Russian disinformation campaign targets contribution to ‘Atlantic Resolve’ by the United States
On October 12, Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported the United States placed an entire division of troops in Poland. The article was part of larger coverage from the outlet, which accused which accused NATO of a military build-up on Russia’s western borders. Russian government officials were cited in the articles, one of which was titled “Ministry of Defense: the US placed a whole division on Russia’s borders in the Baltics”.
While there are American troops in Poland, RIA Novosti’s reporting on the size and scope of the United States’ contribution to NATO’s Atlantic Resolve is overstated and flatly false.
In the series of articles, RIA Novosti cited Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) spokesperson Igor Konashenkov, who accused the Pentagon of using Russia’s Zapad 2017 joint military exercise with Belarus to launch a “fraudulent media campaign” to deploy an armored division to Poland. Konashenko said:
“Amid the hysteria over Russia’s planned military incursion right from the Zapad-2017 drills, the 2nd armored division of the US arrived quietly in Poland and was deployed there [Boleslawiec, Drawsko Pomorskie, Torun, Skwierzyna, Zagan] also with its armored vehicles… Contrary to the NATO and the US statements about the “insignificance” of the troops being pulled towards the Russian border, there is now a de facto US Armed Forces division, not a brigade”.
Konashenkov’s statement was false in several instances.
First of all, the United States deployed a Brigade Combat Team, not a division. The difference is significant. A brigade typically consists of 1,500 to 3,500 soldiers, whereas a division ranges between 10,000 to 15,000. While the difference may be obscure to civilians, Konashenkov is a major general in the Russian army and is unlikely to have made such a mistake by accident.
According to the U.S. Army Europe’s factsheet, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team replaced the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. In the article, RIA Novosti claimed the equipment of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team remains in Poland and suggested that, together with the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team’s equipment, U.S. Army Europe’s presence in Poland now makes up a “mechanized infantry division” deployed on Russia’s borders. Again, even if this narrative was accurate, two brigades would not amount to a division, which is defined as consisting of three or more brigades.
In an interview with Stars and Stripes on September 13, Master Sgt. Brent Williams, the spokesperson for the command element overseeing the U.S. Army operations in Europe, confirmed the 3rd Brigade’s equipment will be returned to the United States as soon as the 2nd Brigade’s equipment is operational. He said:
“When 2nd Brigade is ‘ready to fight’, the 3rd Brigade will mobilize for its long haul back to Fort Carson, sending the unit’s tanks and combat vehicles over the Atlantic Ocean.”
Fort Carson is in the western United States, rather than eastern Europe. In other words, there will be some overlap of when the equipment of both brigades is in Europe as part of standard handover procedure. While every statement on military deployments should be checked, the United States has hitherto been transparent about European deployments. There is no evidence to suggest that the arrival of the 2nd Armed Brigade Combat Team is intended as an addition to the current deployment, as the 3rd Armed Brigade Combat team rotates out.
Another overstatement from the Russian MoD posited the deployment was a response to Zapad 2017. However, the original 3rd Armed Brigade Combat Team deployment was announced as a rotational measure in November 2016 to arrive in January 2017 and remain in Europe for 9 months. The arrival of the 2nd Armed Brigade Combat Team is therefore consistent with that timeline, allowing for a handover period.
The deployment of the 2nd Armed Brigade Combat Team was first announced in April 2017, six months before the start of Zapad 2017. Again, there is no evidence to uphold the claim that the deployment was linked to Zapad, and is rather a part of the rotational schedule.
This and other articles published by RIA Novosti on October 12 appear to be a part of a disinformation campaign geared toward Russian citizens in an attempt to portray NATO as a threat to Russia’s national security. As disinformation is continues to be deployed against on Russia’s border with NATO, we will continue to monitor the information space.
Donara Barojan is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
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