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On May 19, a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and several other high-ranking officials crashed near the border with Azerbaijan. All aboard perished. A few days earlier, on May 15, an assassination attempt was made on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. He was shot multiple times by 71-year-old writer Juraj Cintula. Fico survived after several surgeries and, as of May 27, remains in serious condition in the hospital but is reportedly recovering, according to his party colleagues.

What Slovakia and Iran share is the Kremlin’s support for their leaders. Russian propaganda has favored Prime Minister Fico for halting arms deliveries to Ukraine from Slovakia after he took office in 2023, as well as for his statements on the Russian-Ukrainian war that aligned with the Kremlin’s position. Iran openly supports Russia in the war and supplies it with weapons. The Russian propaganda machine couldn’t resist the temporal coincidence of the incidents involving political leaders from Slovakia and Iran, weaving the assassination attempt on Fico and Raisi’s death into a single conspiracy narrative.

“Fico Was Shot by a Ukrainian-Russian Neo-Trotskyist-Globalist”

Robert Fico became Prime Minister of Slovakia for the fourth time in the fall of 2023 after his party, Direction – Social Democracy (Smer-SD), won first place in the elections with 23.3% of the vote. Fico led a coalition government. He had previously headed the cabinet in 2006, 2012, and 2016. In 2018, he was forced to resign due to large-scale protests in Slovakia following the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Kuciak was investigating connections between the Italian mafia organization ‘Ndrangheta and Slovak officials. The protests demanded an investigation into the first journalist murder in independent Slovakia and Fico’s government’s resignation. One protest leader, Peter Nagy, spoke about the need to change the government so that “trustworthy people, not those mired in corruption and organized crime, come to power.” Fico resigned on the condition that his then-deputy, Peter Pellegrini, would lead the government. A few years later, Fico was re-elected as Prime Minister, and Pellegrini became President of the country in 2024.

Before Fico’s return to power, Slovakia provided military assistance to Ukraine, including air defense systems, Soviet-era aircraft, armored vehicles, and spare parts. According to Deputy Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament Olena Kondratiuk, as of March 2023, Slovakia had provided Ukraine with assistance amounting to 10% of its defense budget. Fico halted arms deliveries and declared that he would provide “zero military assistance to Ukraine... An immediate cessation of hostilities is our best solution for Ukraine.” Although Defense Express analysts noted that Slovakia had likely exhausted its stock of Soviet-era equipment that could be transferred to Ukraine, and private contracts with Slovak companies for new arms supplies continued, Fico’s rhetoric echoed the Kremlin’s. His opposition to sanctions and accusations against Ukraine and NATO for allegedly “provoking” Russian aggression further aligned with Moscow. In February 2023, Vladimir Putin called Fico and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “pro-national politicians” who “defend their national interests.”

In 2024, protests against Robert Fico’s government and actions took place in Slovakia. Alongside domestic policy issues (the opposition and journalists accusing Fico of attempting to seize control of the media), the government’s stance on Ukraine was also a significant factor driving these protests.

Juraj Cintula, a Slovak writer, also participated in the protests. On May 15, in the city of Handlová, after a government meeting, Fico was mingling with people in the square when Cintula called out to him from the crowd. As Fico approached, Cintula shot him five times. The arrested man later claimed he did not intend to kill Fico but only to “harm his health.” Cintula also said he “disagreed with the current government’s policies”, including the pressure on independent media, the abolition of the Special Prosecutor’s Office, and, among other things, the refusal to provide military assistance to Ukraine.

While doctors fought for Fico’s life, Russian propaganda swiftly moved to exploit the attack to blame Ukraine, the “collective West,” and globalists. Propagandist Margarita Simonyan wrote on her Telegram channel: “The Prime Minister of Slovakia is wounded. The one who said that the SMO [special military operation] began because of the rampage of Ukrainian neo-Nazis and that Putin had no other choice. This is how they operate.” She later clarified to the British publication The Telegraph that she did not blame “Ukraine alone” but “all of you,” apparently referring to the “collective West.”

