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How the Disinformation Gets Made

How the Disinformation Gets Made

The Polish official charged with fighting disinformation outlines the goals behind Russia’s anti-Polish propaganda.

Stanisław Żaryn

Russian disinformation campaigns regarding NATO countries have been growing in intensity as the world nears the one-year anniversary of Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine. As the Kremlin seeks to divide and weaken any anti-Russia alliance, it is especially singling out Poland as a target of disinformation.

Not only is the language of the Russian campaign against Poland getting more violent, but also the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus has begun broadcasting narratives in which Poland is portrayed as an aggressive, confrontational country that is undertaking actions that pose a threat—to Belarus and Russia, but also to Ukraine. For several weeks now, Russian propaganda has been spreading lies about Poland’s alleged plans of aggression against neighbouring countries. In its messaging to the West since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022, the Kremlin has attacked Poland with false claims that we are escalating conflicts and “dragging NATO into the war.” Russian actions targeting Poland are diverse, and are evidence of Russia putting much effort and resources into growing its narrative about a supposedly dangerous Poland. According to Russian propaganda, the world may even be at the brink of a third world war because of “Polish Russophobia.”

The ongoing campaign has started to use even more rhetorically aggressive messaging. A couple of days ago, the Russian news agency TASS (a permanent partner in Russia’s disinformation actions), attacked Poland for alleged “criminal actions” against Russia. The authors of this narrative claimed that Moscow had data “confirming Poland’s participation,” alongside the United States, in “terrorist attacks on the Russian territory.” They claimed that Poland and the United States were responsible for missile attacks that were launched over the past few days against numerous military targets in Russia. Such deceitful narratives are applied to slander those countries that are the most involved in supporting Ukraine and to portray them as escalating the situation.

For many weeks now Poland has been described as a military threat. Russian propaganda has gone so far as to claim that we are buying updated weapons and modernizing our army, not for defensive purposes, but because we are preparing to wage war against Russia or Belarus. This is how Russia misrepresented our decisions about purchasing cutting-edge weapons from South Korea and modern American tanks: Poland is buying arms because it is preparing to start a great war in Europe. Nor is Russia broadcasting its spin solely in Russia or through Russian channels. Russia’s information attacks are being relayed through Belarusian propaganda outlets as well, in order to “legitimize” the Russian messaging while also presenting Poland as a threat to Belarus and to peace in the region.

More so, the Kremlin describes our policy towards Ukraine as a cynical coverup for our supposedly true plans with regard to Kyiv. Moscow claims that Poland is in fact only waiting to annex part of Ukraine, and that it wants “to use the annexed territory to attack Russia” or “has bought a part of Ukraine form Zelensky” in exchange for security guarantees. The Kremlin is also claiming that Poland “has the West’s permission to seize Ukraine.” For months, the Kremlin’s narratives have been portraying Poland as the aggressor responsible for destabilizing the region. Supposedly, it’s the Polish authorities who have already prepared a plan of “entering Ukraine” because Poland never accepted the loss of its historically Eastern borderlands, and the prospect of regaining them now seems more tangible.

Meanwhile, Russia is consistently undertaking actions targeting Poland, objectively proving that Poland is in fact a victim of a campaign of hatred carried about by the Russian state. The fact that the Kremlin is carrying out these propagandistic attacks in a planned and consistent manner, over many months, only confirms the significance of information warfare waged against our country. What’s more, the most prominent persons in Russia, including Vladimir Putin, are participating in disseminating this Russian propaganda. In his recent statements, Vladimir Putin has argued several times that Ukraine should be afraid of “Polish nationalism,” and that “only Russia” can protect Ukraine from Poland. Such absurd claims are being spread through numerous channels and methods of influence used by the Russian state. And once again, their aim is to portray Poland as an aggressor with hostile plans towards its neighbours.

Poland may currently be bearing the brunt of the Russian industry of lies, but Russia’s aggressive anti-Poland narratives are part of a larger narrative directed to the Western world. This Russian narrative seeks to portray Poland as an unpredictable and unreliable partner whose approach toward Russia puts the whole Western world in danger. With such insinuations—based on the abovementioned narratives—Russia is directly attacking the Polish government for supposedly undertaking actions that escalate the current conflict, prolong the war, and are provoking further Russian actions.

Russia concentrating its narratives against Poland is nothing new—Russia has been trying to undermine Poland for a long time. It is something that the Kremlin finds to be of strategic importance, because it hopes in this way to weaken NATO countries’ involvement on the Alliance’s eastern flank and to isolate Poland, limiting Polish influence over Western-Russian relations. That’s why, among other things, Poland has often been depicted by the Russian propaganda as a state that “impedes normalisation of NATO relations with Russia.” A couple of years ago, the Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova even called the Western countries that form the eastern flank of the NATO alliance “warmongers.”

The Russians are currently using numerous narratives to undermine Poland, but their operations are coordinated, having one common denominator—to solidify their narrative about the Polish state being an aggressive country, hostile toward others, and posing an internal threat to NATO. Despite the absurd lies that such Russian actions are based on, they maintain them for the long-term goal they hope to achieve. The Kremlin knows that with its information actions it may divide and weaken the Alliance, which is of great overall importance for the Kremlin’s policy.

Poland is in grave danger from being in Russia’s crosshairs in this regard, but so is NATO as a whole. It is imperative that both Poland and Poland’s allies should take Russia’s propaganda actions seriously. And as it does in the case of physical threats, the whole NATO community should also be involved in neutralizing symptoms of the Russian information warfare waged against any of its member states.

Stanisław Żaryn is government plenipotentiary for the Security of Information Space of the Republic of Poland.

Image: Russian nesting dolls (Unsplash)