The Arrest Warrant for Putin from the Hague – Main Engine for the New Russian Disinformation and Threats
March in the Macedonian media space was marked by one major new disinformation narrative from Moscow, which was produced shortly after the news broke out about the warrant for the arrest of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the Children’s Rights Commissioner, Maria Lvova Beleva, by the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Two days after the publication of the news about the warrant for Putin, Moscow threatened that the arrest of the Russian President would be treated as declaring war on Russia. The Hague and Berlin were pointed out as specific targets for Russian missiles
In March 2023, a new disinformation narrative, based on unrealistic threats and directly related to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, appeared after the International Criminal Court (ICC) accused him of committing war crimes. Global sensation broke out when the ICC announced that a warrant was issued for the arrest of Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belоva, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of Russia on 17th of March. They are, with reasonable suspicion, accused for committing illegal relocation of thousands of children from Ukraine to Russia, starting on 24th February 2022. The Court’s Prosecutor, who requested the warrant, Karim Ahmad Khan that same day in a parallel statement elaborated the reasons for the warrant and added that his Office was investigating other criminal acts committed to civilian population and will not hesitate to submit indictments for other crimes perpetrated in Ukraine.
More details related to the warrant and Moscow’s initial reactions can be found in the article published by Truthmeter on the 18th of March.
Medvedev and Solovyev threaten to shell The Hague and Berlin
Two days after the issuance of the warrant by the Hague, Moscow was silent, and only short statements were given by Kremlin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov claiming that the warrant was ridiculous, shameful and void, because Moscow did not recognize the Court’s jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Russia launched its counter-attack on the 20th of March.
The Russian judiciary, as publicized, initiated a criminal procedure against the Prosecutor of the Court in The Hague, Ahmad Khan, for committing criminal acts described in the Russian Criminal Code. That same day, Dmitry Medvedev, member of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and one of Moscow’s propaganda protagonists, threatened with an attack on the building of the Court in The Hague with supersonic missiles. This was scarcely covered in the Macedonian media space, because most of the media paid attention to the aspect of the “international law” consequences (bellow we will discus this aspect more extensively).
Nevertheless, a narrative with a more dramatic bomb-threat came on 23.03.2022, citing Berlin as its target this time. Dmitry Medvedev came up with a new story in the Russian information war – that the arrest of President Vladimir Putin, anywhere in the world, would be a declaration of war on Russia, but he singled out the capital city of Germany.
Several media from the Macedonian media space published the statement by Medvedev threatening with a war, thereby transmitting the information of foreign relevant media (see here and here), quoting the former chief of the Russian state and former prime-minister:
Let’s imagine that the arrest of the nuclear state chief (Putin) is made on the territory – let’s say – Germany and that is where he is arrested. What would that mean? That would be a declaration of war against the Russian Federation. And in that case, all our resources – all our missiles – would fly off to the Bundestag, to the Office of the Chancellor, threatened Medvedev in a video-address through Telegram.
Medvedev’s message came just one day after the same radical message from the Russian propaganda expert, Vladimir Solovyev. In his show, by means of a threat addressed to the German minister who said that Putin would be arrested if he stepped foot on German territory, he stated:
It calls for an immediate nuclear strike on that country! Immediate! That’s to say, any attempt to do it, to go against the will of the Russian people, which has made itself very clear, must result in a missile strike, stated Solovyev..
This message from Putin’s propaganda expert, as Solovyev is called, was transmitted by part of the information space in the country.
“Chaos in international law” – another disinformation narrative
Previously, on 20.03.2023, Dmitry Medvedev came out with the first response regarding the warrant for the arrest of Vladimir Putin issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The disinformation narrative is composed of the threat on the ”chaos that will occur in international law”, because the Court threatened a leader of a nuclear force that, by the way, is not a member supporting the Rome Statute establishing the Court.
The practical value, of course, means nothing, but thank you for remembering us. Nevertheless, the consequences for international law will be monstrous, because this is a collapse of the pillars, of the legal principles. The basis for demanding accountability is inevitable. Now, nobody will require international bodies, they will arrive to a mutual agreement. All hidious UN decisions and other structures will start collapsing. A dark sunset for the entire international relations system is coming. Confidence has been exhausted, comments Medvedev.
