Warsaw, Poland – Poland was hit with a wave of fake news stories last week, including a phony interview with a U.S. commander ridiculing allied militaries, days before a major NATO military exercise in the country.
According to the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, hackers used “cyberattack tools” to post fake content on various news websites, including prominent Polish media groups.
“The attack coincided with the beginning of the next phase of the Defender Europe-20 military exercise hosted by Poland,” Polish government spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn allegedly said in a lengthy statement Thursday, in which he blamed Moscow.
Fake news and disinformation campaign
Among the fake news reports was a fabricated interview with U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, which was published by Gazeta Polska, one of Poland’s popular conservative newspapers, notorious for spreading disinformation, and then picked up by other sites, including Poland Daily.
The interview featured fabricated statements about a lack of preparedness among Polish and Baltic militaries, which were attributed to the U.S. Army commander before being quickly dismissed by the U.S. Army Europe on Twitter.
Another fake news story focused on U.S. troops who had unflattering things to say about their Polish counterparts. It picked up by the official site of the town of Orzysz in northeastern Poland, where U.S. troops are stationed as part of the NATO mission.
Last year, Gazeta Polska was already at the center of the ‘LGBT-free zone’ controversy after it announced it would issue ‘LGBT-free zone’ stickers along with its issue.
6,000 Polish and American troops
This latest disinformation campaign comes as Poland prepares to host the Agile Spirit exercise later this month, the first large-scale exercise with the U.S. since the coronavirus pandemic forced most major training events to be cancelled.
The drill is part of the Defender Europe-20 effort, which was to be the largest Army exercise on the Continent in more than 25 years but was significantly scaled back when the coronavirus hit.
According to Poland’s PAP news agency, some 6,000 Polish and American troops are scheduled to exercise together in Poland from June 5 to 19. According to the defence ministry in Warsaw, the upcoming drills aim to strengthen the security of Poland and other countries along the eastern flank of NATO.
Hallmarks of the Kremlin
The recent wave of fake news is an attempt to break down alliance cohesion, “destroy the image of the U.S.” and weaken its engagement in Europe, and raise doubts about the reliability of countries on NATO’s eastern flank, according to Stanislaw Zaryn, who suspects Russia of being behind the attacks, which bear the hallmarks of previous disinformation campaigns led by the Kremlin.
“The military cooperation between the U.S. and Poland is constantly targeted by Russian activities,” he said.
Earlier this year, a study by the Pew Research Center revealed that Poland was the country in Europe with the most positive views of the United States in general, and where Donald Trump was viewed the most favourably.