ArticlesDeconstruction of the main lines of Russian propaganda in...

Deconstruction of the main lines of Russian propaganda in legitimizing the war in Ukraine

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As early as 1946, after the end of World War II, Ernest Hemingway in the Treasury for the Free World said: “Never think that a war, no matter how necessary or justified, is not a crime”. Continuing this statement, no matter how many justifications for the war in Ukraine may exist from the perspective of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin (most of them simply invented), war is a crime and has no justification.

Consequently, we need to look at the main lines of the Russian propaganda that are trying to legitimize Russian aggression, and of course we need to be able to expose them so that there remains no doubt that this war is unfounded and criminal.

“Kyiv regime is a Nazi regime”

Probably one of the most outrageous arguments of the Russian Federation led by President Vladimir Putin to legitimize the war is that it was launched to de-nazify Ukraine.

First of all, the term “Nazism” is thrown into the public space, without any valid scientific argument against the Ukrainian leadership, led by a Jewish president. None of the elements by which we understand this odious totalitarian doctrine are present in Ukraine, such as anti-Semitism, racism, or the desire to exterminate the Jews or in this case the Russians.

Practically, the unconscious use of these accusations clearly portrays a collective misunderstanding of the dimensions of the Holocaust, which was a genocide characterized by the systematic persecution and organized state killing of Jews by Nazi Germany, a process that took place between 1933 and 1945.

Also, in Ukraine we don’t have the presence of even nationalism as a doctrine accepted by Ukrainian citizens. In the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, no party of this kind has reached the threshold, and Ukrainian citizens have the same rights regardless of ethnicity. Although nationalist parties exist in Ukraine, they do not enjoy such a large support among the population compared to other European countries. Moreover, some of the far-right European nationalist parties are even shadow-funded by the Russian Federation. Moreover, even in the Russian State Duma there is a party considered to be extremist, namely the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, led by the ultra-nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, known to have contacts with parties such as the AfD in Germany, the FPO in Austria, or the National Front in France.

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainians fighting in Ukraine are often portrayed as “banderovtsi” in reference to followers of Stepan Bandera, a narrative that was used even in 2014 to address EuroMaidan supporters.

But who is Bandera? He was a leader of Ukraine’s national revival movement, leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during the Second World War and who once collaborated with Nazi Germany, was rightly suspected of his anti-Semitic beliefs and of participating in the massacre of Jews and Polish. Probably few political analysts have tried to get to the heart of the significance of the use of this term “banderovtsi” by the Russians, especially since this argument is the most widely used in support of the war in Ukraine. The only idea supported by the Ukrainians regarding Stepan Bandera’s actions is the proclamation of Ukranian independence in the city of Lviv, otherwise his other actions are blamed. But there is a long way from wanting an independent state to supporting anti-Semitic actions.

Following Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric in calling for the “de-nazification of Ukraine”, we can might just as well call the Russians – “vlasovtsi” because they had in their history Andrei Vlasov, who led the Russian liberation army in World War II, army subordinate to Nazi Germany. Nevertheless this would be a very wrong approach, as the horrors that took place in the past have nothing to do with the present, and such actions must be blamed and under no circumstances used to spread disinformation.

“Russkiy mir is everywhere we have Russian speakers, and the Russian Federation has launched a ‘special operation’ to free the Russians from Ukraine.”

Certainly this war has completely shattered the quasi-ideology “russkiy mir”, which states that where there are Russian speakers there is Russian territory. It looks like, with the outbreak of war, the Ukrainian people have shown that they really are a state that deserves to exist, and they have strengthened themselves, especially because they have identified a common enemy for all citizens – the Russian occupier.

According to Izvestia, Vladimir Putin considers that “in Ukraine, human rights are violated massively and systematically, discrimination against the Russian-speaking population is also confirmed at the legislative level”, and the rights of Russian-speaking speakers in Ukraine are violated. The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, who spoke Russian, learned Ukrainian at the age of 40 in order to be able to represent his country, which is a normal matter, and he in turn did not feel discriminated against.

Therefore, in addition to the fact that ethnic Russians have rights in Ukraine, they also have obligations, for example to know the official language, Ukrainian, especially since during the time of former presidents, for example during the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych there were laws much more permissive, given that Yanukovych was a puppet of Russia.

The truth is that half of the population of Ukraine speaks Russian, however, according to the latest census, only 30 percent of Ukrainian citizens consider Russian as their mother tongue, their first language.

