Moscow jumps on the Vannacci bandwagon. Russia’s diplomacy, increasingly integrated into the Kremlin’s disinformation efforts, has identified a recent controversy in Italy’s public debate – that of General Roberto Vannacci and his highly controversial self-published book – as a perfect opportunity to sow division in the Italian infosphere.
- The Russian Embassy in Rome did exactly that by reposting a brief article by Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, positing that Western-supplied depleted uranium ammunition is turning Ukraine into a wasteland.
- The theme and the timing are far from coincidental, as General Vannacci’s case has turned on the lights on his past condemnations of the use of depleted uranium ammo – which, according to far-left and far-right conspiracy theories, would be the real reason for him being removed from his post.
A tried-and-true tactic. The highly divisive issue is perfect for Russian disinformation. Over the past years, the Kremlin has been scaling back its efforts (which were often accompanied by cyberattacks, as demonstrated by the discovery of Evgeny Prigozhin’s troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, and its role in the 2016 United States elections).
- Instead, Russian propagandists have pivoted towards smaller, more specific campaigns that take advantage of the opportunities offered by the target country’s political debate.
- Riding the wave of divisive issues is a cheap and tasty opportunity to undermine Western democracies, their compactness, and their support for Ukraine.
Exhibit A. Ms Zakharova’s article for Komsomolskaya Pravda is titled “Dead Earth: Western depleted uranium shells are turning Ukraine into uninhabitable territory.” The Russian Embassy’s posts were carefully accompanied by a screenshot from the website of Olympus, an academic observatory on the legislation and jurisprudence on work safety run by the Law Department at the University of Urbino Carlo Bo.
- The screenshot shows a report by the Chamber of Deputies’ Depleted Uranium Commission dated February 7, 2018. This political report deals with the effects of exposure to depleted uranium ammo and is mentioned by Ms Zakharova herself in her article.
It’s a skilful combination. General Vannacci is not explicitly mentioned, but the timing is clearly far from coincidental. In fact, the article’s wide resonance within the same online circles siding with the controversial officer clearly shows the effectiveness of Ms Zakharova’s dog-whistling exercise.
- “Ukrainians must understand that the British are supplying them with a real poison, harbinger of malignant tumours, and must demand that depleted uranium shells be evacuated from their country as soon as possible,” she concludes in her article.
- The reference is to London’s decision to supply Kyiv with depleted uranium bullets – which is old news from March that has become a recurring theme for Russian propaganda to cast a negative light on the West’s material support to Ukraine.