*Tankies: a familiar colloquial term for the fringe subset of international leftists who revere and agitate for totalitarian regimes.

Generally universally maligned around the world, they tend to band together in self-referential corners of media and the internet. But over the last year, the pro-Kremlin far left has been attempting some novel strategies in its attempts to ensnare new followers in countries far removed from Russia.

In Canada, propagandists have recently attempted to gin up pro-Russian support by staging full-blown disinformation events disguised as lectures by “peace councils.” Their speakers attempt to pass themselves off as thoughtful international affairs watchers, professing compassion for Ukrainians. In actuality, they’re injecting full-blown Russian propaganda into small rooms of earnest Canadians.

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Away from these in-person events, their Kremlin-linked profiles, ties, and histories of articles and appearances rooted in genocide denial aren’t even well-hidden.

Exploiting Canadians’ Vulnerabilities

In identifying weak spots by which Russian misinformation has made inroads in North America, Toronto-based Disinfowatch has pointed to the statistic that only eight percent of Canadians describe themselves as well-informed about the history of eastern Europe.

Trevor Connolly, pro-Ukrainian Canadian activist and longtime observer of indoctrination attempts on the Canadian left, elaborated:

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The TV debate between Attal and Bardella covered a wide range of topics from the economy to trade, agriculture, immigration and the war in Ukraine.

Disinformation agents leverage the fact that most Westerners can't properly weigh competing claims about what is happening. If the Russian viewpoint comes wrapped in concern about defense budgets, the environment and US hegemony, people on the left are more likely to believe it. There's also an understandable discomfort with anything related to war that leads to a desire to stop the fighting at all costs. Add to that a certain romanticization of the Soviet Union that stubbornly persists on the left, people all too easily perceive Russia as a healthy counterweight to US imperialism.”

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One such event, put on by a group called “The Ottawa Peace Council” earlier this year, has proven instructive as to the way such attempts are staged.

The talk was announced with the innocuous title “What Is the Path to Peace?”. Only its subheading made clear that it intended to focus on Ukraine at all.

 Many social media watchers immediately noticed that there were no Ukrainians on the panel. Indeed, no one on the panel had ever been to Ukraine. None spoke Ukrainian. And even with Ottawa a national capital filled with universities and academic specialists in international affairs and Ukrainian Studies, there was not a professor or expert in sight.

Activists began to share suspicions that this panel was not a legitimate one. In fact, simple searches of the panelists’ names were able to immediately uncover consistent appearances by all three of them on Russian state media, as well as writings on internationally flagged Kremlin proxy websites.

Pro-Ukrainian community activists sprang into action, with a petition protesting the allowed use of civic property by known propagandists. One Ottawa resident and Ukraine native who spearheaded the petition explained: “It was clearly a propaganda event disguised as a ‘peace event’.

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Ottawa is an important political capital, and when they allow a propaganda event on city property, it matters. This was clearly that. It featured RT speakers with a history of violence. It could be clearly challenged under the code against hate speech and violence – in this case, towards Ukrainians, and the use of the language of genocide, at a city event. So, formulating a petition was an obvious solution.”

Ultimately the change to city policy precipitated by the petition was successful. But it was too late for such policy changes to stop this particular event, which went ahead as scheduled on Jan. 23.

In the aftermath, the petition’s Ukrainian originator explained how he felt that the city of Ottawa had been caught flat-footed in the face of a cloaked disinformation attack: “Misinformation and propaganda are new to Canadians. They are kind. They trust.” 

Ottawa “Peace Council” Key Speakers

Local pro-Ukrainian activists chose to attend the event – to observe, report, and perhaps push back in limited manners against pro-Russian falsehoods.

Speaker #1, an anti-NATO writer, opened his remarks with a tepid condemnation of Russia’s invasion as in violation of international law. He then launched into a 20-minute monologue about how said invasion was all the fault of the US. 

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Speaker #2 made his day job as an attorney evident in his strategic attempts to connect with the audience via pathos. He shared a heart-rending tale of how his family in another European country had been stripped of their lands in a tragedy born of US meddling. He then attempted a gentle tone in his recommendations for Ukrainians: stop resisting. It’s simply not sane to fight back.

Within ten minutes, he had made the long rhetorical journey from “compassion” to full praise of Russia, ending by openly boasting about being granted a visa from his friends in Ottawa’s Russian embassy – to go and see “the liberated territories” for himself.

Speaker #3 wove a vivid, if factually incorrect, narrative in search of evidence for her positions. “Ukrainian Nazis” were everywhere in her presentation. Nazis were even breathlessly presented in evidence in 20th century Canada, by way of a 1950s photo of Latvian arts and crafts. 

This final speaker then went on to lead the audience through a dizzying series of propagandistic twists and turns, employing what a 2016 RAND report dubbed the “firehose of falsehood” strategy employed by Russian propaganda.

These included the persecution of Russian-speaking Ukrainians; the Canadian government’s lack of concern for Ukrainian soldiers; and some well-trodden terms for the audience: neoliberal capitalism, climate change, ecocide, white supremacy. Finally, the speaker moved on to gravely reporting that US agriculture conglomerates Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont were actually the true forces behind this war: they want Ukraine’s grain.

