The FN team analyzed a total of 127 articles which are part of the “first wave” of (dis)information covering the event on the 23rd and 24th of June 2021. The articles were generated through DEBUNK.EU system but also the news aggregators’ time.mk and grid.mk, as well as the google search engine were used for collection.
The overall disinformation narrative that dominated the broadcast of this event in North Macedonia, on 23rd and 24th of June, was that “The British Government did it on purpose and Russia is military superior and has all the right to defend its sovereign territory”. This disinformation narrative relativizes the illegal annexation of Crimea from 2014 and the armed conflicts that followed it, with no regard to the international laws with the disinformation narrative “The Ukrainian waters are Russian territory and that cannot/should not be disputed” followed by “Russia is an equal player on the international scene”. The disinformation narrative about “Russia military superiority”, which is continuously present, was noted as well in the following manner “Russia is ready to attack foreign warships using diplomatic, political and military means; Next time, the bombs will hit the target, not the direction of movement; Russia uses SU-24M fighter-bomber to warn British Royal NAVY warship for entering illegally in Russian waters”.
The articles published on the 25th and 26th of June, were referring to two key events/statements: (1) The statements of the UK Chief of the Defense Staff, Nick Carter- the articles that appeared in NMK online space were a mix of article published on 23rd and his second statement from 25th. Within the NMK portals, as a source it is stated “UK news agencies”. However, this narrative started on 25th of June by the Russian media. This is usual technique used by the Russian and pro-Russian portals in NMK to publish segments of certain Russian narratives few days after disinformation was initially published in Russian media. Within these articles there is a tendency to emphasize the phrase “UK admitted” referring to parts of the statement of the Mr. Carter, which builds on the previous intentions of Russia to present UK as “responsible for provocations”. (2) The “news” that “Amid increased tensions with UK, Russia started BIG military exercises in the Mediterranean sea”.
Conclusion: Considering the overall period 23-26 June, the Russian disinformation about the event was present in North Macedonia, using various techniques, such as distorting and manipulating sources, to keep the disinformation narrative in the online sphere.
Ships should use legally recognized shipping lanes: HMS Defender was using a legally recognized shipping lane.
The passage should be free of prejudice for the peace, good order or security of the coastal state: HMS Defender passage was not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state which in this case and in accordance with the illegal annexation is not considered to be Russia.
The passage should be performed without stopping (unless agreed with the coastal state for using a harbor as a stop point) and should not change the course: HMS Defender did not stopped its movement rather than that it was moving in a constant speed without change of the course.
The innocent passage should not be announced to the coastal state: HMS Defender did not need to announce the innocent passage since it is not required by the law.
The innocent passage should not endanger the sea-life, environment, essential infrastructure or interfere with any sea works or researches: HMS Defender did not jeopardize or endangered the sea life, environment or any other essential infrastructure, cables, pipelines hoses etc. enroute its movement.
HMS Defender was using a legally recognized shipping route.
HMS Defender considered the waters as Ukrainian therefore innocent passage was planned.
The purpose of the passage was to make a point that those waters do not belong to Russia therefore Russia has no right to warn, safeguard or attack anyone enroute.
The crew and senior Officers on HMS Defender were confident that it will be non-confrontational passage accepting and predicting the fact that Russia will take more aggressive approach during the passage.
UK as a NATO member state has the duty to call out states that do not follow the international order and it was done in a transparent manner.
The Royal navy and UK are willing to challenge Russia to uphold international law.
The articles published on the 25thand 26th of June, were referring to two key events/statements: (1) The statements of the UK Chief of the Defense Staff, Nick Carter- the articles that appeared in NMK online space were a mix of the articles published on 23rd and his second statement from 25th. Within the NMK portals, as a source it is stated “UK news agencies”. Within these articles there is a tendency to emphasize the phrase “UK admitted” referring to parts of the statement of the Mr.Carter, which builds on the previous intentions of Russia to present UK as “responsible for provocations”. General Carter as the Head of the British Royal Army frequently speaks about the threats from Russia, defining it as malicious and dangerous, there are several occasions where General Carter has spoken loudly about how big threat Russia represents to NATO as alliance and to its members as well. It appears that the NMK portals have misused his statement as well, where the part “miscalculation born of unwarranted escalation” is transmitted with the following headlines: “A war with Russia could have been started” where his statement was presented in a manner that he is blaming his own army for the incident. In fact, General Carter when stated “miscalculation born of unwarranted escalation” referred to Russia and its non-observance of the international law and un-predictability when legal actions are taken by NATO and other countries. (2) The “news” that “Amid increased tensions with UK, Russia started BIG military exercises in the Mediterranean sea” published by pro-Russian portals aimed at showing Russia as Military superior and a country that should not be challenged thus keeping the narrative alive and circulating. Again strengthening the narrative about the “Russian military superiority”.
This project was funded in part through a U.S. Embassy grant. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the implementers/authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.