Russia is using its diplomats to spread falsehoods about the war in Ukraine, analysts warn. Russian embassies and consulates around the world are using Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to spread lies about atrocities on the front. The diplomatic disinformation intensified after the European Union banned RT, Sputnik, and other Kremlin-backed media outlets in March, AP reported.
“Each week since the beginning of the war, these diplomats have posted thousands of times, gaining more than a million engagements on Twitter per week,” Marcel Schliebs, a disinformation researcher at Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute, told AP.
Schliebs tracked more than 300 social media accounts linked to Russian diplomatic entities and found that some of them, such as the embassies in the United Kingdom and Mexico, are especially active. The Russian Embassy in the U.K., for example, claimed on Twitter that Ukrainians were behind a missile attack on a Ukrainian railway station.
“Obviously, the sanctions against Russia and its institutions do not include its diplomats. That’s why these diplomats are in charge of propaganda,” Luis Fleischman, professor of sociology at Palm Beach State College in Florida, told Diálogo. “However, there’s already been the case of a Russian diplomat who couldn’t take the farce any longer and resigned from his role with anti-war statements,” he said.
Fleischman is referring to Boris Bondarev, who was an adviser to the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva. In late May, after 20 years of service to the Kremlin, Bondarev wrote in a statement, “I have never been so ashamed of my country.”
“Today, [Russia’s] Foreign Ministry is not about diplomacy,” Bondarev said. “It is all about warmongering, lies, and hatred. It serves the interests of the few, the very few, thus contributing to the further isolation and degradation of my country. Russia no longer has allies, and there is no one to blame but its reckless and ill-conceived policy.”
Fleischman agrees. “Russian propaganda and disinformation are so ridiculous — for example, in denying the Bucha massacre — that this would be impossible without today’s social media,” says the analyst. “I believe that the use of diplomats and even propaganda has its limits.”
In mid-April, four European Union and U.S. officials also denounced the use of Russian diplomats as propagators of falsehoods, Politico news site reported. Before the invasion of Ukraine, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the topic, Russian officials left disinformation tactics to Kremlin-owned outlets such as RT and Sputnik.
With social media platforms and websites in multiple languages, these outlets helped spread false narratives to audiences across several continents, including the Americas. Russian government representatives, on the other hand, promoted a positive view of the country, expressed in diplomatic language within the rules of the international political order.
Since the beginning of the war, however, diplomats have become some sort of “disinformation warriors,” Politico said. Many of these diplomats and diplomatic entities have thousands of followers on social media.
The Russian Embassy in Spain, for example, posted on Twitter an RT video showing alleged Ukrainian attacks on civilians in Donetsk. Russian missions in Geneva and Paris also propagated falsehoods about the executions of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. “Inconsistencies with the ‘Bucha massacre,’” the Russian mission in Paris said via Twitter.
“As long as Russian state media continues to be either banned, downranked, or impacted in some way, they’re going to want to fill that messaging gap,” Bret Schafer, head of the think tank Alliance for Securing Democracy’s information manipulation team, told Politico.
“The best way to do that, to control the narrative, is through their diplomatic accounts,” Schafer added.