Russian Information Influence Playbook : Polish Elections

Marianna Prysiazhniuk, Head of HWAG

The barrage of fakes, disinformation, and aggressive statements from Russian and Belarusian officials directed at Poland, as well as military provocations, is largely motivated by the upcoming Sejm parliamentary elections. Russia creates an information context in this manner in order to influence Warsaw’s domestic politics. This context is required to achieve a complex set of goals, including regaining its positions in the EU and ending support for Ukraine from partners, including Poland. At this stage, distinguishing characteristics include organizing the dominance of the Russian issue in the information space and diluting domestic political discourse.

Russian interference in Polish elections will be accompanied by campaigns in Moldova and Romania

Russian meddling in other countries’ electoral processes is a common Kremlin tool for advancing its own interests abroad through hybrid methods. Russia’s hybrid “portfolio” includes meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit process, as well as countries with weak state institutions and democratic regimes.

Interference in other countries’ elections is seen as the “shortest path to establishing a protectorate” through “blurring” and “undermining” state sovereignty for the purpose of global dominance in specialized articles by Russian political technologists. In the context of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine and the further strengthening of Russia’s international isolation, such influence can be used to undermine regional coalitions and the hypothetical collective West’s cohesive policy.

Headline: “NATO Will Not Save Poland and Lithuania from Wagner PMC Attack. Reason: Alliance’s Ingenious Statute”

This is how a series of Russian provocations surrounding Poland’s parliamentary elections on October 15th. The ruling “Law and Justice” party, which has been in power since 2015, is expected to win the election, according to Polish and international media. Its opponent is the opposition “Civic Platform,” led by former European Council President Donald Tusk. Overall, trust ratings for both political parties are roughly equal, hovering around 30%.

Both political parties are anti-Russian, with the ruling “Law and Justice” party being conservative and Tusk’s platform being liberal. Given both political camps’ understanding of the Russian threat, the country’s socioeconomic policy becomes a likely target for political speculation and information “insertions.” This approach will differ from that taken in the cases of Moldova and Romania, where Russia exploited a more significant geopolitical dimension.

It is also worth noting that pre-election campaigns in countries such as Romania and Moldova should be viewed as part of a larger strategy aimed at undermining European unity by exploiting local skepticism and internal conflicts. The proximity of these pre-election campaigns in the aforementioned countries significantly increases the risk of political turbulence. As a result, the Russian factor (or Belarusian, as in the case of Poland) dominance in the information space will give Moscow control over the informational content of such “problematic issues.”

Local-Level Strategy: Casting the Government as Unable to Respond to Threats Adequately

Each country’s internal context is defined by a variety of specific conditions. In Polish reality, the Belarusian factor is such a condition, which is why dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s long-standing hostile rhetoric towards Warsaw creates “managed” tension between Minsk and Warsaw (managed from Moscow, of course).

“So let them pray [in Poland – HWAG] that we are still keeping [mercenaries – HWAG] and providing for them. Otherwise, they would have seeped in and stormed through Zheshuv and Warsaw to the point of collapse. In total, they now control over 30,000 people. These are men energized for war,” Lukashenko said.

Headline: “Guys Charged Up for War”: Lukashenko Threatens Poland with “Wagner” Fighters

Lukashenko’s anti-Polish rhetoric has not abated in recent weeks by chance. His claims are bolstered by the actual presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Private Military Company on Belarusian territory following the so-called “March on Moscow” (which was most likely a special operation).

This necessitates a quick response from Warsaw in order to maintain control of the situation and citizens’ trust, which will soon be translated into voting results. As a result, military provocations seek to create conditions in which the incumbent government appears incapable of responding adequately to genuine challenges.

Headline: “A Step Away from Conflict with Russia: What Poland Will Face After Elections—Expert Forecast”

Along with informational influence, Russia (via Belarusian proxies) uses military provocations such as violating Polish airspace, military exercises at the “Gozha” training ground near the Polish border, and Wagner PMC mercenaries. Not to mention the dictator of Belarus’s threats. This hybrid formula, by the way, can be expected during campaigns in Romania and Moldova, taking into account local contexts.

Neighbourly Disagreements: Historical Revisionism and Territorial Claims

Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Poland owed Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin gratitude for the territories he allegedly “gifted” to Poland.

“The Western cannon fodder is running low, so the Lithuanians and Poles are being targeted.” If Polish forces enter Lviv or other Ukrainian territory, they will remain. And always.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin

According to Putin, Poland’s western territories are a “gift from Stalin to the Poles,” which they have “forgotten in Warsaw.” Instead, “ungrateful” Poles seek to occupy parts of Ukraine and Belarus, as claimed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Poland seized part of Lithuania, took away historical Russian lands, and participated in the division of Czechoslovakia,” Russia’s President said.

This implies that Russia’s main narrative for deepening confrontation will be revisionist rhetoric surrounding the recreation of historical conflicts and fostering discord.

Headline: “Putin Warns Poland of Possible Next Division,” according to the news. Poland is prepared to annex western Ukraine and Belarus.”

Furthermore, several Russian information messages return to the story of Poland’s alleged territorial claims against Ukraine. Propagandists mention both Poland and Romania in this context.

Headline: “Historical Claims of Poland on Ukrainian Territory”

Furthermore, Russian news sources emphasize Poland’s role in regional formats such as the “Bucharest Nine,” the “Three Seas Initiative,” and the “Lublin Triangle.” As a result, a greater emphasis on the narrative of “US hegemony” and the “dictatorship of Washington and Brussels,” which pushes Warsaw into “dubious anti-Russian alliances,” is to be expected.

How Can Russia Use Such Means to Influence?

Russia can use these methods to:

  • Contribute to voter distrust of candidates (all of them), undermining the legitimacy of authorities and state institutions
  • Personal attacks, fake news, and disinformation could potentially discredit party leaders who lead in prior support levels.
  • Cultivate pro-Russian sentiments by portraying a hypothetical enemy (both external and internal) and Poland’s “inability” to counter Russian interests (thus, allegedly, it is better to “befriend“);
  • Contribute to the undermining of citizens’ voting participation, potentially undermining the legitimacy of the future parliament.

However, the list of objectives presented here is not exhaustive.

Nonetheless, a change in the composition of the Polish Sejm is unlikely to have a significant impact in the context of supporting Ukraine. As a result, the most likely scenario will be an increase in Russia’s hostile rhetoric towards Poland.

Zhuravsky, a political scientist, believes that Ukraine, the United States, and Germany want to change power in Poland.

Russia will respond to completely predictable accusations of provocations by employing the following communication strategies: categorically denying its involvement in intensifying the informational context, manipulating concepts, and shifting discourse regarding its participation in hybrid provocations into a semantic dimension.