The Kremlin Propaganda in Northern Ireland

“Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will” Joseph Goebbels.

One can hardly find the place on the earth, from little regions to big states, that is not the target of Russian Propaganda and its diverse methods. In this case, Northern Ireland is not the exclusion that is the part of the United Kingdom. Not to go into further detail and bring here the recent argument, when Russia included Great Britain in the list of the unfriendly countries, seems enough reason to convey the hybrid warfare by undermining the UK’s territorial integrity.

First, it’s worth mentioning that Russia always utilizes weak points of the countries to conduct its interests. In this case, the conflict between Irish nationalists and British has some deep historical roots. Even recent events, that took place in the 70s of the twentieth century, show perfectly well their relationship. For instance, let’s take “Bloody Friday”, 1972, in Northern Ireland when some civilians were killed during the civil rights march, which is a very sensitive issue up till now and is still discussed despite the British efforts to highlight all the aspects of those events.

Now, go back to Russia which uses various techniques of different types of propaganda to miss up the situation in the United Kingdom. In the 2020 report of the U.S. Department of State, several pillars of Russia’s propaganda and misinformation are described: state-funded global messages, official government communication, proxy sources, social media as a weapon and cyberattacks that have in most cases the same weight. Thus, fake news from the Moscow side is like a heavy hammer on Irish heads, who sometimes follow easily the received information, taking into consideration that Russia still uses the “Divide and Rule” principle successfully – as an annoyed Irish nationalist is Moscow’s important card in this game. Despite the fact thatFacebook identifies fake pages, comments and blocks the content, Russian intelligence effort by trolls comes to the destination readers in any case.

Russian propaganda effort helped spread the misinformation containing a false tweet by the UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson about RIRA (Real Irish Republican Army), false e-mail by the Northern Ireland Party Leader about BREXIT issues, and as if RIRA had some links with Muslim extremists to help them in Irish issue. Besides, there is a big role of Russian-controlled TV channels (for instance RT – former Russia Today) that always push forward either black or grey strategic propaganda messages, despite the fact that people in Northern Ireland watch TV programs less.

When visiting the official website of the Embassy of Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, everyone can notice on the above red-line written in the white stripe that “11.. days have passed since the Salisbury incident – no credible information or response from the British authorities”. So the response of this article to this inquiry is the following: Salisbury incident took place in 2018 that is connected to the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. This time Kremlin again spreads the fake news as ifRIRA participated in the poisoning of the Skripals by Novichok.

Though it should not be believed that Moscow examines only drastic methods for stimulating Belfast against London but it also uses such soft power cultural elements that even seem pleasant in the eyes of the public for some time. In Northern Ireland there is a big Russian-speaking community, which is organizing cultural events in the traditional Russian style like performing famous writers’ novels, introducing traditional dances, songs, food, setting up Russian language exchange schools, etc. 

Unlike a real war “hybrid warfare” from the Russian side carries a high risk of confusion in the target people. Although the British government tries to identify all the threats of Moscow propaganda and speaks loudly about its actions, there is still a large number of people who believe in Russian myths. As Kremlin soft power is directed to examine local civil societies of the targeted region or country, which are lobbying Moscow interests. Nowadays, Kremlin mostly prefers to avoid hard power applicability and relies on soft power by its own understanding of the concept that is highlighted by Vladimir Putin in 2012. Considering the fact even if Kremlin wants, it cannot use its hard power in the territory of the NATO country –the UK, like it did, for example, in Georgia in 2008 (five-day war). So, Kremlin seems to achieve more by running the disinformation campaigns in the example of Northern Ireland.

In the wider international context, Moscow plays not in a bipolar system, like it was during the Soviet Union, but in the multi-polar one, where the United Kingdom plays a big role and has enough voice. So, Russia by undermining Britain’s territorial integrity will make the UK weaker, by which Kremlin’s foreign policy aspirations in various parts of the world will increase in contradiction of other global players of the world.

Nino Lomouri

Article was prepared within the framework of Jan Karski Program For Young Georgian Leaders 2021 / Capacity-Building for the Better Resistance to the Russian Propaganda

The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

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