Dimitri Lascaris has admittedly been very busy recently.
In an article this month, he took on the issue of academic-sounding ‘reports’ that attack dissent as ‘Russian disinformation.’
More pro-NATO propaganda masquerading as academic analysis
Dimitri Lascaris, activist, journalist, lawyer.
A Canadian university has produced yet another piece of glossy, pro-NATO propaganda masquerading as academic analysis.
In concert with the University of Maryland, the University of Regina’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence Data and Conflict has produced a report entitled “Enemy of my Enemy: Russian Weaponization of Canada’s Far Left and Far Right to Undermine Support to Ukraine.”
Replete with incendiary images – including a rifle barrel pointing directly at the reader on the report’s cover page – the report claims:
Our analysis found that Russian influence operations integrated sophisticated narratives with incendiary images and videos tailored to Canadian audiences…
The vast majority of the influential Canadian accounts amplifying Russian influence campaigns are far right or far left in orientation. This provides compelling evidence that, knowingly or not, these accounts enable Russian efforts to undermine Canadian support for Ukraine.
The Dreaded ‘Russian Narratives’
What are these dreaded ‘Russian narratives’? The authors do not provide a comprehensive list. They do, however, provide a few examples, including:
- “Ukraine is corrupt and doesn’t deserve our support”
- “NATO is responsible for the war”
- “Western support for Ukraine should stop because it will cause nuclear Armageddon”.
As I pointed out when I debunked a similar ‘study’ authored last year by Jean-Christophe Boucher of the University of Calgary, this ‘study’ makes no attempt to establish that any of these ‘Russian narratives’ is false. On the contrary, the authors concede that “we reviewed the narratives promoted by this ecosystem regardless of whether they had any basis in fact” [my emphasis].
This admission constitutes a gaping hole in their analysis, the purpose of which is to persuade us that “disinformation” about the Ukraine war is proliferating in Canada, and that the primary disseminators of that disinformation are the “far left” and the “far right”.
If a narrative is based on facts, how can it be disinformation?
Let’s examine the three “pro-Russian narratives” identified above with a view to determining if they are based upon facts.
- “Ukraine is corrupt and doesn’t deserve our support.”
According to the widely cited Transparency International, Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In September 2021, the European Court of Auditors issued a report in which it concluded that “grand corruption was still a key problem in Ukraine.” In 2022, a poll funded by the Wall Street Journal found that 85% of Ukrainians believe that corruption among Ukraine’s high officials and the wealthy is a “major threat” to Ukraine’s security. A report published in August of last year by CBS News found that many of the Western weapons destined for the front in the Ukraine war never get there due to corruption. Meanwhile, the head of Interpol has warned that weapons sent to Ukraine will end up in the hands of criminal organizations in Europe.
At a bare minimum, these facts provide ample grounds to question whether the West should provide tens of billions of dollars of economic and military aid to the Ukrainian government. A more judicious approach would be for Western governments to deliver generous amounts of humanitarian aid directly to the Ukrainian people through non-governmental organizations. Such an approach would benefit both the donors and the recipients of the aid. Advocating for such an approach does not make you ‘pro-Russian’.
- “NATO is responsible for the war”
As I explained in my rebuttal to Boucher’s ‘study’, there’s a mountain of evidence that NATO’s expansion into Ukraine not only violated explicit commitments made by NATO powers to the Soviet government of Mikhail Gorbachev, but also that the Putin government – and virtually the entire political spectrum within Russia — genuinely regarded the incorporation of Ukraine into NATO as an existential threat to Russia.
Writing in the New York Times in 1997, former U.S. ambassador to the U.S.S.R., George Kennan, declared that “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.” William Perry, Bill Clinton’s Defence Secretary, almost resigned over Clinton’s decision to pursue NATO expansion.
Did that make Kennan and Perry disseminators of ‘Russian narratives’?
- “Western support for Ukraine should stop because it will cause nuclear Armageddon.”
For more than a year, NATO has been providing evermore lethal weaponry to Ukraine. NATO started by flooding Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. It then progressed to advanced artillery systems, like the HIMARs. More recently, NATO began transferring main battle tanks to Ukraine. NATO governments are now contemplating the transfer to Ukraine of combat aircraft and long-range missiles that could strike deep into Russia.
