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Canadian website criticized as Kremlin mouthpiece depicts Russian invasion as ‘peacekeeping mission’


The globalresearch.ca defence of the attack on Ukraine adds to an online influence that experts already consider large and troubling

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The world’s media and many of its leaders depicted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week as an unprovoked, brazen attack on a sovereign and democratic nation.

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A Montreal website with surprising reach offered a rather different take on the events.

Articles on globalresearch.ca insisted that it was not an invasion at all but a war Russia didn’t want. It was a “peacekeeping mission” to protect people of Ukraine’s restive Donbas region, even as Moscow’s forces poured into the country from multiple directions.

The Russians were simply trying to “liberate” parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists, globalresearch.ca writers said, their main targets being “Ukrainian Nazi groups and movements.”

The articles, some by the website’s own authors and others from partner sites, both mirrored Russia’s own propaganda about the invasion and disseminated misleading or false information.

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For the site run by a retired University of Ottawa economics professor, in other words, it was business as usual.

Those are the type of narratives that add fuel to fringe extremists

Globalresearch.ca has been repeatedly criticized for perpetuating conspiracy theories on everything from airline contrails to killer vaccines and spreading untrue Russian-government spin on world events.

A 2020 U.S. State Department report singled it out as the most impactful of seven “proxy sites” that disseminate Russian disinformation, while the NATO-allied Strategic Communications Centre criticized it for “information laundering” — giving a supposedly respectful Western sheen to the Kremlin’s fake news.

Seven authors responsible for 108 articles on the site were identified by Facebook as pseudonyms created by GRU, Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency.

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The globalresearch.ca defence of the attack on Ukraine adds to an online influence that experts already consider large and troubling.

“We have to take this extremely seriously as a threat to our information environment,” said Marcus Kolga, director of the DisinfoWatch organization and a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. “Those are the type of narratives that add fuel to fringe extremists.”

The site is tied to the Centre for Research on Globalization, founded by retired professor Michel Chossudovsky, once a left-leaning member of the University of Ottawa economics department.

He won the institution’s Excellence in Teaching award in 2001 but some of his extra-curricular exploits have been more contentious, and not just the website.

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According to slobodan-milosevic.org, he offered himself up as a witness in the defence of the Serbian leader when Slobodan Milosevic was tried over Bosnian war crimes. After a 2010 interview with Fidel Castro, Chossudovsky described the late autocratic leader of Cuba as a man of “tremendous integrity” and committed to “the advancement of humankind.”

He once appeared regularly on Russia Today, the state-controlled television network often accused itself of disseminating propaganda and disinformation. A book of his outlining a conspiracy theory about the 9/11 attacks was found on Osama bin Laden’s bookshelf after his death.

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Chossudovsky is still listed on the university’s website as a professor emeritus, an honorary title given to superannuated faculty members.

Ironically, the university recently launched what it calls the Information Integrity Lab, a project dedicated to “the preservation of truth and countering the ill effects of disinformation.”

“If I were running a large university, a nationally recognized university, I would certainly be kind of concerned about my reputation,” said Kolga about Chossudovsky’s online presence.

University spokeswoman Isabelle Mailloux did not comment on why Chossudovsky is still listed among faculty of the economics department, but said he no longer has ties with the school.

“The University of Ottawa is aware of recent statements made by retired professor Chossudovsky and does not support the views expressed in them, nor does it endorse the contents of his website,” she said in a statement.

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Chossudovsky himself could not be reached for comment. He has said little in the Canadian media about the website but did tell The Globe and Mail through a lawyer in 2017 that he is not affiliated with or supported by Russia’s government or any other.

Begun in 2001, globalresearch.ca lists a stable of its own writers and posts articles from other online sources, some of which are also listed by the State Department as Russian proxy sites. The overall tone is anti-U.S. and anti-West and often supportive of authoritarian adversaries of America and its allies.

Authors have promoted falsehoods that 9/11 was a U.S.-fabricated operation to justify American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that COVID vaccines could cause permanent genetic damage and lead to humans being “owned,” and that an American climate-change project will harvest “life molecules” from the atmosphere and render the earth inhospitable to plant life.

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In the first months of the pandemic, it posted articles suggesting the coronavirus was actually introduced to China by U.S. soldiers, contrary to the findings of Chinese and foreign scientists. The claim was then repeated in tweets by China’s foreign ministry spokesman.

It was a classic example of how globalresearch.ca acts as a sort of information laundering service, recycling disinformation and propaganda often devised by Russian agents, then having its articles quoted back by Kremlin-controlled media  — or Beijing in the COVID case, said Janis Sarts, head of StratCom, in a 2020 National Post interview.

“When Russia needs to refer to a Western source, this is typically the site that is quoted,” he said.

Its impact became apparent in 2017 after the website Donbas News International claimed erroneously that the U.S. was sending 3,600 tanks to Europe for “war preparation against Russia.” That post gained limited traction initially. But it received a “significant boost” after globalresearch.ca ran the article, adding a reference to former U.S. president Barack Obama’s “political insanity,” reported the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

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“The decision to include an obvious fake fits its editorial stance,” the Washington, D.C.-based organization commented.

The State Department Global Engagement Center’s report described globalresearch.ca as “deeply enmeshed in Russia’s broader disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.”

And it stood out among those seven proxy sites, the report noted. With 350,000 potential readers per article, it had more than twice as much reach as the other six in 2020.

Its reach this week included Kim Dotcom, the New Zealand-based Internet entrepreneur facing fraud charges in the U.S. He tweeted to his 727,000 followers that Russia’s invasion was a result of American foreign policy and linked to a globalresearch.ca article on “U.S. foreign policy disasters.”

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To Kolga, the real impact of the site is in spreading fake news among a relatively small group of credulous readers who can — as shown by the QAnon movement or the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol — cause considerable harm.

It mirrored Russian-created falsehoods about the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccines, helping divide North American society, and it’s clear how it will portray Moscow’s war against Ukraine, he said.

“Anything that can make the Russians and Vladimir Putin look good and make the Ukrainians and NATO, the West and democracy look bad, that’s what’s going to get promoted.”

• Email: tblackwell@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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