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After such a cavalcade of conspiracy theory, Speaker #3 concluded, beatifically, in the realm of both-sides-ism: “We need talks… peace for Ukraine and peace with Russia”. She called for the rebuilding of relationships with Russia, through “empathy.”

As Connolly recalled, “My biggest takeaway was how they were very good at employing buzzwords that are catnip to people on the far left, [having] the effect of suspending critical thinking. I noticed they would continually repeat that Maidan protesters and members of the Eastern European diaspora were ‘hard-right, far-right, Nazis, neo-Nazis.’ And they'd really emphasize these words when they spoke.”

The event ended, predictably, with name-calling and shouting – everything from “Banderists” to Canada’s role in the Crimean War of the 1850s.

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In keeping with such an inauspicious evening, it should be noted that the event’s recorded livestream has now been removed from social media.

Alter-Egos

So, the larger and more pressing question: Who exactly are these people organizing around pro-Kremlin talking points in Canada?

First, the speakers. Here we may refer to them as: The Anti-NATO Author; The Attorney and Failed Political Candidate; and The Ecofeminist PhD Student.

As it turns out, these three are quite inseparable. In fact, they have the tendency to always appear in this same grouping and to write for the same suspect “publications,” too.

Indeed, long before their attempted refashioning of themselves as Ukraine experts, this threesome has been working publicly as a team of provocateurs, gaining notoriety for repeatedly disrupting Canadian and US foreign policy officials’ speeches. Just a week after this Ottawa “peace conference,” they disrupted a speech by Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae. Their in-person antics have led to permanent bans from numerous campuses and venues.

In light of such backgrounds, one might be tempted to dismiss any such events as little more than grifts for attention. (Along those lines, the choice not to use the speakers’ names in this article and to assist them in the building of their international profiles has been deliberate.)

But, in fact, an investigation into these “peace activists”, their allies and their talking points, reveals their place in a very well-connected and malevolent web of global misinformation circles. 

The Author openly appears on RT and publishes on infamous Kremlin-laundering websites. But, his deluded ideas of what constitutes “peace activism” sink lower, down the path to full and outright genocide denial: not only in Ukraine, but surrounding the Uighurs in China and even Rwanda.

As one Ottawa-Ukraine activist uncovered: “R2P is Responsibility to Protect – a norm established in international law after the Rwandan genocide. I was shocked to see [his] website has plenty of Rwandan genocide denial, which I have since been told is a favorite topic of these peaceniks because they hate R2P. It's disgusting. Ukraine is just the latest target of this playbook.”

The Attorney also appears on pro-Russian podcasts and RT, where he mocks Ukraine for the “fantasy” that it will not be fully conquered by Russia, and for “badly losing this war.”

The PhD Student consistently referred in her talk to friends like the Canadian “journalist” and conspiracy theorist Eva Bartlett, listed by misinformation researcher Pekka Kallioniemi as “part of the ‘may be partially or wholly under the editorial control of the Russian government’ gang”. Bartlett is an Assadist who is also supportive of the government of Iran and enjoys visits to North Korea. She has lived in Russia since 2019, while managing to garner over 100,000 followers as a fully-fledged propagandist and RT guest.

While The PhD Student bills herself loudly as Bartlett’s “very good friend,” it should come as no surprise that both The Author and The Attorney have also collaborated with her as co-authors. All of these joint articles are easily accessible online.

Online disinformation hotspot

One particularly notorious site in the Canadian disinformation sphere is globalresearch.ca. Established in 2001 by a now-retired University of Ottawa economics professor, it features both its own alleged writers, and a stable of freelancers from global tankie(*) circles who seem able to use it as a general clearinghouse for any propaganda dissemination they choose.

The website has been spotlighted for years for perpetuating conspiracy theories on everything from airline chemtrails to killer vaccines. In 2020, the US State Department described it as “deeply enmeshed in Russia’s broader disinformation and propaganda ecosystem”, identifying it as one of the seven most impactful Kremlin “proxy sites.”

All three of the above-detailed “peace council” speakers have, too, multiple published articles on globalresearch.ca, archived there to the present day.

Canadians must be vigilant

As one activist who tracked the Ottawa “peace council” talk explained candidly: “I genuinely wonder if this event was put on by people from the Russian Embassy. There's no contact information, and their PDF explainer of their positions is littered with Russian talking points – all while never referring to Russia by name.”

In fact, attempts at tracing the group or their positions all return to one unsourced Google Doc.

Just the most basic of research around this one talk, and its participants, makes clear: it’s a very short stone’s throw from some disingenuous corners of “Canadian peace activism” to support of totalitarian regimes, and to both historical and contemporary war crime and genocide denial. 

In light of such realities, Canadian leftist audiences must become more vigilant in researching exactly who might be inviting them to “diplomacy lectures” or “peace council events.” Without this due diligence, they may find themselves crawling into bed with ideas with which they’d rather not be affiliated, and with some very unsavory characters – perhaps even some actively trying to lure them down the path of Russian disinformation.

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

 

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