Moreover, NATO has provided military training to tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops (including neo-Nazi units), as well as real-time battlefield intelligence that has enabled Ukrainian forces to target Russian military personnel. In addition, NATO governments have tacitly approved the participation in the war of former members of NATO militaries.
All of this is happening a few hundred kilometers from Moscow.
Anyone with half a brain and a modicum of objectivity can see that we could be on an escalator to nuclear war — with catastrophic consequences for all of humanity.
The real purveyors of disinformation are not those who warn of nuclear Armageddon. Rather, they’re people like Marcus Kolga, who apparently led the compilation of this ‘study’, and who makes a living by smearing those who warn of nuclear Armageddon.
Importantly, the report’s methodology reveals that the authors did “not try to disentangle which parts of the ecosystems are organic online communities and which are the orchestrated campaign, choosing instead to study the ecosystem as a whole.”
In other words, the authors made no attempt to determine what proportion of the allegedly “pro-Russian” accounts in the “pro-Russian ecosystem” are controlled by individuals who simply exercised their own independent judgment about issues that are pertinent to the Ukraine war — for example, the existentially important question of whether the West’s escalating arms transfers to Ukraine could lead to nuclear war.
Who is Marcus Kolga?
Kolga is a senior fellow of the neoconservative Macdonald-Laurier Institute (“MLI”). MLI is named after former Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. MLI describes Macdonald as an “outstanding” former prime minister who represented “the best of Canada’s distinguished political tradition.” Today, however, Macdonald is notorious for his racist policies toward Indigenous peoples.
Kolga is also the founder of Disinfowatch. He holds himself out as an expert in disinformation – a characterization that Canada’s corporate media mindlessly embrace.
The website of Disinfowatch discloses no information regarding its donors or board members. It does, however, disclose a list of “research partners”. They include the U.S. Department of State and the NATO StratCom Center Of Excellence (Riga).
What makes Kolga a ‘disinformation expert’? For that matter, what makes him an expert in anything?
The only postsecondary degree listed on Kolga’s LinkedIn profile is a Bachelor of Arts in political science, which he obtained from the University of Illinois in 1994. Based on his published profile, it does not appear that Kolga has any graduate degree, or that he has pursued any postsecondary studies focused specifically on disinformation or on Russia.
What do Kolga and his co-authors mean by “far right” and “far left”?
The “far left” and “far right” figure prominently in the University of Regina report.
The cover itself refers to Russia’s alleged “weaponization” of “the far right and the far left to undermine support for Ukraine”. That inflammatory language insinuates that Russia somehow directs or controls these accounts, equates critics of NATO’s proxy war with extremists, and assumes that support for arming Ukraine constitutes “support for Ukraine”.
Yet, if arming Ukraine will simply prolong a war that Ukraine cannot win, and if it will result ultimately in Ukraine’s destruction, then support for arming Ukraine is the antithesis of supporting Ukraine itself.
On page 3 of the Report, the authors allege that:
The vast majority of the influential Canadian accounts amplifying Russian influence campaigns are far right or far left in orientation. This provides compelling evidence that, knowingly or not, these accounts enable Russian efforts to undermine support for Ukraine.
Footnote 18 of the report states: “We evaluated each of these accounts and determined their political alignment. For further details of this process, see the methodology section.”
However, the report’s methodology section contains zero information about how the authors defined “far left” and “far right” or how they determined that an account satisfied their definition (whatever it may be) of “far left” or “far right”. The terms “far left” and “far right” do not even appear in the methodology section. Footnote 18 is therefore misleading.
In addition, footnote 41 of the report concedes that “categorizing accounts as either far right or far left is a subjective assessment”. That footnote then adds: “However, most of the accounts in this study were well-known to our team, making the determination relatively straightforward.”
Huh? The fact that the accounts may be well-known to the team does not make the determination of whether they are “far left” or “far right” any less subjective.
At the end of the day, the authors never disclose their subjective views about what constitutes “far left” or “far right”. Why? The answer, in all likelihood, is that their views as to what constitutes “far left” and “far right” are highly debatable and could easily be discredited if they were to reveal them.
In essence, the report’s authors are asking us to trust a hardcore neocon like Marcus Kolga to judge for us whether some unidentified Twitter account is “far left” or “far right”. Sensible people would not place their trust in an unqualified ideologue like Kolga.
Who funded this ‘study’?
