With the invasion of Ukraine dovetailing with the ending of coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands, the conflict is taking over from the pandemic as the focal point for online conspiracy theorists.
Willem Engel, a dance teacher who mounted a string of legal challenges against the government’s pandemic control measures, backed by crowdfunding campaigns, accused the Dutch government on Twitter of violating arms trade treaties by sending weapons to Ukraine.
He also praised Russian leaders as ‘smarter and more sympathetic’ than their western counterparts and said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was running a ‘failed state’ that was trying to start a nuclear weapons programme.
For other self-styled coronavirus sceptics, the conflict is a distraction from the failure of western governments’ pandemic strategies. ‘The corona story isn’t very credible any more in the west, so now they’re starting up with Ukraine and Russia because they need to imprint a new model of fear in our heads,’ said Tom Zwitser on right-wing channel De Blauwe Tijger.
Forum voor Democratie
Pro-Russian sentiment is not confined to the online sphere. Forum voor Democratie (FVD), a political party that emerged from the referendum campaign in 2016 against ratifying Ukraine’s accession treaty with the European Union, has spoken out in support of Vladimir Putin in recent weeks.
Party leader Thierry Baudet said Putin was ‘the leader of conservative Europe,’ while Martin Bos, a member of Zeeland’s provincial assembly for FVD, wrote at the outbreak of the conflict: ‘Good that Russia is posting peacekeeping forces in Donetsk and Luhansk to allow peace to return.’
FVD has been openly promoting the ‘Great Reset’ conspiracy, which claims that the pandemic is being used by western leaders to deprive citizens of their freedom and property, with a poster campaign and online propaganda.
Liberal western agenda
Jelle van Buuren, lecturer at Leiden University’s Institute of Security and Global Affairs, told the Telegraaf that support for Putin that already existed in online groups portraying coronavirus as a hoax by western governments was now coming to the fore.
‘There is a lot of resistance in these circles to everything with a whiff of emancipation, gay rights, abortion, the liberal western agenda,’ he said. ‘They see Putin as an important ally.
‘His authoritarian style is attractive: a man who is brave enough to take action, in stark contrast to the weak western leaders.’
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