Medvedev’s message was reported in the Macedonian media space with no comments – some published the entire piece like the case with 4News, while others a shorter version, like the case with SP.
Medvedev’s threat is, in fact, disinformation similar to the propaganda disinformation that he publishes regularly and daily starting from last April. Truthmeter published an analysis last November. The threats about “Armageddon” befalling upon the whole world, or the threats about the destruction of the Western countries, especially Europe, for helping Ukraine with arms, threats about the dire economic consequences, about EU Member-States freezing during the Winter due to the sanctions imposed on Russia etc. are just some of them.
The Hague’s decision and disinformation on social networks
Evidently, the decision to issue a warrant for the arrest of Putin and his assistant had an impact on the disinformation spread through social networks in the Macedonian information space.
Apart from the regular and well-known Russian narratives spreading – noticed and revealed by Truthmeter – such as the claims that Russia is at war with NATO or that Russia is not denying Ukrainian identity, two disinformation extreme narratives are connected to ICC’s decision.
The first one is that a pedophile scandal is ongoing in Ukraine i.e., the West is angry with Putin “for saving Ukrainian children from Western pedophile clutches”. More details about this can be found in Truthmeter’s article “Manipulation: Putin portrayed as a hero saving Ukrainian children!”
The second disinformation carried the story of the Prosecutor of the Court in The Hague, Karim Ahmad Khan. A claim that he was found dead in his flat in The Hague was spread on the social networks. Further reading on this disinformation is also available in Truthmeter’s regular fact-checking rubric – It is not true that Putin’s Prosecutor was found dead.
Other disinformation related to the aggression of Ukraine
Another disinformation found as a main narrative in the Macedonian media space is the one about the war in Ukraine being between NATO and Russia. This was stated in mainstream media by the former prosecutor and current analyst, Sotir Kostov.
On the 6th March 2023, in a debate programme on TV Kanal 5, Sotir Kostov came out with a statement that coincides with the propaganda messages from Moscow:
The war over there is not between Ukraine and Russia. The war is between Russia, NATO and the USA, supported by the EU. EU is the biggest loser from this war (41-minute of the video).
On 14/15/16 March 2023, the Macedonian public through the media had the opportunity to see yet another disinformation coming from Russian top officials regarding the details about the American drone owned by US Air Force and its crashing into the waters of the Black Sea in the vicinity of Crimea after encountering two planes – Air Force fighters of the Russian Federation type SU-27.
MQ-9 raptor. Photo: Wikipedia
In the first two days of the incident, two opposed truths were dominant for the national and international public available through the media – the American claiming that the drone crashing was a result of “reckless and unprofessional” behaviour of Russian planes, and the Russian truth claiming that the drone crashed on its own due to a sharp maneuver and that Russian planes had nothing to do with it, nor did they shoot the American object. Apart from these two opposed truths, BBC published a third possible version – that the crash was due to an accident. More details on this is available in the story of Truthmeter.
However, on 16th March, the American authorities published a video recorded by drone’s camera, proving that the USA was right to claim that Russian aircraft was flying recklessly and unprofessionally close to the American drone – the attempt of the Russian pilot to douse the drone with fuel released from his own plane is apparent and one can see the damaged part of the propeller. This video-recording proved that the claims about the Russian pilots not having contact with the drone were not true.
That was also confirmed by Pentagon’s Press Secretary, Brigadier General Pat Ryder during the briefing with the press on 16.03.2023, responding to the question whether the Russian pilots did the act on purpose:
In terms of was this intentional, I’ll tell you what we know and what we don’t know. We do know that this aggressive behaviour was intentional — on the part of the pilots.
The question whether the US asked for an apology from Russia on taking down the drone and whether Russia offered one was posed on that same briefing. The answer was negative. Russian agency TASS on 17.03.2023 published only this segment from the entire briefing in its English language service. That same day, in the Macedonian media sphere, the blog Antropol was the only medium that published this information in its entirety.
From the disinformation in North Macedonia, dominant were those related to the bombs
In March, the disinformation in North Macedonia related to Ukraine or to other contents originating from Russia were “measured” in a different way. According to a comprehensive analysis coming from the NGO sector in Sofia, the biggest “spammer” with Russian disinformation stories or narratives is the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Skopje, with an enormous number of posts, unusual for an embassy, but also an even greater number of interactions realized with citizens, compared to the embassies in the other Balkan countries. More deatails on this can be found in Truthmeter’s analysis – Russian Embassy in Skopje – Main Diplomatic Internet Spammer in North Macedonia.
