Russian social media attacks on French President Emmanuel Macron are stoking violence as protests against the government continue in Paris and other cities.
Emmanuel Macron successfully dodged cyberattacks and fake news reports that were widely blamed on a Kremlin effort to destabilize his 2017 presidential campaign.
Now, with France convulsed by violent protests, the Russians appear to be back – and may be hitting closer to their mark. Among 600 Twitter accounts known to promote Kremlin views, the top hashtag now is #giletsjaunes, the French name for the so-called Yellow Vests protest movement, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a unit of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. that monitors those accounts and other pro-Kremlin activity.
The Twitter accounts monitored by the alliance usually feature U.S. or British news. But the French protests “have been at or near the top” of their activity for at least a week, says Bret Schafer, the alliance’s Washington-based social media analyst. “That’s a pretty strong indication that there is interest in amplifying the conflict” for audiences outside France, he says.
A major theme of recent tweets is that French law enforcement is on the verge of mutiny. That assertion – which doesn’t appear to be supported by facts – resembles other Kremlin-backed disinformation campaigns that have tried to engender mistrust in Western governments and show that liberal democracies are in decline, Schafer says.
Much of the tweeted material comes from Russian state media outlets including the Sputnik news website, the RT television network, and Ruptly, a German-based video news agency that belongs to RT. These outlets are covering the French crisis closely; RT has said that 12 of its journalists have been injured in the protests, far more than any other news organization.
Sputnik and RT have reported in recent days that most French police no longer support Macron and are siding with the protesters. Their sources: representatives of two small police unions that together won less than 4 percent of votes in nationwide union elections this month. Sputnik and RT also have shown a video – widely shared on French social media -- of police in the southwestern town of Pau removing their helmets in what was described as a sign of solidarity with protesters. Local police and journalists on the scene said the description was untrue. They said some officers had briefly removed their helmets to talk with protesters before putting them back on.
Sputnik and RT didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
No reason to ask why Putin's state media outlets are trying to destabilize Macron. A weakened EU helps Putin with his real goal: a fully reconstituted Soviet bloc with a compliant America under his heel.
Of course Putin is moving to cause as much chaos as possible. He'd love nothing more than to see Paris come under control of someone like Marine Le Pen. And I honestly don't know if the Macron government will survive much longer. Between France, the UK May government coming apart due to Brexit, and the German government's changing of the guard, all three of the EU's major leaders may be gone within the next few months.
Putin couldn't be happier.