In terms of population, the second largest oblast in Ukraine, after Kyiv is by far Donetsk with about 4 million inhabitants before the war. This figure can also show us the importance of the Russian minority in Ukraine. Also, in the eastern oblast of Ukraine where we have the most Russians, there are important industrial areas for the Ukrainian economy. If the Russian Federation managed to create two separatist republics there, the LDR and the DPR (only a third of the Donbass), this was the only area it could reach and even there the Russians collided against a considerable resistance and a serious desire to remain part of Ukraine.

Therefore, although there are so many Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine, this does not mean that they are not Ukrainians, on the contrary, they can often be much more hostile to the Moscow regime or to invading Russian army. If anyone expected the Russian minority in Ukraine to greet the Russian army that is destroying their cities with flowers, then they were sorely mistaken. The fact that these ethnic Russians did not desire or ask for liberation is nothing more than a fair representation that Ukraine is and will be a free country and Ukrainian citizens have high morale to resist Russian aggression, at stake is their freedom.

“The United States is building biological laboratories in Ukraine, and the Russian Federation has launched a war to defend its territorial integrity.”

The Russian Federation has tried to prove as much as possible the West’s guilt for starting the war on the grounds of trying to undermine and destroy the Russian state.

There was no plausible reason for Ukraine to attack the Russian Federation because the Ukrainians are a peaceful nation, and even if they wanted to reclaim their annexed territories, they always sought a diplomatic consensus through negotiating formats such as the Minsk Accords or the Budapest Memorandum.

Misinformation and fake news about the construction of laboratories producing biological weapons is not a new narrative. But how did Vladimir Putin succeed in convincing public opinion in Russia and leading to such extreme misinformation?

Russian propaganda has been gradually spreading such information in the public space since 2014 when Russian officials accused the United States of beginning to prepare military facilities for mass destruction in Ukraine itself. A year later, Russian news agencies reported that several methods of mass murder had been identified in secret laboratories near Harikov. In 2016 The Russian side even went as far as launching the idea that such biological weapons were used in the Donbass war and has extended this narrative to the present day.

It is also important to point out the statement of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, who categorized the Russian accusations that Kiev has biological and chemical weapons as false accusations that “illustrate the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considering using them in his war against Ukraine”.

It is far more worrying that such false news has been so exaggerated that the Kyiv authorities have been accused of preparing an epidemic, and the United States accused of funding such centers where various human diseases are studied and plague pathogens are used. The alleged statement of a senior US official Victoria Nuland that there are biological research laboratories in Ukraine and that the US is currently worried that the Russian military could take control of them is just a statement out of context and false.

There is also no evidence that there are American biological laboratories in Ukraine. However, there is cooperation between Ukrainian and American research institutions, but we can find such partnerships in any other country.

Epilogue

Now that we have identified the most popular misinformation used by the Russian Federation to legitimize the outbreak of war in Ukraine, it would be good to also come up with a solution to counter the Russian propaganda or at least examples of good practice that can be widely spread.

A key example in the fight against Russian propaganda, according to Terry Thompson, a professor of cybersecurity at Johns Hopkins University, is the work of the NATO Center of Excellence for Strategic Communications in Latvia. He refers to the “Baltic elves” who are volunteering to monitor the Internet to combat Russian misinformation and have been active since 2015 after the events in Maidan Square in Ukraine. The same method is already being implemented by the European Union through its service – “The EU vs. Disinformation” that dismantles Russian propaganda. The site is quite popular and is translated into several European languages. These tools to combat misinformation need to be amplified on a large scale in order to make a difference in this war that often transcends the military dimension.

We must also understand that propaganda can exist on both barricades of war, both on the part of the Russian Federation and even on the part of Ukraine. Here we can draw attention to the figures regarding the human and military losses that Ukraine presents, as losses of the Russians. At the time of writing, we have nearly 15,000 Russian soldiers dead, but according to the New York Times, the figure is about 7,000, almost half. But let us not forget that in every war that has ever taken place when it comes to war losses, the two or more sides of the war have different data. The truth is somewhere in the middle and I explain why. First of all, it is difficult to provide an exact number of casualties and weapons in a war that is in full swing. Secondly, you cannot blame the Ukrainians for exaggerating the reporting of figures, because this is also a war tactic to discourage the enemy. Moreover, Komsomolskaya Pravda, a pro-Kremlin publication in an article referring to the Russian Ministry of Defense, found 9861 dead and 16135 wounded. The article was later deleted but it it made clear that the numbers of Ukrainians are true.

The most important thing is to get information from several sources because in a war that takes place in the information age, the element of hybrid plays one of the most important roles. Alos, we need to understand why these narratives are used, especially since most of them are not new but only amplified in the circumstances of the war in Ukraine. On one hand, these arguments are used internally, for Russian citizens to continue to support Vladimir Putin, and on the other hand, externally, to legitimize the war that is condemned by the majority of the international community.

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