Some of the people who have come across East and West articles may have quickly concluded that our own website must be part of that wide infamous disinformation effort backed and organized by the Kremlin, the most powerful disinformation machine in the world, against which we have been warned for the past few years. After all, on the pages of East and West we have often given voice to criticism of the European Union, US foreign policy, globalization, NATO, we have questioned the motives of Western policies towards Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and China. East and West, as an independent media outlet, is not an established media. Isn’t this proof enough that East and West too must be “fake news”, in the pay of Putin to destabilize and discredit the West? Just like in the famous Cold War era duck test: “I can’t prove you are a Communist. But when I see a bird that quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, has feathers and webbed feet and associates with ducks—I’m certainly going to assume that he is a duck”. Does East and West quack like a duck?
The EU vs Disinformation project, part of the East StratCom Task Force (read = NATO), tasked with identifying what it defines “disinformation”, “was established in 2015 to better forecast, address, and respond to the Russian Federation’s ongoing disinformation campaigns affecting the European Union, its Member States, and countries in the shared neighbourhood”. This seems to make clear why EU vs Disinformation was established: to counter disinformation origination from the Russian Federation. On its own website, however, EU vs Disinformation has what seems a disclaimer: “Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform”. The website of the East Stratcom Task Force, however, says: “Disinformation does not include inadvertent errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary”. The cursive is ours.
What EU vs Disinformation writes seems to be in stark contrast that with the effect that the numerous “debunking” articles published regularly by their team produce: the Kremlin does constant disinformation and everything that emanates from Russia is disinformation and false; Europe, the United States and the West stand heroically for the Truth – the Truth with a capital T, of course. Any hint of criticism of the EU, NATO, the United States is defamed without much of an in-depth analysis as Kremlin propaganda, hence inherently mendacious. The excuse the EU vs Disinformation operation offers in a disclaimer hidden at the bottom of its page appears extremely weak in this context.
Reading the comments under these various articles posted by the regular EU vs Disinformation readers one will be confronted with the most aggressive forms of Russophobia and Western triumphalism possibly imaginable. What NATO and the EU do is good; if anything, NATO, the United States and the West, when they are criticized, are denounced for not being aggressive enough towards the Russian (and Chinese, or Turkish or whatever) threat. Russia is selling too much gas to Europe? Putin is trying to enslave Europe, making it dependent on its gas. Russia is not selling enough gas to Europe? Putin is blackmailing Europe. In the middle of this nimble logical gymnastic, one thing remains constant: every critical voice is immediately dismissed just a Putin’s troll, every single one of them. No sort of dissent or nuanced argument is welcome in the kind of discourse that is sponsored by NATO through EU vs Disinformation and other similar NATO-affiliated organizations. Over the past years the general public has been regularly and incessantly fed with stories about omnipresent Kremlin trolls that have manipulated millions of clueless people into voting for Brexit and Donald Trump. That’s the result. Now people see Kremlin trolls everywhere.
Journalists like to think of themselves as highly sophisticated individuals, able to see things that normal people don’t see and who know things that normal people don’t. However, over the last few years, journalists employed by large corporate media, de facto the only sort of source of news and knowledge about events and the world that a vast part of the public has access to, have contributed to an extreme simplification of the interpretation of everything that happens in the world of great power politics. According to this interpretation, the West is on the receiving end of an incessant and malign disinformation campaign, aimed at discrediting what the West stands for: freedom, liberal democracy, human rights. Most people may in fact perceive these standardized phrases as platitudes. Most people understand at a gut level that freedom, democracy and other similar words that politicians and spin doctors like to constantly use are abstractions that mean little in the reality of the business of governing and international politics. Yet, repeated over and over again over many years, these platitudes shape the way billions of consumers of news around the world learn to see the world. Even when NATO throws thousands of bombs, these are bombs for a good cause. What if the bombing did not exactly lead to democracy and prosperity, like in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, just to quote the latest examples? The West cannot possible be to blame, can it? The West wants democracy and freedom and wants everyone in the world to live in the democracy and freedom (who does not want to have democracy and freedom), the Rest, the adversaries of the West, always, inevitably, fall back to dictatorship and abuse. Why can’t the whole world just become like the West?
The original question still remains answered though: is East and West Russian propaganda? As we have seen, it does not matter whether East and West has direct Kremlin links or not: you don’t need to have that according to the definition of disinformation given by a most authoritative and impartial source like EU vs Disinformation. Is the West always bad? Of course not. But is the West an immaculate angel, just trying to spread peace, prosperity and Good in an ungrateful world? This is plainly an absurd notion. However, most people in the West seem to be imbued with this rather primitive notion. It’s important to be able to remind people of these very basic things without being publicly tarnished as propaganda. Self-criticism is a perfectly normal phenomenon in intelligent people. Granitic self-assurance and an idealized image of us should worry us considerably more.