“The invasion has begun,” presenter Yevgeny Popov told Russian television viewers on Monday, February 21. But it is not Putin who invaded Ukraine. On the contrary: Ukraine has declared war on Russia and the Donbas region.’ Popov and his colleagues from state broadcaster Russia-1 have a good grasp of what the Kremlin expects of them: to spread as much pro-Putin propaganda as possible. The structural blackening of Ukraine should prepare the minds of the Russian people for military aggression against the neighboring country. That the ‘news’ about the Ukrainian attack on Russia is a reversal of reality is of no importance.
Ukrainians as ‘drug addicts and neo-Nazis’
Russia is a master of the art of propaganda. The country pulls out all the stops to influence public opinion in its own country, but also in Ukraine, for its own benefit. Connoisseurs of Russian propaganda tactics have seen an increase in the number of negative reports about Ukraine since November. This indicates that Putin was heading for a war of conquest months ago.
Hundreds of pro-Russian social media outlets have suddenly started spreading the word that the Ukrainian government is made up of a bunch of neo-Nazis. The Logical research collective, which tries to unmask digital fake news, has found this to be the case. Keir Giles, a Russia expert who investigated Russian disinformation for NATO, told the BBC that “Russia is very eager to brand its opponents in Europe as Nazis.” Russia has also once portrayed the Baltic states as Nazi strongholds.
The international Russian TV channel RT, which provides English and Spanish-language broadcasts abroad, among other things, claimed a week ago – without any evidence – that Ukraine would like to “gasify” the pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region. Putin himself picked up on this during the televised speech in which he recognized the rebel regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics last Monday. “What is happening in Donbas now is genocide,” he said. Putin called on the Ukrainian army to overthrow the Zelensky government. Russia would find it easier to reach an agreement with a new regime than with ‘this gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis’.
Majority of Russians believe the propaganda
Russian propaganda labels Ukraine as a diabolical aggressor against which Russia must defend itself. A majority of Russians, who have few sources of information other than state-controlled television, radio and social media channels, believe this story. Denis Volkov, the director of Russia’s largest independent polling agency, told AP this week that more than half of Russians support Putin’s military action. “The majority think that the Western world is pressuring Ukraine to attack the Donbas region and that Russia should help the separatists.”
In order to undermine morale in Ukraine, Russia is spreading false reports about the smooth advance of the Russian army in Ukraine via Telegram, a popular social media platform in the former Eastern Bloc. Several cities are said to have already been taken, the Russians are said to face minimal resistance and Ukrainian President Zelensky is said to have fled abroad on the first day of the invasion. Social media channels not under the control of the Kremlin, such as Facebook and Twitter, are selectively throttled by hackers to make it more difficult to spread anti-Russian messages.
The Russian government has the few critical media in its own country, such as the newspaper Novaya Gazetathreatened with a publication ban. Novaya Gazeta was audacious this week to open its Russian and Ukrainian editions with the headline “Russia Bombs Ukraine.” That was a serious violation of the official order to use only Kremlin sources for reporting and under no circumstances use aggressive words such as ‘attack, invasion, war’. After all, Russia is – according to Russia – on a peace mission in Ukraine.