Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The new dupes of Moscow

When I was a student in the UK in the late '70s and early '80s, the Cold War was entering its decisive phase. The West, determined not to be cowed into submission by the Kremlin, was re-arming. Margaret Thatcher was buying a fleet of Trident nuclear missile submarines while Ronald Reagan was deploying Pershing II tactical nuclear missiles in Europe and reinstating production of neutron bombs to counter the threat of massed Soviet armoured formation thrusting westwards.

None of this was popular with the British (and Western European) Left, who, rather than being supremely thankful that this deterrence was keeping them out of Gulags, were protesting that the West should unilaterally disarm and lay down its nuclear shield.

I recall my friend Richard B. striding into a church hall in Royal Leamington Spa one Saturday lunchtime in early 1980 where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was holding a fund-raising bring-and-buy sale. Richard walked to the middle of the room full of tea-cosy hatted feminists and waistcoated tin-whistle-blowing beardies and bellowed out "YOU ARE ALL DUPES OF MOSCOW!" Later, he was seen shaking a tin along the Parade, collecting money for Trident missiles with which to deter the Russians.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 and the emergence of Solidarity in 1980 brought an end to any youthful delusions I might have had as to the true nature of the Soviet Empire. My mother's experiences in a Soviet forced labour camp four decades earlier were also difficult to ignore. And those well-meaning, woolly-minded lefties that saw the USSR as being morally equivalent to the West were just plain wrong.

The Soviet Union, through its security services, saw fit to meddle in the affairs of other countries using stooges, sympathisers and fellow-travellers to muddy the waters.

And so, today, the USSR's successor state and the KGB's successor agency are engaged in disinformation practices. Rather than pumping cash into dull ideological rags like the Morning Star or weirdo leftie groups that few took seriously, the Kremlin's disinformation strategy today is more subtle, more modern.

Each day, an army of English-speaking commentators is scribbling away on the online comments pages of mainstream Western media. Nicknamed the '40-rouble army' (after the sum of money a Kremlin commentator gets paid per comment), you will see their handiwork on many websites from the Economist to the Daily Mail.

These people write to order about issues that affect the Kremlin directly or indirectly. They are recognisable by their tone; frequently provocative, insulting, attacking the author (or commentator) personally. They are persistent too, returning to a thread to ensure that they have the last word in any argument. They wield false facts and disinformation. They often use unorthodox English (in particular their misuse of definite and indefinite articles, a giveaway), dropping in the odd Latin word, and displaying a rather pompous style. In contrast to Ukippers, whose comments may well be full of spelling mistakes and punctuation errors - but whose writing at least has a natural, native English flow.

The 40-rouble army is well versed in the arts of black propaganda. They latch on to populist movements and use divide-and-rule strategies and tactics. The EU and the US are regular targets, so they will attack (for example) the EU using similar rhetoric deployed by anti-EU populists.
They will wade into arguments supporting Ukippers who use terms like "EUSSR",  stirring up anti-EU sentiment for all its worth. All busy bashing Brussels. The reason is obvious - EU membership has changed the former captive nations of the Soviet bloc from poor dictatorships into rapidly-growing democracies. Putin doesn't want Russians to aspire to this.

Example (copy-pasted verbatim from a comment under a Daily Telegraph article)
"I am not sure that people are aware of how dangerous the current situation is. We are possibly heading towards a 'Cuban Misslile' crisis in intensity. They are rounding up judges, Senators - anyone with links to the genuine government and charging them with treason and other crimes. They have already imposed the new front central banker. However that is not the serious bit other than for the victims of the new lynch mobs. They are already fomenting strife in the Eastern Ukraine. Attack mobs. Particularly the Crimea. Russia cannot let its naval base go. It is essential to all its strategic defence and it is now clear that the EU/US axis (of pure evil) is planning some sort of confrontation that could lead to outright war. I suggest this is possibly the whole idea. Long in the planning. The west is desperate for war - its economy is in utter ruin from debt. They are warning Putin not to go in. But he has little choice if the East starts to crack. We are entering dangerous times indeed and just remember it was our corrupt and treasonous politicians in the thick of it. Quite happy to jeopardise this country and every person in it. To gamble with the lives of every living thing on the planet. For greed and power. The Russians have done nothing to provoke this crisis - it is Western in concept and so far in its illegal action."
This does not sound like the work of 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells'. This is coming at you from the corridors of the Kremlin. Yet the author claims (I have emphasised the words) to be British. Our corrupt and treasonous politicians..." "...this country..."

In the run-up to the European Parliamentary elections, those of you who follow the comments on the online media, keep a close eye on who posts what - I'm certain that the Kremlin's 40-rouble army will make its presence felt. A little bit of low-risk, easily-deniable mischief that helps sow discord and discontent among the citizens of the EU. The Kremlin is ready to stoke it for all it's worth to weaken the EU by one large, strong member.

At the end of the day, for all its faults, and they are manifold, the EU has proved to be a great civilising influence - membership of the club has been a huge success for Poland. And anyone who says otherwise is a dupe of Moscow.

This time last year:
Late-winter commuting, Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
Lent and Recession - a nice parallel

This time six years ago:
Early intimations of spring (no such luck this year!)


Paddy said...

Wonder what you make of this? Bizarre, stilted northern English accent? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OBeYg8KdtY

AndrzejK said...


Do you remember that dreadful woman from the FCO who in the mid 90's still claimed that Katyn was perpetrated by the Germans?

The only thing the Soviets understand are a nifty kick in the nether regions. Any attempt at compromise is treated as weakness and exploited fully.

Hopefully the US will stop trying to put the kybosh on European shale gas exploration!

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Paddy

This is EXACTLY the kind of stuff I'm talking about. Skillful disinformation; how many Brits are taken in by this?

@ Andrzej

I remember that woman well... Remember the FCO was a hotbed of pro-Soviet sympathy (and worse) for much of the Cold War!

It is always better to see the hand of the Kremlin at work (even when it isn't) than to be woken up by a boot stamping on your face.

Petef Stevenson said...

Love your article & have been dismayed by these type of posts.Could not believe them & figured they were the work of Russian trolls. If only the rest of the world had a small % of the courage of the Maidan Ukrainians.
Piotr (actually Peter)
A retired Amwrican living in Warsaw with my Polish wife!

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Piotr

Beijing employs similar tactics. I've never been on a Russian or Chinese website, so I can't say whether Western intelligence services don't have paid posters countering this type of action.

Paddy said...

The funny thing is I found that video exactly a minute or two after finishing reading your post. Not only that but I've noticed a huge amount of this in recent days on the Economist. It wasn't like this a year ago! Death of comments?!