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The attack on Israel by militants of the terrorist organization Hamas on October 7 caused rallies in support of Palestinians or Israel in various countries of Europe and Asia. In Muslim countries, the demonstrators came out mainly in support of Palestine. In Europe and the USA, some of the protesters supported Israel, and some supported Palestine. In Europe, the largest demonstrations in support of Palestine took place on the weekend of October 14-15. Representatives of local police in the European Union states detained some of the rallies’ participants for anti-Semitism. In Berlin, all protests were banned to avoid threats to the safety of protest participants. However, despite the ban, rallies still took place in the capital of Germany.
On October 17, due to a terrorist attack, three people died in Brussels. On October 18, a rally was held in Washington, DC, on the premises of the US Congress. The protesters demanded that the President and the US Parliament stop the shelling of the Gaza Strip.
Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protests in Europe and the United States have given Russian propagandists a basis for spreading messages about the threat of repeated terror from illegal migrants. Based on the posts in pro-Russian Telegram channels provided by "TeleZip / Mantis Analytics" and "Lets Data", DM analyzes what messages the propagandists have been spreading and what they wanted to achieve with them.
"Europe should expect terrorist attacks"
The reaction of Russian propagandists starting October 7 to the war in Israel has had the following features. At first, they emphasized that Israel could not prevent the terrorist attack and that the US attention would now shift from Ukraine to the Middle East. According to them, it will allow Russia to gain an advantage in Ukraine. Propagandists also led the audience to believe that terrorism and brutality are legitimate tools of political struggle. Following the style of classic propaganda tactics of "expanding the range of acceptable," they tried to prove that killing civilians to achieve military and political goals is a standard practice. According to them, not only Russia practices this.
The narrative that the West will supposedly help Ukraine less because all the attention will be on Israel is still spreading through pro-Russian Telegram channels. Therefore, Russia wants the world media to write less about Ukraine and, as a result, provide less support for our country. However, the reality is the exact opposite of Russian disinformation: last week, US President Joe Biden announced a $105 billion aid package to Ukraine and Israel. The EU has a consolidated position and has condemned the terrorism of Hamas against Israel.
Since October 14, propagandists have added to the list of their arguments the fact that the USA and Europe are suffering from the hostilities in Israel and Palestine. According to them, the support for Israel destroys the unity of EU member states and quarrels representatives of various EU institutions. Propagandists used pro-Palestinian rallies and rumors as proof. For example, an "information leak" from the entourage of the head of the European Council that "Charles Michel is annoyed by Ursula von der Leyen’s (the president of the European Commission) trip to Israel."
Later, pro-Russian Telegram channels started spreading fears about economic issues and terrorist attacks in the West.
"If Israel continues to promote this situation, a new war in the Middle East cannot be avoided. It will create two problematic scenarios for the US: rising oil prices and strengthening the position of Muslims in Europe. High oil prices will cause inflation in the US. Meanwhile, the strengthening of Muslim influence can lead to terrorist attacks both in France and the USA," Russian "expert’s" propagandis Telegram channels stated on October 16.
The next day, a Tunisian migrant terrorist killed three people in Brussels. At the same time, the French police announced the evacuation of the Palace of Versailles due to the threat of landmines, the Italian carabinieri increased the security of the Vatican due to the threat of a terrorist attack, and several Lithuanian institutions received messages in Russian about explosives in their premises.
Most of the Russian propagandists in Telegram did not connect the terrorist attack in Brussels with the events in the Middle East. But they used it to accuse law enforcement officers from the EU of being unprofessional. According to them, "hundreds and thousands of terrorists who are ready to kill people just like, walk the streets of Europe. The special services know about them, but they don't do anything about it." It is what pro-Russian blogger Anatoliy Shariy, who probably lives in Spain, wrote on his Telegram channel. Similar messages were published by other pro-Russian bloggers. They added that the police allegedly knew about the terrorist's plans in advance. Moreover, they reduced these messages to irony, such as: "The terrorist in Brussels calmly ran all night, recharged volley of bullets, and rode a moped. Killed only two but could have killed two hundred — how sweet and safe it is in Europe, a pure celebration of the heart."
The Russian propaganda publication "Komsomolskaya Pravda" provided a third version of the terrorist attack in Brussels in its Telegram channel: "The Koran burned in Sweden echoed bloodily on the streets of Brussels." According to it, the protests in Sweden, during which the Koran was burned, provoked a terrorist attack. If "Israel decides on a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, then numerous Muslim communities in Europe can start their "intifada", which threatens mass riots and terrorist attacks."
It is interesting that the pro-Russian blogger Shariy mainly publishes videos on his Telegram channel, specifically from rallies in support of Palestine in the West. He does it to create the “mass” effect of these events.
"The EU’s migration policy will lead to the emergence of the Flemish caliphate."