An anonymous propaganda Telegram channel (with over 400,000 subscribers) claimed that Cintula was allegedly incited by his wife, a refugee from Ukraine. The StopFake project refuted this assertion, noting that the Cintula couple has been living together for decades, have two adult children, and there is no information about the wife’s foreign origin or her “incitement” of her husband to attack. Slovak police also denied this information. However, the role of the “refugee” wife is not central to the propagandists’ conclusions. The main culprits are “progressive liberals, nurtured by Soros.” Moreover, the roots of the attack supposedly lie even deeper.

“Modern globalists are followers of the Frankfurt School of Economics, that is, neo-Trotskyists, for whom throwing the whole world into the furnace for the sake of their ideas means nothing. Trotsky’s cruelty and uncompromising nature are well known,” write the propagandists. Russian propagandists did not mention that Juraj Cintula’s ideological “roots” might lie elsewhere (he has previously been noted for sympathizing with the pro-Russian paramilitary group Slovenskí Branci).

Another anonymous Telegram channel (with over a million subscribers) also pointed to a “Ukrainian trace” in the assassination attempt on Fico, suspecting that the attack would be “attributed to a ‘crazy’ case, portraying the attacker as mentally unstable. In reality, the organizers and their motives are clear.” So far, there is no information indicating that the attack was organized by anyone other than Cintula himself, nor that anyone supported, helped him obtain the weapon, or incited him to attack. However, propagandists and conspiracy theorists do not need proof or even suspicions of such connections. For them, the culprits are predetermined: “Fico was inconvenient because he extended the trend of ending the war in Ukraine and refused to provide military assistance, which hindered many. He inconvenienced those characters and large TNCs [transnational corporations] profiting from the war” (it is worth noting that Fico did not hinder arms supplies through private Slovak companies and their profits).

Russian propaganda did not remain idle inside Slovakia either. According to Bloomberg, Russian hackers and disinformation networks are directing their efforts to blame Ukraine and local opposition figures for the attack, sow discord, and divide society. “Their main goal is to weaken support by creating so many internal problems that we will split apart ourselves,” said Bilyana Lilly, head of cybersecurity at the Warsaw Security Forum and author of the book Russian Information Warfare.

Such violent political actions provide fertile ground for Kremlin propagandists. According to the analytical platform elv.ai, within a day after the assassination attempt on Fico, the level of hate speech in all forms in comments on Slovak social media soared to a new historical high — 60%. In “calm” circumstances, the number of hateful comments did not exceed 13.62%. “What we saw yesterday shocked us all... The attack on Prime Minister Fico raised the level of hatred on social media to a level we have not seen before,” said elv.ai CEO Jakub Šuster.

“The President of Iran Was Killed by Anglo-Saxon-Israeli Lords of Shit”

Four days after the shooting of Robert Fico, a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and several other high-ranking officials disappeared. The delegation was returning from the opening ceremony of hydropower plants on the Aras River, located on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan. The ceremony also involved Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (Al Jazeera analysts, among others, noted the rather tense relations between the two countries). The large government delegation traveled in three helicopters; two arrived safely, but the third, carrying the president, foreign minister, and the governor of East Azerbaijan Province, made a “hard landing” in the mountains. A day-long search and rescue operation concluded with the discovery of the burnt remains of the helicopter and the bodies of all passengers and crew.

Ebrahim Raisi, nicknamed the “Butcher of Tehran,” earned this moniker long before he brutally suppressed mass protests in Iran in 2022. As a young prosecutor in 1988, Raisi was one of the organizers of the mass executions of political prisoners in Iran. The exact number of those executed remains unknown, with Amnesty International estimating at least 5,000 deaths. The Iranian authorities continue to conceal information about these killings, and the families of the “disappeared” prisoners still do not know where their loved ones are buried. Expectedly, the five-day mourning period declared in Iran following Raisi’s death has been disrupted by celebrations.

Preliminary investigation data by the Iranian military indicate that the helicopter “caught fire after hitting an elevated area,” with no bullet marks on the fuselage and nothing suspicious detected in the pilots’ communications before the crash. Iranian authorities have not yet made any accusations or suspicions regarding the crash.

