifying it repeating the long-standing narrative of NATO aggression and Russian encirclement, but the drills he refers to were actually shelved due to the pandemic – thus fully exposing Lavrov’s concerns as an excuse.

The whole picture shows how Russia is waging a massive multi-track effort to hit on European countries, exploiting the moment of vulnerability due to the pandemic, while publicly declaring any offensive measure suspended “as a sign of goodwill” “to fight the Coronavirus”.

US Developments

Russia makes changes to disinformation strategy ahead of elections

A recent New York Times article has outlined five major changes that Russia has made to its 2016 disinformation strategy ahead of the 2020 American presidential elections in order to avoid detection. First, in order to avoid spelling errors and grammar mistakes that led to the discovery of disinformation, the Russians are now copying and pasting English text from other sources. The Russians have also made their posts more succinct and have added fewer hashtags to them, and accounts and pages are becoming smaller.

According to the report, recent accounts that have been detected tend to have between 2,000 and 20,000 followers. For comparison, some major pages of the 2016 campaign had over 300,000 followers. The Russians have also removed watermarks and symbols from pictures and memes that their pages publish. Finally, instead of forging accounts in Russia, Russia is engaging in a practice known as “franchising.” This entails renting locally-created accounts and hiring local users to sway opinion and post disinformation to prevent tracing the content back to Russia and to make the content seem more organic.

Major American adversaries ally in an “axis of disinformation”

A report by Voice of America has detailed apparent coordination between Russia, China, and Iran to harm the United States and hinder efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it is unclear if these nations are collaborating behind the scenes, disinformation outlets attributed to each of these countries appear to be “echoing and magnifying each other’s information operations.” Popular narratives include placing the blame for the crisis on the U.S. and attempting to convince readers that the whole crisis is a hoax. An additional revelation is that Chinese and Iranian officials themselves are spreading the disinformation, rather than underhandedly distributing it through third-party pages and accounts. These officials are also publicly denying American claims that these three countries are conducting disinformation campaigns, despite convincing proof. One proposed course of action involves banning Chinese Communist Party Twitter accounts, however, it remains unclear whether this proposal, made by Republicans in the American Congress, will be implemented.

Facebook Twitter

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter!

Kremlin's Current Narrative

Russian media come to Maduro’s defence vis-à-vis US charges

Last Thursday, the US Justice Department indicted Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and more than a dozen other officials in his entourage on “narco-terrorism” charges, declaring that a $15 million reward awaits whoever will provide any evidence leading to the arrest of Maduro. The Venezuelan strongman, that Moscow recognises as the legitimate president of the Bolivarian Republic, has found in the Russian state media a good advocate of his innocence.

Various outlets have taken turns to amplify all those voices that have condemned the indictment of Maduro. In this context, the accusations are described as “absurd” and politically-motivated, but also vile and cynical for coming at a time when the world is coping with a global pandemic. As reported by the Russian state channels, the charges against Maduro would signal a renewed attempt by the US to pursue its regime-change policy in Venezuela, in line – the media suggest – with the best tradition of Washington’s Monroe Doctrine-inspired imperialistic agenda in Latin America. 

In support of these claims, RT recalls the events that in the late eighties had seen the then-Panamanian leader being charged by the US with similar drug-related crimes, before being deposed following a military incursion. The Kremlin-sponsored outlets try to speculate whether the US strategy will follow this same course in Venezuela, resulting in a coup. Others, on the contrary, wonder if the indictment of Maduro is only part of a strategy that aims, in a moment of emergency, to “silently increase the pressure” on leaders hostile to Washington.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

Detecting Malign or Subversive Information Efforts over Social Media:

Scalable Analytics for Early Warning

William Marcellino, Krystyna Marcinek, Stephanie Pezard, and Miriam Matthews; RAND Corporation

This Rand Corporation report outlines the need for scalable analytic means to detect malign or subversive information campaigns, using the 2018 FIFA World Cup as a case-study for Community Lexical Analysis (CLA), a scalable social media analysis method. States have a capability gap in their ability to detect disinformation efforts before they are able to influence the behaviours and attitudes of large audiences. The report addresses a novel method to detect whole efforts.

The authors adapted an existing social media analysis method, combining network analysis and text analysis to map out, visualize and understand communities interacting on social media. This method can be scaled, allowing analysts to look for patterns of disinformation in data sets too large for human qualitative analysis.

This image visualizes the CLA method. It works by dividing an enormous data set into smaller/denser data sets. In this case, each grey circle represents “community” conversations that have been isolated from a large social media data set. The largest of these “communities” were explored using human qualitative analysis to contextualize malign/subversive information findings.

Researchers analyzed approximately 69 million tweets in English, French and Russian in the month before the 2018 World Cup and the following month. They identified two distinct Russian information efforts, one aimed at Russian-speaking audiences, and the other at French-speaking audiences. Russian efforts focused on validating the Russian annexation of Crimea and justifying further military action against Ukraine. French efforts centred on stoking right-wing extremism and populist resentment, targeting the populist gilet jaunes (yellow vests) movement months before the riots had reached English headlines.

Detection of malign or subversive campaigns is time-sensitive, as campaigns need to be detected early for an effective response. Current research is focused on detecting individual elements rather than wholes or aggregates. A scalable, human-in-the-loop method of analysis is critical if governments wish to detect and act against disinformation campaigns in a timely and effective manner.

Do you like our work?

Our effort to protect liberal democracy across Europe is dependent on private donations.

Support us

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Center for Security Policy, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against the liberal-democratic system.

For comments. suggestions or media inquiries, please contact the Head of the Kremlin Watch Program Veronika Víchová at 

Facebook Twitter

European Values Center for Security Policy

Facebook Twitter Youtube