The New “Snowden” and the Motorway Agreement With “Bechtel & Enka” Marked April in Terms of (Dis)Information
Furthermore, the standard disinformation narratives continued, above all from Moscow related to the aggression on Ukraine, but also the disinformation pertaining to the vaccines, 5G technologies, etc.
The leak of an enormous number of confidential documents from the US institutions discovered in April, as well as the details of the Agreement for the construction of motorways along Corridor 8 and 10 in North Macedonia, were the topics generating most the pieces of information and disinformation in the Macedonian media area in the course of April. Furthermore, the standard disinformation narratives continued, above all from Moscow related to the aggression on Ukraine, but also the disinformation pertaining to the vaccines, 5G technologies, etc.
Information and disinformation related to leaking confidential American documents from several institutions marked April. Much more was revealed about American institutional outflow and the porosity of not only the allies but above all, of the strategic opponents such as Russia.
According to US media, the leakage started towards the end of February. The first batch of documents was published on 28th February, while the second batch was released on 2nd March. Ten days after that a suspect was arrested for leaking data, and after an additional ten days charges were already pressed. The person charged is 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, a member of the American National Guard, who, as determined by the media, is neither a whistleblower (like Snowden), nor a Russian spy, but a conservative, politically right-wing oriented person who is quite skeptical about US politics, including the military operations that the country is involved in.
What is concerning for the USA and the allies is the discovery from end of April that the leakage, in actual fact, lasted much longer than initially believed and that it was ongoing in the last few months. Apparently, the documents were leaking in a closed group from the beginning of the war in Ukraine and such a closed Internet group was not at all small – had approximately 600 persons.
The damage is enormous, for both the USA and the allies who were followed and supervised, but also for other countries that found themselves in an unfavorable position such as Serbia, the documents suggesting that it was not fully military neutral.
Disinformation by altered documents
Initial assessment suggested that it could be an attempt to spread disinformation and play intelligence games, especially by the Russian intelligence since some of the documents were altered.
On 10th of April 2023, Deutsche Welle in the Macedonian language published details on several aspects of the affair. DW reported, inter alia, that at least some of the documents were tampered with, although in general, this issue is still not fully clear:
It is not clear whether all published documents are originals. According to CNN Television, collaborators of the American government generally confirmed that, but Washington Post, also referring to information from the authorities, claims that some of the documents were altered. That is similar to the findings of the investigation network “Bellingcat” whose experts managed to confirm that at least some of the contents of the documents were altered afterward, reports DW.
Zakharova with lectures on democracy
On 28th March 2023, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry (MFA), Maria Zakharova, commenting the expulsion of the five Russian diplomats from North Macedonia revealed that Russia will be forced to undertaken reciprocal measures. In the first week of April she – yet again – produced disinformation narratives typical for Moscow.
Her reactions were for the arrest of the American reporter in Sankt Petersburg, specifically for the statement given by Josep Borrell. Zakharova respondend with “lectures” on democracy, the EU and the West in general.
The second disinformation narrative is Moscow’s (threats) responses to the NATO membership of Finland.
More information is available in the expanded article by Truthmeter on these disinformation narratives.
Russia presents itself as the “guardian” of the UN Charter
Another disinformation narrative, similar to those from the beginning of the war in Ukraine, is Russia’s attempt to present itself as the guardian of the Charter of the United Nations, one of the key founding documents of international law. This month Russia is presiding with the UN Security Council and decided to temporarily send its foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, on a diplomatic mission to New York to convey the Council and discuss the topic of ”Efficient Multilateralism through the Defense of the Principles of Charter of the United Nations”.
The issue is how to develop international relations in the future – by building a solid consensus based on balancing interests or by the aggressive and unpredictable push for the dominance of Washington, stated Lavrov, as reported by DW.
The title of the topic itself is cinical and far from the truth, claim some of the critics.
By planning this debate, Russia is trying to present itself as the guardian of the Charter of the United Nations and multilateralism. Nothing could be further than the truth. That is cinical, stated EU representative in the UN Olof Skoog.
More information on this can be found in the article of DW in Macedonian language from 25.04.2023.
