Russian Disinfo Campaign Blames Ukraine for Shooting of Slovakia’s Prime Minister

Russia Today’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan went further in a comment on her Telegram channel, blaming Ukraine for the attack: “The Slovak Prime Minister is injured. The one who said that the war began as a result of rampant Ukrainian neo-Nazis and Putin had no other choice. That’s how they work.”

Logically, a company that tracks disinformation campaigns, assessed more than 100 Russian-language pro-Kremlin Telegram channels and found they were uniformly claiming the attack was motivated by Fico’s “pro-Russian stance” while also claiming that Western media outlets were justifying the attack because of Fico’s lack of support for Ukraine.

The Telegram channel of military blogger Mikhail Zvinchuk, which has 1.2 million subscribers, claimed that it was highly likely that a “Ukrainian trace” will emerge in the attack on Fico. The post has been viewed over 300,000 times. The official Telegram channel of Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed that Fico is “known as a friend of Russia.”

“It is likely that Russian language channels and Russian disinformation operations will use the attempted assassination of Fico as a new theme to claim that the West supports violence against pro-Russian politicians, and more broadly to expand on the already present narrative that the world engages in widespread ‘Russophobia,’” Kyle Walter, director of research at Logically, tells WIRED.

Most of the posts on X linking the assassination to Ukraine were in English, not Slovak, says Dominika Hajdu, the policy director at the think tank Globsec, speaking from Slovakia’s capital Bratislava. “With the assassination attempts, I haven’t seen any accusations [on social media] in Slovak linking the assassination to Ukraine or Russia.” These English-language posts, she says, imply a target audience of international users, not Slovaks.

Fico is a divisive figure in Slovakia, a small EU country situated between Austria and Ukraine. Considered Russia-friendly, the 59-year-old was reelected for the third time in October, following a campaign in which Fico called for the withdrawal of military support for Ukraine, while saying he could never support the idea of LGBTQ marriage. Since his Smer–SD party won the election, he has proposed shutting the country’s anti-corruption office and has been accused of cracking down on civil rights groups and limiting press freedom.

“The typical current government supporter is mostly rural, usually an older voter, who is not super thrilled with how things turned out with their economic success,” says Sona Muzikarova, a senior fellow at The Atlantic Council focused on Central and Eastern Europe. “On the other side is the more liberal, a bit more woke, pro-EU, pro western, urban voter.”

More liberal voters were unhappy with the return of Fico, whose last period in power ended with his resignation in 2018, following huge demonstrations over the killing of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Kuciak had been uncovering government corruption.

“He got voted in through a democratic process, but still there is a huge chunk of the population that’s very unhappy with this kind of person being in the lead again,” adds Muzikarova.