Moscow’s propaganda machine is not about to stop | War in Ukraine

All the rhetoric of Vladimir Putin’s regime – where the word war is prohibited, for the benefit ofspecial military operationis aimed at the Russian public to justify what turns out to be an extremely horrific warsummarizes Ian Garner, historian and specialist in the translation of Russian propaganda.

For example, according to the Kremlin, the Boutcha massacre would be a monstrous lie fabricated to wrongly accuse the Russian army. The images of corpses of civilians in the streets would in reality be a staging orchestrated by Ukraine and the West, whose “propaganda machine” continues to fuel “hysteria”, to use the words of the minister Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Moscow thus rejects the accusations according to which its soldiers, who occupied the city a month before leaving it, are the authors of this mass grave, despite the satellite images and the testimonies of survivors of Boutcha which undermined its version.

And this denial of evidence is not new. On several occasions, Moscow has attributed its attacks in Ukraine to the troops of President Volodymyr Zelensky, thus accused of shooting at his own people.

In Boutcha, a man takes notes in front of the 58 bodies of civilians found after the departure of Russian troops on April 6.

Photo: Getty Images/Chris McGrath

Such a disinformation operation was not launched at the dawn of the war, underlines Ian Garner. The state propaganda machine has been running at full speed for a decade, so much so that today it pushes a good part of the Russian population to accept the murder of thousands of Ukrainians and not to try to revoltexplains the historian.

In Russia, the authorities and the media have jointly developed a discourse according to which Nazi power has settled in kyiv, from which the Russian-speaking Ukrainian brothers.

While it is true that the Ukrainian army has the Azov regiment in its ranks, known for its affinities with the extreme right, Moscow has tended to amplify its importance and scope, according to Arnaud Mercier, professor of science at information and communication at the French Press Institute (Paris II University).

The images we see, this damage that we know the Russians are responsible for, is presented [au peuple russe] thus: see, this ultranationalist Nazi battalion that is the Azov battalion is responsible for it, since its members martyred the Russian-speaking Ukrainian peopleexplains Mr. Mercier.

You have to understand the history of this russian clubbing disinformation, he continues, to fully grasp the long-standing resentment with regard to Ukraine.

The support of a non-negligible part of the Russian population for the official theses is the fruit of years and years of effort. »

A quote from Arnaud Mercier, professor of information and communication sciences at the French Press Institute (Paris II University)

Russian propaganda is a mixture fiction, lies, hate speech and dehumanization of Ukrainianssays Joanna Szostek, professor of political communication and specialist in post-Soviet media at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. It goes beyond image manipulation; it is the creation of an alternative reality in which Ukraine is not a legitimate stateshe says.

The portrait that is made of it is that of a state where the institutions no longer work, where democracy has failed and where the government is in reality a puppet in the pay of the United States, influenced by the West and democratic ideals. that he represents.

Everything is done to try to create an atmosphere where you are either for Russia or against it. And Russia is thus on the right side of history, since it wants to “liberate” the Ukrainiansemphasizes Joanna Szostek.

When Putin’s regime says that he is on a peacekeeping mission, that he is doing a good deed for Ukraine by fighting and wanting to demilitarize the country, that is part of this worldviewsays Valentyna Shapovalova, a specialist in online disinformation and Russian propaganda at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Fear and propaganda, powerful tools of control

The specialists consulted by Radio-Canada are of the opinion that it is difficult to accurately assess the level of influence that this propaganda exerts on the inhabitants of Russia, given the lack of reliable data.

One thing is certain, the Russians found themselves increasingly isolated from the rest of the world as the conflict got bogged down.

A man and a woman watch Vladimir Putin on television.

Residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine watch Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech on television.

Photo: Associated Press/Denis Kaminev

The adoption of a law, at the beginning of March, which provides for heavy prison sentences and large fines for anyone who publishes information judged lying on the war in Ukraine has forced foreign media to repatriate their journalists, just as the last independent Russian media were forced to shut down.