On 26th April, Lavrov continued with such problematic and fully disinforming narratives – from the viewpoint of the truth – claiming that NATO wanted to destroy Russia, but instead, it united the country, that someone wanted a World War III, which is a typical Moscow narrative since the beginning of the aggression in Ukraine. These claims were coordinated with the statements of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, one of the main Kremlin propagandists and a member of the close circle around President Vladimir Putin. He carried on with the stories about Russia fighting NATO in Ukraine and that the world was on the brink of a World War III.
The Bechtel and Enka Agreement – inducer of disinformation
The Agreement for constructing motorways along Corridors 8 and 10 concluded between the Government and Bechtel and Enka proved to be the main inducer of disinformation in the national info area. Although signed in the beginning of March and despite the fact that in the period between signing and initiating in the beginning of April, the public was preoccupied with information about numerous inconsistencies in the course of the selection of the supervising company and about the financial consultants of the Government related to the Agreement itself (IRD Consortium), but the focus shifted to abstracts of the main Agreement from 10th of April.
That same day, proposals for amending 8 laws related to the implementation of the Agreement went into the parliamentary procedure, including the most controversial of all – a proposal for amending the Law on Labor Relations, so as to enable extended working hours from 40 to 60 weekly. Ever since and up to end of April, two main narratives (dis)informing the public did not cease – that of the opposition, above all VMRO-DPMNE, claiming in essence that the Agreement contains extremely damaging parts detrimental to the interests of the RNM (with a criminal-corruption background), and that of the Government and the ruling parties regarding VMRO-DPMNE (its representatives) being the main source of disinformation on the topic and that the party was spreading hysteria and lies although the Agreement was fine. Mid-April, in its Counterspin section, Truthmeter analyzed some of these dilemmas.
There is no doubt that there is disinformation about many aspects of this Agreement. The main problem, however, for determining the indicators of what is truth and what is lie is the fact that the Agreement has a degree of confidentiality and secrecy as agreed by the Government upon the request of Bechtel and Enka. Until recently, the Government took a clear stance that nobody – apart from the Prosecution – has the right to examine the Agreement, but soon after that, under the pressure of the public and the opposition, agreed to present the Agreement in the Parliament of the RNM, but only for Members of Parliament with security clearance.
This case is continuing, with arguments and (dis)information of both the Government and the opposition. This is a school-class example of how not to defend public and state interests in general. The key element of this struggle, including the fight against disinformation, is transparency, which was mainly lacking in this case.
The last episodes from the end of April reopened the dilemma regarding the truthfulness of the information presented by the leader of VMRO-DPMNE, Hristijan Mickoski. Specifically, he claimed that the Government will have to pay “penalties”, as stipulated in the Agreement, to Bechtel and Enka in the amount of €53 million, because the Law on Labor Relations was not amended to provide for a 60-hour working week within the 45-day deadline foreseen in the Agreement. The party’s top representative also claims that the motorways will cost more than €2 billion and that their construction will take ten years. In addition, the subtotal expenditure beyond the construction cost will be €300 million for the company, including the penalties of €53 million (more on the link Time.mk). On the other hand, Artan Grubi, coordinator of the implementation of the Corridor 8 project, addressing the representatives of the Economic Chamber of Macedonia, claims that not a single denar will not be embezzled from the project.
If a single denar is embezzled from this project or if any politician is corrupted, we should rot in jail, says Grubi.
The truth, however, can be seen only if the Agreement is presented and prime minister Dimitar Kovachevski is awaiting Parliament’s invitation to present it to Members of Parliament with security clearance. No announcement has been made about the Anti-corruption Commission receiving the Agreement and chairperson Biljana Ivanovska is hopeful, since a case related to the supervision was formally initiated.
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Other disinformation circulating the media sphere comes from social media. Deceptions were found starting from iPhones for MKD125, as well as Phillips deep fryers for €2, or the 5G technology as a tool for mass destruction, including Ukraine summoning the homeless to fight for Kyiv, and a Macedonian declared best shooter by Putin’s generals, and many other “fakes” related to the vaccines and Agenda 30, etc. All of these disinformation pieces were debunked in Truthmeter’s section Fact-Checks in the course of April 2023.
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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