The Swedish streaming giant Spotify has podcasts from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with propaganda about the ”de-Nazification campaign” in Ukraine.
After harsh criticism in the western world and Sweden, Spotify announced in early March that they would close their Russia office and remove Russian state media from the platform. This was followed on March 10 by the closure of Russian premium accounts, which entailed large costs for the company.
”Our team has reviewed thousands of podcast episodes since the beginning of the war and has limited access to podcasts owned and operated by media affiliated with the Russian state. Earlier this week, we took another step when we removed all content from RT and Sputnik from Spotify in the EU and other markets ”, Spotify wrote in an email to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on March 2.
”Close cooperation with the president”
However, Dagens PS can now show that the platform enables the regime to continue spreading war propaganda in Russian.
For example, Spotify hosts a Russian-language podcast ”Внешняя политика”, which means ”foreign policy” from the ”Institute for International Research” which is part of the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. Former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has described the institute as ”Russia’s Harvard”.
According to Spotify’s description and the institute’s own website, the ”Institute for International Research” has been under the auspices of the Russian Foreign Ministry since 1976, currently under Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man Sergei Lavrov.
”We work closely with the President’s Executive Office, the Security Council, the Government, the Federation Council, the State Duma, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense, as well as with international organizations such as the EEU, CSTO and SCO,” the institute wrote on its website.
An episode from March 10 under the title ”The Crisis in Ukraine” discusses the war in a circular format. The moderator of the podcast is Oksana Buryak, senior producer of Russian state-run Rossyia Segodnya – also known internationally as Russia Today, a state-run channel that has now been banned in the EU.
In the podcast ”Government Professors and Experts” discuss the ”situation in the Donbass”. There is no real war going on against Ukraine, says an expert, only against its neo-Nazi government. Humanitarian aid is unfortunately impossible, he claims, as Ukraine prevents it.
Official Russian figures on death toll are quoted. The expression ”neo-Nazis” is used regularly when describing Ukraine. When the experts speak of Mariupol, they say that the population is not captured by the Russian army but is a prisoner of the Ukrainian forces.
As Rasmus Fleischer previously highlighted in Expressen, Spotify in Russia must follow the Russian censorship authority Roskomnadzor. Which means that content that questions the regime’s propaganda is punishable – Reuters reports that in Russia it is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years to spread what they consider to be ”fake news” about the Russian army.
However, the regime’s propaganda can to be published. We also find podcasts from RIA Novosti – a state-owned news agency.
Other media publications that are loyal to the regime without being state-owned can also continue to publish on Spotify, such as ”Pravda”, which means ”truth” in Russian. It is today privately owned, but is known as the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1912 until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Among other things, Pravda spreads conspiracy theories that Ukraine intended to attack Crimea – but Russia’s army managed to attack first.
Komosolskaya Pravda is another media with links to the Russian regime that publishes on Spotify.
”Denazification and demilitarization are not enough! Look at Germany after the First World War. They just came back and it became after 20 years the Second World War. We want to save our children such problems!”, Says the reporter Vladlen Tatarsky who seems to be inbedded with the Russian forces who besieges Mariupol in a podcast episode from March 14.
The far-right politician Nikolai Starikov, former leader of the former leader of ”Great Fatherland Party”, which is officially an opposition party, also has a podcast on Spotify. The party’s slogan is ”for us, Russia is bigger than the world”. He also awards the ”Goebbels Prize” to ”people who lie about and slander Russia”.
In the episode ”Operation Z: Avnazification to the Bitter End” from March 5, he says, among other things, that the ”Nazis” in Ukraine may have atomic bombs, and use civilians as human shields. The invasion of Ukraine has made him even more loyal to the Russian president.
”My admiration for Putin has risen” Nikolai Starikov said in the episode.
On March 5, Spotify wrote on twitter regarding ”inaccuracies circulating in the Swedish media”:
“Like other digital platforms, governed by the same laws as Spotify, we believe that access to fact-based information is more important than ever. That is why we have taken measures against Russian state propaganda, even though some claim the opposite ”.
After publication of this article Spotify gets back to Dagens PS with a comment:
”Our team has reviewed over 20,000 pieces of content since the start of the war and is taking a detailed look at these particular shows. While we are in the process of that review, we have already restricted the discoverability of this content and previously removed content operated by Russian state-affiliated media including all RT and Sputnik content from Spotify in the EU and other markets. We also launched a guide to provide our users around the world – including in Russia – with trusted news. We are constantly reviewing and adjusting our plans as needed and stand with Ukraine in demanding a swift and peaceful end to this unjustified war. We have also closed our office in Moscow, suspended new Premium account signups and paused all advertising in Russia”, says a spokesperson from Spotify.
By: Conan Lindholm and Daniel Jacobs
*Screenshots from Spotify via Google translate from Russian to English on March 22nd.