Some European newspapers, including the French Le Mondeand the site of the Russian opposition Dossier Center they told in an inquiry the maneuvers of the Russian secret services to organize false garrisons against Ukraine and NATO in various European cities. s published on social networks with photos or videos of these protests do not have a large circulation, but this too, write the newspapers that worked on the investigation, is part of a strategy.
The investigation says that these demonstrations often take place within demonstrations that have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, and that in some cases the people who take part are the same. For example, one of them was present on 28 January at a climate demonstration in The Hague, the Netherlands, and three days later she was in Brussels at an inter-union demonstration of nursing staff. The banners and placards seen in these principals are identical or very similar to each other.
The fact that Russia and its secret services are behind this operation has been demonstrated by some documents prepared between the end of January and the beginning of March 2023 and which the media involved have obtained and verified: among others Le Monde, Dossier Center (founded by Russian dissident businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky), the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitungthe Norwegian public television company NRK extension and the Swedish newspaper Expressen.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Place de la République in Paris on Saturday 11 February to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s disputed pension reform. There were three men in the crowd; one of them was holding a placard that read in capital letters: “European Union, United States, stop funding the war in Ukraine.”
Less than a month later, on March 5, the same man was in place Saint-Pierre, in the XVIII arrondissements Paris. At 8 in the morning he and four other people who appeared to be part of the Ukrainian community hung up a banner against Turkey. They gave the Nazi salute and started yelling «Stop Erdogan!» in front of a camera. The banner hung for about 40 minutes until the police arrived. On the same day, in another area of the Parisian suburbs, the Turkish flag was burned and the night before, more than a hundred graffiti were written on the walls with stencils and spray cans: «Stop Islam», «Stop Erdogan ».
The images of these demonstrations have been published on social networks: YouTube, TikTok, Telegram and Facebook. In all, more than a dozen similar “protests” were identified in the investigation not only in Paris, but in various European capitals including Madrid, Brussels, The Hague. Each time the message was to discredit Ukraine, the European Union, NATO or Turkey.
The why of Türkiye is explained in the investigation. In May 2022, after the start of the war in Ukraine, Sweden and Finland agreed to abandon decades of neutrality that lasted throughout the Cold War to apply for NATO membership. In June they had obtained the official invitation from the thirty countries of the alliance and in a few weeks all had ratified their entry except Hungary and Turkey, thus postponing the conclusion of the process: the NATO regulation provides that entry is approved at the ‘unanimity from all member countries.
Sweden in particular has faced very complex negotiations with Turkey, which are still ongoing (Finland, on the other hand, has officially entered). Sweden supports the Kurds of the PKK, an organization that Turkey, the United States and the European Union (therefore also Sweden) consider terrorist, and against which the Turkish government has been at war for years. But the attribution of terrorism against the PKK is controversial, also because the Kurdish population in Turkey is subject to persecution. For this reason, Sweden has in some cases treated some members of the PKK as political refugees, providing them with protection and refusing to extradite them to Turkey.
Tensions between the two countries escalated in January, when during a demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, members of the Swedish far-right Stram Kurs (“Hard Line”) party burned a copy of Koran. Erdogan had replied that Sweden should not have expected any support for the NATO issue.
Russia, it says in the investigation, has taken advantage of this situation to organize other protest events, with the aim of discrediting Ukraine and fomenting alleged anti-Turkish sentiment in Europe. For example, one of the documents analyzed in the investigation is entitled “Anti-Erdogan Project”. Russian services explain that “Turkey and the countries of the European Union are going through significant tensions” and that “anti-Islamic sentiment” is growing in Europe. Mention is made of the demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in which a copy of the Koran was burned and a similar episode is also mentioned which also took place in those days in the Netherlands and organized by the organization “PEGIDA”, Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes which means “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West”.
you don’t know, precise Dossier Center, if Russia was behind these actions. But it is known that shortly afterwards the Russian secret services proposed protest actions against Turkey in various European countries, some of which actually took place, including that of March 5 in place Saint-Pierre, in Paris. Another document analyzed in the investigation lists the two objectives of that event: «To show the thankless and provocative nature of the Ukrainian reaction to the tragedy in Turkey (earthquake)» and «to highlight the destructive Nazi nature of pro-Ukrainian activists and Ukrainian society under the power of V. Zelensky». At the end of the document there are about sixty links to Facebook, TikTok and YouTube where photos and videos of the event have been posted.
According to a European intelligence agent specializing in this type of operation that he spoke with Le Mondeand he preferred to remain anonymous, part of the Russian disinformation campaigns in this type of war that he defined as “hybrid” consists “in relying on real tensions, such as those that already exist between Turkey and Germany or between Turkey and France”.
The newspapers involved in the investigation analyzed the social profiles of the people who appear in the various demonstrations, and then the profiles behind the publications of these same events, but none of them wanted to answer the questions. Among these is for example that of Aymen H., one of the most active, who is the source of most of s on the action in place Saint-Pierre in Paris. On Facebook, the man says he lives in Algeria, but in a public group he provided a phone number whose international prefix is +7, the Russian prefix. From the analysis of the profile of him and other people involved, several links with Russia emerge. A few hours after the investigation by investigative journalists these accounts were deleted.
According to the internal report of the Russian secret services, the operations carried out in the various European cities have been a success and the various posts that tell of them have reached thousands of users. It’s actually not like that. Most of s found on Facebook have few reactions, there are a total of fifteen thousand views on YouTube and TikTok and most of the comments published under these posts or videos seem to come from “bots”, fake profiles. The comments are ultimately inconsistent, copied and pasted, and come from profiles with no name or profile picture.
If the method used may seem amateurish, he concludes Le Monde, obeys a precise logic. Nika Aleksejeva, of the American think tank Atlantic Council, explained that «campaigns of this type can be identified and removed from the platforms very quickly. And if there are large investments, the loss of money is greater, in case the campaign is cancelled”. This is why, according to the researcher, Russia is opting for smaller, less visible and more widespread campaigns.