The man who killed three people in Brussels, according to BBC News, first applied for asylum in the EU in 2019. He came to the European Union from Tunisia, located on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Almost halfway across the sea between Tunisia and the coast of continental Italy lies the Italian island of Lampedusa. More than six thousand people live there. In 2023, Lampedusa became one of the bases where migrants from Africa and Asia arrived on their way to Europe. At the beginning of fall 2023, 8,500 to 12,000 migrants lived in the tent city on Lampedusa. The Italian authorities demanded that the UN and the EU take measures to redistribute migrants to other EU member states. Since 2015, Russian propaganda presented the problem with refugees as proof of the incapacity of the EU's supranational institutions.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2022, there were more than 17 million refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, out of about 110 million refugees in the world, about whom the UN had information. According to the World Bank, the number of people registered as refugees in EU countries increased fivefold from 2012 to 2022. Meanwhile, the number of refugees worldwide is around twice more.
According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, every fourth of EU citizens believe that the influx of refugees into the EU leads to an increase in the terrorism threat. Propagandists used the terrorist attack in Brussels to develop the thesis that neither national nor supranational authorities in the EU are capable of dealing with refugees, among whom there may be terrorists.
"It all started with the migration policy of the EU when migrants started coming to Europe en masse and without control... The power structures may have wanted to do something, but they couldn't: they were told that the country's economy would collapse without migrants. That is how, step by step, year by year, Belgium passed and is giving way to the future Flemish Caliphate," said the pro-Russian Russian-language Telegram channel, which has almost 262,000 subscribers, about the cause of the terrorist attack in Brussels.
Propagandists also presented hostilities in Israel and Palestine as a threat to a new wave of refugees:
"The European Union is putting pressure on Egypt to accept a million refugees from the Gaza Strip. Egypt resisted and promised to send these refugees to Europe. I don't know who will win here, but I know one thing - Europe will be fooled again, in both cases," stated the pro-Russian Telegram channel, aiming at an audience from Ukraine.
The propagandists explained their logic as follows: if Egypt accepts a million refugees, it will be a big blow to the state's economy, which the Egyptian authorities will not be able to cope with. As a result, not only Palestinians but also Egyptians are moving to Europe. In this way, the propagandists "came to a complete circle" of the arguments that Europe cannot save itself from refugees.
"Ukraine is being prepared for resettlement of Jews"
Propagandists exploit the topic of migrants from the Middle East in Ukraine’s context. However, in the case of Israel, it is often not about Palestinian refugees but about Jews. The "Celestial Jerusalem" or "New Jerusalem" ("New Khazaria") conspiracy theory has been circulating in various accounts, mostly from Russian or pro-Russian sources, since around 2014, although its roots lie much deeper.
The main idea of this theory is that a particular international secret body planned the mass relocation of Jews to the territory of Ukraine (Crimea and other southern regions, as well as Uman, are most often mentioned). To prepare the land for resettlement, they are allegedly gradually implementing a plan to "cleanse" these lands of Ukrainians and other people. According to conspiracy propagandists, the 2014 Maidan, the occupation of Crimea, the war in Donbas, and the full-scale invasion of Russia in 2022 are just stages of this "plan", and the Russian and Ukrainian leadership are puppets whose task is to push "brotherly nations" in a war of mutual destruction.
The "New/Celestial Jerusalem" theory is pure conspiracy theory with no evidence to back it up. The very fact that the theory is spread through such characters as Ilya Kiva, sometimes accompanied by numerous details, as if specially invented to make it as absurd as possible, shows how low even the propagandists themselves think of this idea.
Why is it beneficial to Russia to use intimidation by terrorist attacks and migrants
Russians use messages about threats to citizens of European and American states primarily to blur the concept of alternative opinions and freedom of speech, promoting Russian disinformation instead. According to propaganda, Palestinians have been blocked from public activity for a long time, so their demonstrations should not be banned. But this is wrong logic because further support for protests can lead to mass riots, as we already see in Europe and the USA.
Secondly, Russia uses the tactics of hybrid blackmail with the help of illegal migrants to weaken the West. An example is the 2021 case of migrants from the Middle East and Africa who tried to enter the EU through Belarus.
We are currently observing a similar intimidation tactic. Only now, propagandists accuse the West of having caused the war in Israel. According to them, Israel is committing war crimes against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, civilians have no other choice but to go to wealthy Europe in search of a better life. Thus, Russians create an image of the West, which itself is to blame for the appearance of illegals in its states.
The third aspect is Russia's creation of the image of "proper migrants". The goal is to upset Europe by saying that Ukrainian refugees are given more money and better conditions are created for them, while migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, or the Gaza Strip are on the verge of survival.
The further we are from the start of hostilities in Israel and the Gaza Strip, the more propagandists dive into their traditional messages, which form the core of Russian propaganda. The essence of these theses has not changed since the Cold War. According to them, Russia opposes the West, which spreads global instability. The world order that the West is building will soon collapse due to the pressure of contradictions and issues that the West itself has created. In this world picture, Russia remains the "savior", which seems to intercede for the victims of the West’s arbitrariness and is preparing to spread its vision of world order to the whole world.