Pro-Russian disinformation aimed at undermining support for sanctions mainly consists of claims that they are ineffective, misguided, harm the West more than Russia, or even strengthen Russia’s economy. Threats of a cold, miserable winter for Europe have been particularly common.
The following summery analysis is based on extracts from the Interim Report (June-September, 2022) of the Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group, which represents a team of researchers from Debunk.org and our partners. The Interim Report collates insight drawn from the monitoring of narratives trending across pro-Kremlin sites and social media across eleven countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as they relate to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Western economic sanctions against Russia occupy an important place in Russian propaganda discourse across the observed states.
19% of all the messages issued by the monitored channels about the Russia-Ukraine war, have addressed the topic of sanctions.
Over the summer months, we have observed two distinct waves of anti-sanctions messaging. The first was dedicated to the Kaliningrad transit dispute and dominated sanctions-related propaganda until mid-July. Since early August, the topic of the “energy crisis” has become the dominant theme. Kremlin-backed messengers calibrate anti-sanctions messages to their audiences.
Those promoting anti-Western and pro-Russian sentiments use these narratives to emphasize the economic strength and power of Russia. In their discourse, it would be far wiser to avoid angering an economic giant like Russia; they advocate for “pragmatic thinking” instead of “political decisions”.
Alternatively, those 13 who advocate for an “effective response” to Russian aggression have attempted to discredit sanctions as ineffective, misguided, and even detrimental to the states that have imposed them.
The EU shot itself in the foot by imposing sanctions
The sanctions’ effect on the EU economy is portrayed as disastrous. Messengers manipulate economic figures and statistics to exaggerate the sanctions’ negative consequences for the West.
They claim that businesses across the EU are “going bankrupt” and pushing their governments to lift the sanctions, as European citizens refuse to endure the increased prices and economic instability any longer.
The bottom-up pressure is portrayed as enormous, and it is suggested that European countries will be forced to life their sanctions in the near future. Pro-Kremlin voices criticize the sanctions policy for neglecting the full extent of the EU’s dependence on Russia.
Sanctions are a part of USA’s war against Russia; the EU obeys
This narrative contributes to the myth that it is really the US that is waging war on Russia, inflates US influence over Europe, and attempts to create an image of disunity within the West.
According to pro-Kremlin conspiracy theories, sanctions are a component of USA’s broader strategic goal of weakening Russia. The EU is portrayed as an American marionette. Propagandists also claim that the US does not care about the toll that sanctions take on regular European citizens; Europeans are claimed to be victims caught in the crossfire of the economic war between the US and Russia.
Some pro-Russian messengers even claim that there are some individuals in Europe who are attempting to resist this US dictatorship, but that the governmental seats are occupied by weaker, more obedient politicians. In this way, anti-sanctions narratives are meant to create a perception of conflict among the collective West.
Sanctions provoked the war
Although sanctions have been applied against Russia after it invaded Ukraine, some pro-Kremlin voices have attempted to claim that Western sanctions have “forced” Russia to “protect” its legitimate interests militarily. These claims contribute to the broader claim that the West provoked Russia into attacking Ukraine.
The future of the EU is cold and hungry
Pro-Kremlin voices have devoted substantial attention to exaggerating the negative effects of sanctions, including the Euro’s inflation and rising prices for food and energy. Propagandists predict an impending recession, substantial inflation, and a catastrophic energy crisis.
They claim that – without Russian gas – the EU will face a harsh, cold winter that may even lead to civic unrest in major European capitals. Furthermore, attempts to diversify energy and food supplies are labelled as senseless. Ultimately, propagandists claim that Europe will be “crawling back” to Russia soon.
The US economy is also suffering; the US is seeking ways to restore business as usual
Pro-Kremlin voices accuse the US of playing a double game: on the one hand, it demands that Europe continues to apply sanctions against Russia; on the other hand, it is pragmatic enough to maintain trade relations with Russia.
Fake stories “exposing” American secret negotiations and trade agreements with Moscow have been a key component of this narrative
Sanctions do not harm Russia and even make it stronger
Ruble exchange rates are used as “evidence” to prove that the Russian economy is booming.
According to this narrative, Russia will easily find alternative markets for its goods; China and India are often named as key partners. Payments in currencies other than the dollar or euro will help make Russia’s economy more diverse and, thus, resilient.
All the negative trends in the European economy are an outcome of the short handed policy of the governments
Across the region, pro-Kremlin voices blame their governments for the negative consequences of sanctions.
They manipulatively omit the fact that the sanctions are a response to Russia’s unjustified military aggression against Ukraine. Instead, they claim that (real or inflated) negative trends in European economies are the product of non-pragmatic and ideology-driven anti-Russian policies.
The Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group unites 10 think tanks and research groups, which are working non-stop to monitor Kremlin propaganda in 14 countries.
Our partners: Civic Resilience Innitiative (Lithuania), Analyses and Alternatives (Bulgaria), Prague Security Studies Initiative (Czechia), GRASS (Georgia), Atlatszo (Hungary), MOST (North Macedonia), Fakenews.pl (Poland), Slovak Security Policy Institute (Slovakia), Detector Media (Ukraine), Press Club Belarus (Belarus), GlobalFocus Center (Romania), European Western Balkans (Serbia).