Russian propaganda has many talking heads that push the narratives that the Kremlin needs for their handpicked target audiences. Let’s talk about those who brainwash EU and US residents.
The Kremlin acts very straightforwardly: if the world does not want to support its actions, then it is necessary to create a new world, a new reality. For this, Moscow uses its media to create alternative opinion leaders in regions that are of interest to Russia. Most of these opinion leaders are on Moscow’s pay, or Moscow has blackmails then with some sort of compromising information. Typically it is both.
We have already talked about agents of influence of the Kremlin in the EU, in particular in Spain, Germany, and Italy. Let’s now talk about the most famous apologists of the lies.
Here we will talk about propagandists, not politicians like former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneisl, or French opposition leader Marie Le Pen.
The most famous example of an “opinion leader” created out of thin air is the “British journalist” Graham Phillips. He moved to Ukraine in 2011 when he was 23 years old. In 2013, he began working for Russia in the status of a “British journalist,” discrediting pro-European protests in Ukraine.
In 2014, he finally fled to Moscow and worked from there as an allegedly “independent” journalist in the occupied territories of Ukraine as a war correspondent for Zvezda TV channel that is financed by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. FSB decorated him with a medal for his good independent work.
True foreign journalists have been complaining that the Russian Federation does not allow to enter the separatist-controlled territories. Moscow always answered that this was not true because the likes of Graham Phillips visit and travel there without obstacles. However, Graham Phillips has been visiting it as an occupation authority, not as an independent journalist. Graham has been pushing the narrative of Nazism in Ukraine pretending to be a leftwing activist.
At home, however, Graham joined the ranks of the rightwing UKIP party in 2016, in an effort to be part of political activities of his homeland.
Graham also engages in political provocations such as the disruption of exhibitions in honor of Latvian independence fighters in Riga or the pogrom in the editorial office of the German publication Correctiv that investigated the tragedy of the Malaysian Boeing that was shot down by the Russians over the occupied Donbas.
The second well-known figure that Russia uses for its purpose is Scott Ritter, Jr., a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq. He is known as a sex offender in his homeland, for which he was sentenced to 2.5 years in 2011.
In 2001, 40-year-old Scott received half a year of probation for trying to set up a date with a 16-year-old girl. Then in 2009, he was arrested after he masturbated on camera in front of what he thought was a 15-year-old girl’s account. It turned out that the account was actually a police decoy.
After his release in 2014, Scott has been working as an expert on the Russian propaganda channel RT. There, he promotes the messages that Moscow needs, which it is then spreading through its embassies and other mass media around the world.
Another favorite case of the Russian Federation is passing off its former citizens as foreigners. Such an example is the pro-Russian “German” journalist Alina Lipp. She has a Telegram channel with more than 100,000 subscribers, where in March she spread a hoax about the murder of a Russian boy by a mob of Ukrainians.
Do not think that Alina was mistaken. She is constantly promoting the theses about Nazism in Ukraine and the “logic” of Russia’s actions in Ukraine on her channel. She herself travels through the occupied territories, and actually advertises the occupation, denying the war crimes of the Russian army.
The reason for Alina’s behavior is that she is German only according to her passport and place of birth. Alina’s father is an employee of the Russian foreign intelligence service from St. Petersburg. Even before the invasion, Alina herself lived in Russian-occupied Crimea, and her entire journalistic activity is serving Russian propaganda in the Moscow-controlled mass media.
The example of the “Finnish journalist” Kosti Heiskanen is similar. This Finnish journalist was born in St. Petersburg and has lived mostly in the Russian Federation, with a break in Berlin. Before the war, a Finnish “journalist” wrote tourist guides about his native St. Petersburg for Finnish tourists.
After the full-scale invasion, Kosti writes about how Ukraine sells off weapons, how Ukraine lies, and other theses of Moscow. However, after Finland’s accession to NATO, he began to write more about “Nazism and Russophobia” in his would-be Motherland.
We already wrote about the Spanish vlogger Liu Sivaya. The Russian girl positions herself as a political scientist and acts exclusively on the Spanish audience, and more precisely on the audience of Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Although her entire YouTube channel since February 2022 has been dedicated to replicating Russian propaganda and shifting responsibility for the war in Ukraine to the West, her activities are directed not only against Kyiv, but also against Madrid.
In her blogs, she talks not only about Ukraine, but also about Nazism in Madrid and Spanish censorship, compares the situation in eastern Ukraine with Catalonia and the Basque Country. Although separate ethnicities of Luhansk and Donetsk separatists do not exist, she describes the long struggle for their independence despite the fact that the Kremlin invented these countries to justify the occupation of the region in 2014.
We should not forget about the importance of political views. For the Kremlin, your political position does not matter, and Moscow is ready to finance both communists and the far-rights. Everything depends on the specifics of the region and the agents of the local embassy.
Thus, in Italy there is a pro-Russian writer and public figure Sara Reginella, who, with the support of the Italian communists, holds presentations of her book Donbass. Ghost War in the Heart of Europe. Also, her “achievement” is the holding of the conference “For a democratic Ukraine and free Donbass.”
Sara worked as a psychologist until 2014, but then she began to promote Russian narratives in Italy. She gives interviews to Russian and Chinese propaganda proactively, and also filmed a propaganda documentary about the war in Donbas, which completely reproduces the Russian propaganda.
Sara does not care that the Russians have destroyed most of Donbas now after four months of the full-scale invasion. “Free Donbas” has just been a propaganda mantra. Now the communist actively promotes the same theses as the other heroes of our cycle: Western countries are to blame for the war, and sanctions against Russia must be lifted.
All these “Kremlin opinion leaders” work abroad and, very importantly, for domestic propaganda. In Russia, they are presented as a “proof” that the West will support Putin, and all sanctions are only because of Russia haters who may not be the majority soon. In the West, these agents of influence are presented as an alternative reality and the “proof” that the Western press lies.
To explore more the mechanics of Russian propaganda, see:
part 1 (mass media vs. agents of influence vs. internet)
part 2 (messages: legitimate invasion, Ukrainian Nazis, corrupt army, immigrants, etc.)
You can also read more about Moscow’s agents of influence:
part 1 (influence in Germany and Austria)
part 2 (influence in Serbia vs. Africa – two models in frendlier official environments)
part 3 (influence in Spain and Italy vs. more subtle influence in Austria)