However, the Russian propaganda machine has. Unlike the Fico assassination attempt, there is no information suggesting a violent nature to Raisi’s death, but when have propagandists ever needed verified information? Their task is merely to fit any fact into a predetermined worldview.

The aforementioned Margarita Simonyan reacted predictably, adding older examples of the “crimes” of the “mysterious puppeteers,” inventing a new specific term for them: “And Raisi’s helicopter fell accidentally due to fog, and Fico was shot by a senile old man, and Olof Palme, and Kennedy. Shit happens. But it most reliably happens with thorough professional preparation by the lords of shit.”

Former Ukrainian MP Volodymyr Oliynyk, who has been residing in Russia since 2014, added another name to the list on the Zvezda TV channel: Princess Diana, who, according to him, was “done in by MI-6.” Another propagandist, Alexander Artamonov, dug deep into history and stated that Raisi’s death is another link in the two-hundred-year attempts by British intelligence to stop the imperial project “St. Petersburg – Indian Ocean,” in the context of which the “Anglo-Saxons” allegedly contributed to the murder of Emperor Paul I [of Russia] in 1801.

Propagandist Vladimir Solovyov tried to be more specific about the culprits of the helicopter crash involving the Iranian president but fell into an information trap set by Israeli pranksters. Solovyov referred to Israeli journalist Daniel Haik, who claimed that Hamas media blamed Mossad agent Eli Kouptar for the crash. Of course, the fictional Eli Kouptar (a play on “helicopter”) was a joke circulating in Israeli social media in connection with the news of Raisi’s death. But the propagandist (or his editors) rushed to deliver “hot news” about a connection between the crash and Israeli intelligence without considering the implausibility of the “agent’s” name.

One argument for the crash’s non-accidental nature spread by Russian milbloggers was that Ebrahim Raisi was allegedly flying in a Russian MI-171 helicopter. The milbloggers claimed that these helicopters “almost never crash,” seizing the opportunity to assert the “exceptional reliability” of Soviet and Russian technology. So, if it crashed this time, it indicated external interference. However, it later turned out that the Iranian president had inexplicably preferred an old American Bell helicopter, likely purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent sanctions.

Anonymous Telegram channels also did not shy away from searching for culprits in Raisi’s death (alongside the assassination attempt on Fico). They added other incidents involving state leaders, comparing the Iranian president to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in 2022: “The West has long practiced removing inconvenient leaders by any means. Pakistani Prime Minister Khan, who visited Russia right after the start of the SMO — imprisoned with his wife. Japanese Abe, who wanted to resolve the peace treaty issue with Russia — killed. Fico — clear. Raisi — we wait. These are all people who, in one way or another, did not subscribe to the globalists’ policies,” wrote the propagandists when it was not yet clear whether Raisi had died in the crash.

The mention of the Japanese prime minister is particularly interesting. Abe was an advocate of an alliance with the U.S., supported George Bush’s Iraq policy, and had close, friendly relations with Donald Trump. Abe also promoted the idea of increasing the freedom of action for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, particularly to enable their use to protect allies, primarily the U.S., outside Japan. This position drew criticism within Japan from the arguably “anti-globalist” and less pro-American opposition and worsened relations with China.

However, by the logic of conspiracy theories, anyone can be posthumously labeled a “friend of Russia” if necessary. In the cases of both Fico and Raisi, the propagandists’ goal is to emphasize that “there are no coincidences.” All events in their narrative are interconnected, providing maximum advantageous arguments and rhetorical flourishes for Kremlin propaganda. People may find it hard to believe in the randomness of death, especially when it comes to prominent and influential figures. The Russian propaganda machine offers “detective” stories that captivate the imagination, provide simple and comprehensible descriptions of the world, and fit into the overarching narrative that blames the “collective West” and Ukraine, primarily for the war with Russia they “provoked”.

Home page illustration and infographic by Nataliya Lobach

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