As part of efforts to wean itself from Russian energy, the European Union has been looking to alternative sources such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), imported from the US, among others. Pro-Russian and disinformation actors downplay the importance of diversifying energy sources and suppliers, spread false claims and sow fear and chaos in the Slovak information space.
- During the monitored period (May to the beginning of August 2022), the main alternative media (such as Hlavný denník, Slobodný vysielač, Spravodajská alternatíva, aktuality24.sk, Matovičov cirkus) as well as smaller disinformation-oriented FB pages (Sloveni, Národná koalícia 2) were engaged in the topic.
- Among political actors, Slavěna Vorobelová, a non-attached MP, spread harmful narratives about the topic. The Russian Embassy in Slovakia also partly commented on the matter.
- A distinct pro-Russian orientation is typical for all the above-mentioned media as well as political actors.
- The central narrative, from which several other claims were derived, was the promotion of the Russian Federation as a reliable partner with stable energy supplies in contrast to the uncertainty and reduction in the living standards that breaking away from Russian energy could bring.
- The analyzed posts were characterized by pro-Russian sentiment and trivialization of Russian aggression. Accusations of ‚Russophobia‘ directed at the Slovak government appeared as well.
- Many posts focused on the negative portrayal of energy cooperation between European countries and the US. The US was accused of intending to profit from the crisis. The claim that the EU was pushed to adopt the anti-Russian sanctions by the US appeared in the monitoring as well.
- Exaggeration of the possible impacts of the energy crisis as well as speculative narratives about LNG with the aim of creating fear were typical of a number of posts.
Infosecurity.sk explored narratives on this topic as part of the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) joint project on climate and green energy. The analytical team examined narratives prevalent on Facebook. As part of the project, we monitored the Facebook content of actors included in Gerulata Technologies‘ list of pro-Russian sources. Then we manually searched for posts of other actors through the CrowdTangle tool.
Russian vs. American gas
In general, narratives related to securing energy for the national economy referred to Russia as a reliable partner and emphasized its stable supplies at low prices. According to MP Slavěna Vorobelová, Slovakia had this stability „until recently guaranteed by Russia’s Gazprom, and today we do not have anything guaranteed.“ This post published in May was also shared on the profile of the pro-Russian disinformation page Sloveni. The posts received a total of approximately 6,396 interactions (reactions, comments and shares).
Vorobelová was not elected into the parliament right after elections in 2020, but made it a MP after Marian Kotleba, leader of the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia, was convicted for a deliberate crime and his mandate was terminated. Although she ran as a candidate for the party Our Slovakia, now its parliamentary caucus has been dissolved and she is a non-attached MP. Generally, members of Our Slovakia are quite often cited by disinformation and other alternative media, as they produce controversial content – Vorobelová is no exception.
In July, Vorobelová posted again on the topic of the energy crisis. She pointed to Russia’s reliability as a trading partner in contrast to American LNG supplies. She implied that the American gas may not be supplied if Asian countries come with a higher payment offer. In this case, the post was re-shared by the pro-Russian conspiracy page Národná koalícia 2. The goal of both posts was to spread fear of a possible gas shortage and glorify the Russian Federation as the best partner in the energy sector.
Ensuring LNG supplies
In May, Armádny magazín compared two situations related to energy negotiations and agreements: while Germany and Qatar could not agree on LNG supplies, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov succeeded in his visits to Algeria and Oman. According to the magazine, „Moscow apparently asked Algeria and Oman to continue the policy of neutrality, as well as keep their obligations towards Russia.“ The RF Embassy in Slovakia and Slobodný vysielač also reported on the failed German-Qatari negotiations. These posts were intended to highlight Moscow’s success in contrast to Berlin’s failure.
