#PutinAtWar: Contradictions Against “Fort Trump”

Kremlin-controlled media targets Poland’s request for a permanent U.S. military base

(Source: @DFRLab)

Kremlin-controlled media — namely RT and Sputnik News — have put out 16 different narratives arguing that a permanent U.S. military base in Poland, known as “Fort Trump,” would be unacceptable.

Most of those narratives, however, contradict one another, turning “Fort Trump” into a military base that simultaneously threatens and does not threaten Russia, condemns Warsaw as the regional provocateur and argues that Warsaw is merely a pawn of NATO and the United States, and suggests Poland is a sovereign country that has the right to ask the United States for a permanent base whilst saying Poland is giving up its sovereignty by doing so.

In the summer of 2018, a month before NATO’s summit in Brussels, news broke about the Polish Ministry of Defense’s proposal to dedicate $2 billion USD to build a permanent U.S. base in the country. The proposal reflected Poland’s 19-year ambition to secure a U.S. military base in the country to counter its increasingly opportunistic neighbor, Russia.

Although the Trump Administration has not officially revealed its decision, the Kremlin-controlled media wasted no time launching a spin campaign to discourage both the United States and Poland from establishing the so-called “Fort Trump.”

RT and Sputnik’s reporting on the subject in Polish and English has seeded 16 different narratives explaining why “Fort Trump” is a bad idea:

  1. The base would not protect Poland and, if anything, would turn the country into a target in case of conflict (ENG, ENG, ENG, ENG, ENG, ENG, PL, PL, PL, PL);
  2. The base would violate NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, which forbids a permanent deployment of “substantial combat forces” near the NATO-Russia border (ENG, ENG, ENG, ENG, ENG, PL, PL, PL);
  3. Poland is provoking Russia (ENG, ENG, ENG, ENG, PL, PL);
  4. Russia is not a threat (ENG, ENG, ENG, PL, PL);
  5. The base would be a threat to Russia (ENG, PL, PL, PL);
  6. The base would be a threat to Belarus (ENG, ENG, ENG, PL);
  7. Russia would be forced to respond (PL, PL, PL, PL);
  8. Poland is being used by the United States and NATO to provoke Russia and to support NATO’s eastward expansion (ENG, ENG, PL, PL, PL);
  9. The base would hurt relations with Moscow and undermine the existing balance of power in the region (ENG, ENG);
  10. Poland would lose its sovereignty (ENG, ENG);
  11. Poland is a sovereign country and can invite whomever it wants to its territory (ENG, PL);
  12. Poland should instead focus on improving relations with Russia (ENG, PL);
  13. Poland is Russophobic (ENG, PL);
  14. The base would be a waste of resources (PL);
  15. The United States will set up a base near Kharkov, Ukraine, next (PL); and
  16. Poland is only using the “Russia threat” to curtail civil liberties (PL).

It was curious that not all of the above narratives got the same amount of coverage in RT and Sputnik’s reporting English and Polish, and it signaled that the Kremlin seeded two different stories to discourage the Poles and the Americans from reaching an agreement on establishing a permanent U.S. base on Polish soil.

Graph showing the number of RT and Sputnik articles referencing the different narratives used to target “Fort Trump” in English and Polish languages. (Source: @DFRLab)

In English, the dominant narratives posited the base would fail to protect Poland, violate the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, and provoke Russia. It appears these narratives were meant to discourage the United States from setting up a permanent base by warning that it would undermine United States-Russia and NATO-Russia relations while also failing to achieve its key goal of protecting Poland.

In Polish, the dominant narratives posited the base would threaten Russia and Belarus and would force the Kremlin to respond, adding that Poland was being exploited by the United States.

Two excerpts from RT articles published several weeks apart. The first (left) argues that the base would threaten Russia, and the second (right) states that the base will not be strong enough to serve as staging area for an offensive against Russia. (Source: RT/archive, left; RT/archive, right)
Excerpts from two Sputnik articles, with one (left) arguing the base has nothing to do with NATO and the other (right) claiming it is part of NATO’s eastward expansion. The articles were published less than a month apart. (Source: Sputnik News/archive, left; Sputnik News [translated from Polish]/archive, right)
Excerpts from two Sputnik articles. One (left) states that Poland is a sovereign country with a right to establish a U.S. military base on its territory, while the other argues that Poland would be giving up its military sovereignty. (Source: Sputnik News/archive, left; Sputnik News/archive, right)

The aforementioned articles were published by different authors and some had disclaimers saying opinions expressed by the authors did not reflect the views held by Sputnik and RT.

It was noteworthy, however, that neither RT nor Sputnik published a single article arguing in favor of the United States establishing a permanent base in Poland. Despite their claims otherwise, this approach to “Fort Trump” once again confirms that neither RT nor Sputnik have any regard for the basic journalistic principles of impartiality and independence. They are focused instead on amplifying opinions that coincide with Russia’s foreign policy objectives.

Conclusion

RT and Sputnik’s coverage of “Fort Trump” revealed the contradictory nature of the Kremlin’s messaging, designed to appeal to different audiences across the political spectrum with no preference to a specific political school of thought or ideology, outside of overtly pro-Russia content.


Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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