Russia targets Slovakia as the weakest link in V4

A war for hearts and minds, everywhere. Moscow, 2014. [Shutterstock]

Russia believes Slovakia is the only Visegrád country that may leave NATO, which is why its propaganda apparatus is targeting it. EURACTIV Slovakia partner Dennik N reports on Moscow’s information war in the region.

Individuals who took part in the annexation of Crimea and helped to start the conflict in Donbas are now active all over Europe, writes Bulgarian researcher Christo Grozev for the investigative website Bellingcat.

Besides Balkan countries, Russian propaganda is now reported to be targeting the Visegrád region. In an interview in Dennik N, Grozev quotes emails written by Russian nationalist Alexandr Usovsk, published by Ukrainian hackers. Usovsk helped to organise and finance several protests in the region, supporting Donbas separatists, Slovakia´s withdrawal from NATO, and anti-migrant campaigns.

Russian official: Information war part of ‘battle for the consciousness of the masses’

The new propaganda and cyber-warfare division of Russia’s ministry of defence is staffed by 1,000 people and has a budget of €300 million. Special efforts are being made to target the French presidential election. Euractiv France reports.

The Russian activist had a wide variety of “clients” – from Czech communist Ladislav Kašuk, who was planning a protest in Prague against the “fascists in Kiyv”, to Hungary’s Jobbik party, to Slovak organisers of two anti-NATO protests in 2014.

Until mid-2015, Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian oligarch and former investment banker, and a self-professed nationalist and monarchist supported Alexandr Usovs. Malofeev funds ultra-nationalist activities in Russia and owns a TV station.

In 2014, Malofeev was placed on the EU sanctions list for his material support for the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. According to Bellingcat, he had been one of the initial ideologues and organisers of the annexation of Crimea and had recruited, financed and supervised at least two of the key Russian mercenaries and separatist leaders – Colonel Igor Girkin and Alexander Boroday.

Slovakia: The weakest link

“An analysis by people from Duma says that Slovakia is the only V4 country, that could be conceivably taken from NATO,” says Grozev in an interview with Dennik N. In central and eastern Slovakia, support for NATO membership is only 50%.

“Their understanding in Moscow is that getting Slovakia from NATO might not be a question of three years, but perhaps ten years,” adds the analyst.

Russia sets up information warfare units

Russia’s military has created a force tasked with waging information warfare, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said yesterday (22 February), in a move likely to heighten the West’s concerns about what it sees as Moscow-sponsored “fake news”.

Usovsk´s activities in Bratislava are partly supported by an NGO he has cofounded, the East-European Cultural Initiative. In the hacked emails, Usovsk mentions some “allies” in Slovak politics, including Marian Kotleba, leader of the neo-fascist party LSNS, which managed get to parliament in 2016 elections. Members of the party denied any connections to Russia.

Christo Grozev is critical of the inactivity of Slovakia’s security services. “Just sitting here and reading media is the last thing that your secret services should be doing. The Czech Republic is much more active in this. You should be led by that example.”

Grozev says that leaked documents provide useful information: the names of organisations and persons linked to Russian propaganda, even payment details. “They should start investigating activities that are proved to be financed from abroad and their aim is to change your constitutional order,” he commented.

Czech 'hybrid threats' centre under fire from country's own president

A new Czech Interior Ministry team set up this week to monitor and analyse “hybrid threats” to security, such as disinformation campaigns, has come under fire from the office of the country’s own president.


Subscribe to our newsletters