Tue 28 Nov 2023 3:40 pm - Jerusalem Time

How did the war in Gaza give Russia a golden opportunity to “inflame divisions in the West”?

The war between Israel and the Palestinian resistance in Gaza gave Russia a golden opportunity to sow the seeds of division among its Western enemies. This is an opportunity that the Kremlin's media machine would never have missed, as the American magazine Politico says.

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, Facebook accounts linked to the Kremlin have boosted their output by almost 400%, and the Middle East crisis now dominates the posts of Russian diplomats, state-backed outlets and Putin’s supporters in the West.

Russia benefits from the war in Gaza by weakening the West

According to Politico, rumors spread by digital propagandists in Moscow now include claims that Hamas is using NATO weapons to attack Israel and that British trainers have trained Hamas attackers. The deep-rooted conflict represents a double opportunity for Putin.

It allows Russia to foment division in the West through activity on social networks aimed at separating those who support Israel from those who support Palestine. Real-world violence has escalated over the past seven weeks, and anti-war protests have spread, with millions of people marching from London to Washington.

In addition, the Russian attack on social networks in the Middle East draws public attention away from its war in Ukraine. “It is good for Russia to divert attention away from Ukraine, because the more Western public opinion focuses on Israel and Hamas, the less it cares about the fact that "Congress is about to stop funding the war effort in Ukraine. Shining the spotlight elsewhere will allow attention to be diverted from Ukraine."

Russian geopolitical game

The American magazine says that the attack launched by the Kremlin online reflects the geopolitical game that Putin has been playing since the attacks of October 7.

His government hosted Hamas leaders in Moscow at the end of October, apparently as part of his effort to play a mediating role on the release of Israeli hostages. Russia and Hamas have a common ally in Iran, and Putin himself has warned that Israeli military action in Gaza may escalate outside the region.

The Kremlin was quick to turn the war between Israel and Hamas into a weapon to serve its propaganda purposes.

In the seven weeks since Operation Al-Aqsa Flood broke out on October 7, Russian Facebook accounts posted 44,000 times compared to just 14,000 posts in the seven weeks before the conflict began, according to data collected by the Coalition for Guaranteeing Democracy.

In all, Russian-backed social networking activity on Facebook was shared nearly 400,000 times in total, a four-fold increase compared to posts published before the conflict.

The most shared keywords now include many conflict-related terms such as “Hamas” and “Middle East,” whereas before the war Russian state media and diplomatic accounts focused almost exclusively on Ukraine or Putin’s role in the world.

The nearly 400% increase in posts from accounts linked to the Russian government represents a drop in the ocean when compared to the millions of Facebook posts about the conflict in the Middle East from regular social media users during the same time period.

But many Kremlin-backed accounts — especially those from sanctioned media outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik — have outsized digital reach. Together, these companies boast millions of followers in Europe, Latin America and Africa, although the European Union has imposed sanctions on their broadcasting and social networking operations.

Has Russia succeeded in “riding the wave”?

“They are using everything they can to spread anti-Western messages, riding the news wave because they are competing for the same goal,” says Jacob Kalinski, deputy director of the European Center of Excellence for Combating Hybrid Threats, a joint NATO-EU organization that tracks state-backed influence campaigns audiences that consume powerful media sources.”

Such digital propaganda may have real-world effects. Some in the West are openly asking: How long can governments support Ukraine in its costly war against Russia at a time of economic uncertainty?

In France, for example, the Foreign Ministry accused a Russian-affiliated network of social bots of amplifying anti-Semitic images on buildings around Paris. French officials blamed Russia for "creating tensions" between supporters of Israel and those who support Palestine. But the Russian embassy in Paris denied any relationship between Moscow and secret digital activity.

The goal of the covert campaign was to raise tensions in the real world — both in France and across Western Europe — over which side governments supported, according to two senior European officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. “What happens online doesn't stay online anymore,” one official said.

Source: Arabic Post


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How did the war in Gaza give Russia a golden opportunity to “inflame divisions in the West”?