The explosion at one of the largest US LNG export terminals in Freeport Texas in June was also commented on by Slovak pro-Russian actors. They did not hesitate to exploit the situation and stated that Slovakia has no choice but to continue buying Russian gas and therefore fund the war. Spravodajská alternatíva further sought to fuel fears of a shortage of LNG in Europe by claiming that it is possible that the terminal will not resume operations until the end of the year, contradicting official reports of a partial restart planned for October 2022.
In this regard, Hlavný denník asked what should now be done about „Russophobia at the government level“ and mockingly commented on how the government „secured LNG“ for Slovakia. This post was also shared by pro-Russian Facebook pages Som z dediny, Sila pravdy and Odboj V4 and received a total of approximately 2,482 interactions.
Negative portrayal of the US
Another narrative spread on Slovak Facebook tried to give the impression that the US is comfortable with the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine. „Guess who is profiting from it, what a surprise,“ was the comment of the website aktuality24.sk on the article of the economic magazine Trend titled „LNG exports from the USA reached the second highest level in May. Most of them went to Europe.“ A screenshot of the article was also shared by the page Matovičov Cirkus.
Various disinformation actors have also pointed out how expensive and slow the transition to LNG will be. The Slovak pro-Russian disinformation site Slobodný vysielač shared a Czech article criticizing the Czech Republic’s efforts to secure LNG from the Netherlands, precisely because of high prices. There was a comment of Slobodný vysielač in which it stated: „… don’t ask about things that have nothing to do with you. You should only ask whether we will get you democratic gas or not. But you should not ask how much the gas will cost. These are irrelevant questions.“ This statement downplays the issue of cutting off from Russian gas and at the same time indirectly points to another ‚popular‘ narrative of the disinformation scene – the so-called dictate from Brussels.
Slobodný vysielač also covered and sarcastically commented on another Czech article entitled „Hamburg: In the event of a gas shortage, hot water will be rationed…“. The post claimed that the Western anti-Russian sanctions were not our voluntary decision, but we were ‚pushed‘ into adopting them by the US. The post further indicates that the sanctions lead to the deterioration of living standards and it ironically emphasizes that Slovaks should not forget that „…only PUTIN is responsible for all the evil that is happening to you!“ This comment also tries to induce fear together with a negative connection to the US, and vice versa, standing up for Putin.
Similar claims also appeared in the Czech Republic
In cooperation with the partners of the project, we analyzed the posts on the given topic in the Czech Republic. In April, a widely shared post appeared on Czech Facebook accusing Germany of selling Russian gas to the Czech Republic for a price 3-times higher. It was spread by Iniciatíva pre zdravotnú, energetickú a sociálnu bezpečnosť a stabilitu (meaning The Initiative for medical, energy, and social security and stability), which describes itself as a citizens‘ association that condemns the actions of governments that serve a narrow group of the privileged. However, the disinformation was refuted by the local fact-checking initiative Manipulatori.cz.
There have been pro-Russian narratives and claims directed against the EU in Czech republic as well. In July, controversial politician Tomio Okamura, the leader of the SDP party, called Gazprom one of the most reliable energy suppliers in the world. Among other things, he described the increase in energy prices as „disgusting and artificial“ and blamed the Czech government and EU.
The pro-Russian FB group Môj prezident shared a post celebrating Russian-Turkish-Iranian cooperation and its achievements. At the same time, it said that Russia will come out of the war stronger and that Europe will be happy if it does not go bankrupt.
The alternative media Geopolitan also commented on the topic. In its article, German efforts to cut off from Russian gas are criticized, pointing to the failure of the German-Qatari negotiations or the complications caused by the explosion of the LNG terminal in Texas. As in the case of the analyzed Slovak actors, the goal of Geopolitan’s posts was to spread fear in society and criticize the steps taken. The post went on to make a claim that blamed the current and previous German governments for the energy crisis in Germany and defended Putin.
We can conclude that between May and August 2022 narratives discrediting efforts to cut off from Russian gas and cleansing Russia’s reputation at the same time appeared both in Slovak and Czech information space.
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