Home/IFR Disinformation Lab

IFR Disinformation Lab

Cross-Border Radicalization: Examining Russia’s Multi-Faceted Disinformation Efforts in Germany and the Czech Republic


Liliia Sablina is currently completing her doctoral degree in Political Science at the Central European University in Vienna. Her research focuses on the right-wing mobilization of Russian-speaking groups in Germany. She is an author of multiple academic publications on the topic, including articles in prestigious academic journals such as Nations and Nationalism. She is also a former research fellow at the Zentrum für Osteuropa und Internationale Studien (ZOiS) in Germany, and the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX) in Norway.

Project Description

Who, how, and why facilitates the pro-Russian mobilization in European democracies amidst the full-scale invasion of Ukraine? The proposed project intends to shed light on these questions by investigating a multi-layered disinformation campaign initiated by Russia to facilitate the de-democratization from within in the countries of the European Union. Contrary to other approaches, this project suggests going beyond merely social media and fake news analysis, but reconstructing how the pro-Russian narratives are facilitated on the macro-, meso-, and micro- levels.

Russia, as an authoritarian state, increasingly uses digital means to facilitate its survival. While many autocrats choose to control online behavior domestically through repression and co-optation, mobilization is crucial in the transnational context, as autocratic governments need external audiences to legitimize their arguments both domestically and abroad (Tsourapas, 2021; Gerschewski, 2015). Digital tools are among the few means autocrats can fully utilize to mobilize transnational migrants, diasporas, or perceived ‘co-ethnics’. Spreading disinformation campaigns not only facilitates distrust in local governments but also homogenizes particular rhetoric among recipients of the disinformation.

The proposed project aims to analyze the multi-layered character of the Russian disinformation campaign in Germany and the Czech Republic. These cases have been chosen based on the most-different-system design (Steinmetz, 2021). Although both countries have completely different structures of Russian-language networks, in both cases, a significant increase in Russian disinformation campaigns targeting the countries, the rise of far-right parties aiming for pro-Kremlin cooperation, and significant usage of social media for the distribution of disinformation and radicalization of citizens in support of Russia have been observed.

The study intends to conduct a nuanced multi-tiered analysis to unravel the complex web of local engagement with Russian disinformation campaigns. This includes:

  • Macro-level analysis: Consideration of how both the Czech Republic and Germany are framed in the public discourse of the Russian state after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Students will analyze the rhetoric produced by Russia’s state-owned media outlets like RIA NOVOSTI.
  • Meso-level analysis: Analyzing organizations and political parties leaning toward pro-Russian positions. By using secondary literature and analyzing current political situations, students will map out the network of pro-Russian actors in both countries.
  • Micro-level analysis: Monitoring pro-Russian Telegram channels and Facebook groups to understand the spread of messaging, identify key players, and link it to broader Russian narratives. This level of analysis would provide a profound understanding of both the disinformation campaign narratives and the reactions of “ordinary people” or “users” to the disinformation campaign. Ideally, students should possess the knowledge of either Czech or German language; but if not, the study could also focus just on the disinformation campaign disseminated in the Russian-language blogosphere.

Upon completion, students involved will have honed open-source intelligence (OSINT) capabilities and disinformation monitoring techniques, as well as learned hands-on methods such as scraping, qualitative social media analysis, and process tracing. They will gain experience in detecting the intricate connections between various levels of Russian authoritarian engagement with ‘compatriots’ in Germany.

The outcomes of this project could be published as a co-authored academic article in a high-ranked political science journal (for instance, Democratization). Additionally, we can produce multiple op-eds on the research and/or policy import to inform the broader audience about the multi-layered disinformation campaign in the country. Upon the students’ desire, we can also work on a set of policy recommendations to counter the spread of Russian radicalization attempts in European democracies.

Intern Workload

20 hours per month

Intern Requirements

The project seeks to employ 2 interns. It could be either advanced BA students (3rd or 4th years of education) or MA students.

Language requirements:

  • English (Advanced, C1) for all interns
  • Russian (Advanced, B2-C1) for all interns
  • Czech (B2-C1) for at least one of the interns
  • German (B2-C1) for at least one of the interns

Internship applications to this laboratory are accepted in English only.