Under the heading “Acknowledgments”, the report states:
This report relied on the support of many, including feedback from colleagues in CAIDAC’s global network and at the University of Regina. Research for this report was generously supported by Dr. Max Schmeiser, Heritage Canada, Department of National Defence Research Initiative, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the University of Regina.
According to the Government of Canada:
The Department of National Defence Research Initiative (DNDRI), a joint initiative of Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and SSHRC, supports social sciences and humanities research aligned with areas of interest to the Canadian Armed Forces and to the Department of National Defence (DND). The initiative fosters effective, evidence-based strategies, policies and programs in research areas identified by DRDC.
The Government of Canada also states:
Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) is Canada’s science, technology and innovation leader, trusted advisor, collaborative partner, and knowledge integrator for defence and security. As the science and technology organization of the Department of National Defence (DND), we develop and deliver new technical solutions and advice to DND, the Canadian Armed Forces, other federal departments, and the safety and security communities. We also work with partners in academia, government and industry and with Canada’s allies.
The University of Regina report does not disclose what is meant by the statement that these government agencies ‘generously supported’ the compilation of the report. Accordingly, on the day prior to publication of this article, I sent by email a series of questions about the nature of their support (and about other matters relating to the report) to two of the four authors of the University of Regina report. My questions are reproduced below. As of the time of publishing this article, I had not received answers to those questions. If I do receive answers, I will update this article to include the answers in full.
The Ultimate Objectives of this ‘Study’
The ultimate objectives of this ‘study’ are to be found in its fourth and final section, entitled “Recommendations”. There, the authors urge policy-makers to do five things:
- strengthen government systems of oversight and information sharing;
- increase international cooperation and coordination;
- increase support to schools, civil society and research organizations;
- social media companies should provide researchers with greater access to data;
- stay ahead of pro-Russian networks through real-time monitoring and learning.
Let’s cut to the chase: what these pro-NATO ideologues are calling for is more surveillance, more censorship, and more funding for ‘experts’ like them.
I don’t know about you, but there is no one in government, the executive suites of media corporations or think tanks whom I trust as much as I trust myself to discern truth from falsehood. Each and every one of us is the best judge of what is or is not disinformation. The day we allow fake disinformation ‘experts’ like Marcus Kolga to decide what we can and cannot read or say is the day on which our democracy is finished.
In the interim, the military industrial complex continues to co-opt our money-hungry universities. If this ‘study’ is what passes for academic analysis nowadays, Canada’s institutions of higher learning are in serious trouble.
 On page 7 of the report, it’s stated that “for this case, part of our team, led by Marcus Kolga, conducted a three-year study examining Russian disinformation campaigns across several Western democracies, including Canada, the US, and the European Union” [my emphasis].
The Questions I emailed to the co-authors of the University of Regina Report on March 31, 2023
Dear Messrs: McQuinn and Buntain:
I am a freelance journalist based in Montreal, Canada. I am writing an article on your newly issued report, “The Enemy of my Enemy”.
As research for my article, I have several questions which I ask you to answer at your earliest convenience and, in any event, no later than Monday, April 3. Your cooperation would be much appreciated.
My questions are as follows:
1. With respect to any of your research and academic work, has either of you received funding, whether directly or indirectly, from any government agency? If so, which government agencies and how much funding have you received from each such government agency?
2. With respect to any of your research and academic work, has either of you received funding, whether directly or indirectly, from any arms manufacturer or military contractor? If so, which arms manufacturer or military contractor and how much funding have you received from each such corporation?
3. For purposes of “The Enemy of my Enemy”, how did you define “far-left” and “far-right” and how did you go about ascertaining whether an individual or social media account is “far-left” or “far-right”?
4. Have you submitted “The Enemy of my Enemy” to peer review? If not, do you intend to do so? If not, why not?
5. In “The Enemy of my Enemy”, under “Acknowledgements”, it is stated:
“Research for this report was generously supported by Dr. Max Schmeiser, Heritage Canada, Department of National Defence Research Initiative, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the University of Regina.”
In the statement quoted above, what is meant by “supported”? Does this refer to financial support? In connection with the compilation of “The Enemy of my Enemy”, did the authors receive funding from Heritage Canada, Department of National Defence Research Initiative, and/or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and, if so, in what amounts? In connection with the compilation of “The Enemy of my Enemy”, did the authors receive funding from any government agency, arms manufacturer or military contractor?