Ukraine's grim warning on Russian social media meddling
The Ukrainian ambassador has put Australia on notice, warning Russia is using social media and the press to undermine democracy.
Intelligence agencies in Moscow boost fringe rhetoric on social media to sow discord in Western countries, Vasyl Myroshnychenko told a room of business leaders at a cybersecurity conference in Sydney.
"Democracy is very vulnerable," he said on Tuesday.
Mr Myroshnychenko said Russian intelligence agencies amplified grassroots anti-government movements in Western countries, such as anti-vaxxers or France's Yellow Vest protests, to destabilise democratic regimes.
"Social media on one hand can be used for good, but it can also be used for something malicious," he said.
"If you look in any democratic country, on the far left and far right, you'll see Russians there.
"This is where they find their natural alliances."
Elise Thomas, a senior online data analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, backed Mr Myroshnychenko's assessment.
"The Russian state exploits existing divisions in society and that is something that is happening around the world, including Australia," she told AAP.
State media outlet Russia Today grew a support base among fringe groups during the COVID-19 pandemic by targeting English-speaking audiences with anti-vaccine content.
"These are fundamental social problems," Ms Thomas said.
"Russia is giving them a kick along but they're not necessarily causing them.
"These are societal divisions that need societal solutions. There's no silver bullet."
The warning comes amid growing criticism of Ukraine by far-right politicians in the US and Australia.
Liberal senator Alex Antic was rebuked in parliament for comments about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, calling him "the little fella from Ukraine".
Queensland coalition senator Gerard Rennick parroted Russian talking points last last year, calling the 2014 Maidan Revolution, which Russia used as a pretence for its invasion of eastern Ukraine, a US-led "coup".
Mr Myroshnychenko urged the media to take a more critical approach in their reporting, saying journalists fell into a trap of amplifying both sides of a story and validating Russian disinformation.
"In any democracy we have freedom of speech, free press, and this is what we cherish as Ukrainians as well," he said.
"But on one hand you have the truth and on the other hand you have manufactured, fake stories. When you blend them together, you get a wrong story.
"And it's extremely important to be able to differentiate what is true and what is not."
Mr Myroshnychenko said these tactics enabled the Kremlin to build a web of influence in foreign countries.
Earlier this year, it was revealed Australia's intelligence agency busted a hive of foreign spies linked to Russia, which was attempting to recruit Australians with access to classified information.
A Senate committee investigating how countries like Russia and China use social media for nefarious purposes is due to report by August.