In March, from other disinformation that directly or indirectly affect the interests of third countries or are deemed as fully or partially hybrid threats or hybrid attacks, most dominant were information and disinformation pertaining to anonymous tips for planted bombs.
On 07.03. 2023, SDSM through its Member of Parliament and Chairperson of the Security and Defence Parliamentary Commission, Mile Taleski, warned that VMRO-DPMNE was undermining security in a way that its representative called for non-compliance of the new protocols for treating bomb-tips in schools.
Public addresses of VMRO-DPMNE representatives such as Vesna Janeska who called for non-compliance of the new protocols is directly undermining the actions of competent institutions in the fight against hybrid attacks, Taleski claimed.
On 08.03. 2023, yet again, SDSM warned that the opposition VMRO-DPMNE stands behind the hybrid attacks:
VMRO-DPMNE is hindering the work of the institutions in applying measures for managing tips for planted bombs in schools by calling upon its functionaires not to comply with the new protocols. With such reckless behaviour VMRO-DPMNE is standing behind the hybrid attacks aiming at creating disturbance, tensions, distrust and fear in citizens,states the press release of SDSM.
09.03.2023, VMRO-DPMNE responded with a press release repeating that Minister Oliver Spasovski and MIA cannot find the perpetrators thereby inciting irresponsible bahaviour and fear:
It is a disgrace for the government not to be able to identify who is behind the fake bomb-tips for months, not to mention to prevent such an act that makes citizens feel restless and uneasy. Why isn’t MIA responding accordingly by preventing the bomb-tips and is MIA intentionally leaving room for panic attacks? Is Spasovski silent on purpose thereby creating even greater chaos for the criminals to be able to act easily?
Such a development took place after 03.03.2023 when the new protocols for placing authorized persons as a response to the bomb-tips that were mutually agreed between the MES and the MIA, but also after the Minister for Internal Affairs announced that apart from the foreign addresses, MIA identified national helpers or domestic links related to the case. More details about this can be found in Truthmeter’s analysis published 06.03.2023 in the Counterspin sectionc.
Petrovska: “The aim of hybrid threats is the fall of governments”
Finally, another confirmation about the purpose of the attacks leading to the (reasonable) supposition of the perpetrators came in the middle of the month from the Minister of Defense, Slavjanka Petrovska. In an interviw for TV21, talking about online attacks as part of the special hybrid war not only in North Macedonia, but in the Western Balkans, Petrovska said:
Every hybrid war with such cyber-attacks as an integral part has its purpose. Usually, the aim of hybrid wars or cyber-attacks is to practically disturb the balance in social life which is inevitable with frequent attacks. More and more, the satisfaction created in a given society is balanced with the dissatisfaction created in another sphere. The goal is to cause the downfall of governments, usually those that are Western-oriented.
The month ended as it started – with an information provided by Minister Oliver Spasovski that a group was detected – which he called a “cluster of domestic threateners against whom procedures have been initiated – and that an indictment will be initiated for the criminal offence terrorism soon. He announced this at the end of the month and in an interview for MTV1 on 29.03.2023, he reiterated his position. Some of the media published this statement:
This is one of the clusters that we deem that is practically doing this in most of the schools in the past period. Of course, there are also others – you know from previous efforts that we had four or five cases detected. They were individual cases, but all of them harmed the educational process.
Unlike the beginning of the month, the opposition or any other political subject in the country did not respond to these statements given by Spasovski and repeated several times in the last week of March.
What proves the external link and the geo-strategic goals of third parties is the fact that prior to the Parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, this neighboring country was exposed to a series of threats of planted bombs usually in the schools. The similarities between the threats in North Macedonia and Bulgaria, but also making use of the experience from Skopje, was confirmed by the Bulgarian expert, Yordan Bozhilov, in an interview for BNT.
This article was developed within the framework of the project Promoting Access to Reliable News to Counter Disinformation, implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation. The article, which has been published on the Macedonian-language version of Truthmeter, was produced with the support of the American non-profit foundation NED (National Endowment for Democracy). The contents of the article is the responsibility of the author and do not always reflect the positions of Metamorphosis Foundation, NED or their partners.
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