Canadian website “deeply enmeshed” in Russian propaganda efforts

By Mitch Riding, CRRI Intern

Just two weeks after the U.K. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee published its long-awaited ‘Russia Report’, it was the U.S. State Department’s turn. On 4 August, the Department’s ‘Global Engagement Center’ (GEC) published what Lea Gabrielle, Special Envoy and the Center’s Coordinator, termed the “first-ever comprehensive analysis of Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.”

The GEC, whose vision is addressing foreign adversaries’ attempts to use disinformation propaganda to undermine U.S. interests, identified five pillars of Russian efforts: official government communications; state-funded global messaging; cultivation of proxy sources; weaponization of social media; and cyber-enabled disinformation.

Almost as if on cue, and in an Orwellian twist, the Russian Embassy in Washington, on its Facebook page, decried the publication of the report, claiming that “any voice that contradicts Washington is dubbed “disinformation” in the service of the “Kremlin” and Russian intelligence.” The Embassy went on to warn that those who dare to criticize the U.S. are at risk of have their accounts on American social media platforms suspended. The Report was, in the Russian view, “an attempt to silence Russian official proposals to resume cooperation in key areas on which the security of the entire world depends.”

The social media warning, on reflection, looks hollow: the Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Canada-based ‘Centre for Research on Globalization’ (CRG), which came in for strong criticism from the GEC, are still live. The CRG is run by Michel Chossudovsky, University of Ottawa professor emeritus of economics, from Montreal.

The GEC’s report cast the CRG, whose website goes by ‘Global Research’, as one of seven “Russia-aligned outlets with global reach”, and one which had become “deeply enmeshed in Russia’s broader disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.”

This was, however, by no means the first time the CRG has come under scrutiny. As long afore as 2015, it was lambasted as an ‘amateur conspiracy website’ by Meduza.

In 2017, The Economist dismissed it as ‘a hub for conspiracy theories and fake stories.’ Such comments clearly underestimate the importance of Global Research and other similar such sites: that same year, it came into the sights of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, which viewed the site as ‘a link in a concerted effort to undermine the credibility of mainstream Western media’. The site, it said, played a ‘key accelerant role in helping popularize articles with little basis in fact’. NATO’s Strategic Communications Director, Janis Sarts, stated that Global Research repeatedly played a role in disseminating “disinformation” by giving pro-Russia and pro-Assad stories a wider audience and a veneer of credibility by publishing them through an authoritative-sounding Canadian source.

Its importance inheres in the disproportional weight it enjoys in news coverage by Russian state media: as reported by Meduza, Global Research was prominently featured as the only source in numerous stories by the now-defunct Russian state-owned newswire, RIA Novosti. The GEC also reported that Global Research published or republished seven ‘authors’ that were actually false online personas created by the Russian GRU; the ‘authors’, between ‘them’, were responsible for more than 100 articles on the website.

Newsguard, which provides warnings on trending misinformation sites and aims to “help you decide which news sources to trust”, argued that Global Research “severely violates basic standards of credibility and transparency”, giving the site a score of just 17.5/100.

On both of those fronts, Newsguard appears more than justified in disparaging Global Research. Most incredulously, an article on the site posited that Washington may have “created an unleashed the virus in a bid to bring Beijing’s growing economy and military might down a few notches.”

That would be an even more inept false-flag operation than 9/11 – a favourite topic of Global Research’s conspiracists. It even has a section dedicated to the topic on the site, 19 years after the fact. Of course, after almost two decades, there is rather little to say; instead, the section now carries ‘confessions’ from ISIS terrorists that they have conducted operations in cahoots with U.S. forces, in an article reposted from the Syria Times – a pro-Assad newspaper. The U.S., it claims, plans a ‘permanent occupation’ of Iraq, which it will use as a platform for endless regional wars.

In fact, the site has somewhat of a penchant for quoting less than trustworthy sources: an article in which the U.S. Rand Corporation is labelled ‘the most influential think tank of the ‘Deep State’’, and in which the Corporation allegedly forms part of the ‘underground centre of real power gripped by the economic, financial, and military oligarchies’ is taken from Il Manifesto, a ‘communist’ newspaper. The image in the article is taken from Zero Hedge – an outlet that Newsguard has found to have published false content.

Tellingly, another dedicated section is ‘US Nato War’ – on what, or whom, though, is unclear. NATO, the villain that Global Research loves to hate, comes under most fire for the 1999 war on Yugoslavia over Kosovo, and its general conduct toward the Former Yugoslavia throughout the course of the 1990s. Articles on the site, for instance, claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was a ‘hoax’; the UN International Court of Justice, to many people’s minds a far more respectable source, ruled that the killings there constituted genocide. In just one astonishing article (originally from 1999 and then, for whatever reason, republished in 2020), Milosevic’s ‘demonization’ and portrayal ‘as a remorseless dictator’ are lamented (he was, of course, just that), while it is claimed that the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army were ordered by US-NATO. Even more mendaciously, another article goes on to claim that “people of all ethnic origins including ethnic Albanians, Serbs and other ethnic groups [were] leaving Kosovo largely as a result of the bombing” – of course, again, that isn’t true: Albanians left as a result of the brutal repression they faced at the hands of Serbs; the latter left as the former wrought revenge on them.

Finally, on the topic of Yugoslavia, in July 2020, ‘award-winning’ author Stephen Lendman (again, it is not clear which awards he has won, or from whom) referred to events throughout the 1990s as the “rape of Yugoslavia” by Clinton and the “NATO killing machine.” Of course, it was President Milosevic, who is absolved of any blame by Global Research, that abused his fellow citizens and, in the process, fostered the collapse of Yugoslavia. Referring to the events as “one of history’s great crimes”, Mr. Lendman accuses the US-NATO alliance of raging “all-out preemptive war on Yugoslavia”. Of course, it wasn’t all-out, since NATO introduced no ground troops and stuck to aerial assaults, and nor was it preemptive, as Milosevic had long afore terrorized the Albanian Kosovar population.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 2014, Mr. Chossudovsky was awarded a ‘Gold Medal of Merit’ from the Government of Serbia – presumably for his organization’s vehement defence of Milosevic, and its disparagement of NATO, the KLA, and Kosovar Albanians.

Global Research’s defence of distasteful characters and actions doesn’t end there. Of Alexei Navalny’s recent alleged poisoning, an article on the site asserted that “with scant public support in Russia, there’s no reason why its authorities would want him poisoned or otherwise harmed.” Of alleged mistreatment of homosexuals in Chechnya and Russia writ large, a quite astonishing article countered with the assertion that homosexuality is not criminalized in Russia – as if that wholly excludes any abuse or repression of gays. Chechnya’s head, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is part of the “more moderate wing of Chechen politics”, according to Global Research, apparently does not hope to govern Chechnya with Sharia law. Yet the same article reports that Chechen authorities have been allowed by the Russian Federation to introduce some elements of the fundamentalist religious code? The Western vilification of Putin, rather than being a result of such issues as homophobia or other indiscretions, is because of his reversal of Yeltsin’s policies, the author claims.

It goes on to suggest that, because the reports of ‘gay gulags’ in Chechnya were published by Novaya Gazeta, which is partly owned by Mikhail Gorbachev, they cannot be true. Typically of Global Research articles, the piece begins with the issue of homophobia in Chechnya, and somehow ends up discussing the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which was, apparently, the “brainchild” of Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Other analysts have dismissed Global Research, and the other sites mentioned in the GEC report, as a result of their somewhat underwhelming readership and reach figures. While RT that averaged more than 130m visits per month since the start of 2020, and Sputnik News averaged more than 60m, Global Research averaged just over 12m, making it by far the largest of the seven sites mentioned in the report.

These figures may well tempt one to dismiss Global Research as a tin-foil hat type site frequented by fringe conspiracists. That may well have an element of truth to it, but it goes far deeper than that. As above, Global Research has been linked with GRU fake personas. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman tweeted two articles from the site which blamed the US for Covid-19. As Lea Gabrielle noted in her press briefing, “proxy sites serve as critical connective tissue within the broader ecosystem.” The Centre for Research on Globalization gives a veneer of respectability to frankly outlandish claims, and amplifies pro-Russian sentiment through a respectable sounding Canadian outfit headed by an emeritus professor. They also regurgitate the claims of such publications as the Syria Times.

Mr. Chossudovsky, for his part, denied that Global Research is part of a network of pro-Russia or pro-Assad sites, or that it is “affiliated with governmental organizations or benefits from their support.”

Global Research did not respond to a request for comment from the author of this article, nor did they take the opportunity to rebut any of the claims levelled against them by the GEC.

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