Thus, after being driven off the air in 2014, the independent media Dozhd/TV Rain had to stop broadcasting its programs online, while the radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) had to put an end to its activities. The Meduza website is forced to do business abroad, while others, such as Mediazona or Doxa, focus their efforts on Twitter, a platform banned from Russia, as are Instagram and Facebook.

Although more Russians than ever have been downloading virtual private network (VPN) and encrypted messaging apps since the start of the invasion in Ukraine in the hope of obtaining independent information, more half of them still rely on the television channels – over which the government exercises its control – for information.

A closed radio studio behind glass at the Echo Moscow radio station.

A closed studio of the independent Echo of Moscow radio, a historic figure in the Russian media landscape, in Moscow on March 3

Photo: afp via getty images / –

You have to understand that people are afraid. They fear that it is dangerous for them to consume [des médias] where the military operation is called a “war”recalls Valentyna Shapovalova. If propaganda is one of the tools of the State to control the opinion of its population, fear is also a very, very effective and powerful one.

Propaganda has been part of the picture for a long time and is not going to go away unless there is a dramatic regime change in Russia. Otherwise, the machine will continue to roll. »

A quote from Valentyna Shapovalova, specialist in online disinformation and Russian propaganda at the University of Copenhagen

Fear also influences polls conducted by firms trying to take the pulse of the Russian population on the war in Ukraine. The polls published since the start of the offensive – which show an increase in support for President Putin – are therefore take with a grain of saltemphasizes Mrs Shapovalova.

Trends assessed in the long term, before the conflict, however, indicate that a majority of Russians are in favor of the foreign policies of the Kremlin, according to Joanna Szostek.

I think it’s safe to say with a high degree of confidence that the Russians probably support the war and the state position, or at least don’t question it.says the specialist, who points out that political apathy has been really dominant in Russia for years.

What stands in the way of Russian disinformation

For anyone who bothers to follow how Russian state media portrays reality, these ideas are nothing new, according to researcher Valentyna Shapovalova. The Russian population was exposed to it even before the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At the time, a disinformation campaign, not unlike today’s, was going on in Russia and Crimea. They feared the oppression of the Russian-speaking population [en Ukraine]the Nazis were said to threaten the inhabitants of Crimea or to make plans to invade itshe gives examples.

By hammering out this speech, the Kremlin had tried to rally the Russian-speaking Ukrainians of Crimea to its cause. The disinformation campaign then proved to be much more effective than it is now, notes Ms. Shapovalova. The Russian narrative is not taken seriously this time around in Ukraine, she observes.

A Russian soldier stops to take a photo from the street.  He is in the rubble of a room in a large building.

A Russian soldier walks through the rubble of the theater in Mariupol, Ukraine.

Photo: dpa via getty images / ALEXANDER NEMENOV

One of the tracks to explain this failure can be found in the simple fact that Moscow bombed Ukrainian cities known for their links with Russia. It’s completely extravagant that we can say that we are intervening to protect Russian speakers, when we are killing them! exclaims Arnaud Mercier, referring to the damage suffered in Kharkov and Mariupol, in the east of the country.

In the latter city, besieged by Russian forces for weeks, the pro-Russian authorities deplored the death of 5,000 civilians in total last week.

The massive presence of Ukrainians on social networks, the robust response of President Zelensky on all possible platforms and the strategy adopted by allies, such as the United States, of making military and counterintelligence information public are all other elements which explain the failure of the Kremlin’s propaganda outside Russian borders.

The Ukrainian government has developed a strategy that both calls for the unity of Ukrainians in the country, but also encourages Westerners to share, “like” or retweet [leur message] to then put pressure on their elected officialsexplains Ian Garner.

Without this strategy, he continues, Ukraine might not have been able to obtain so much support, financing, armament and sanctions against Russia from one end of the planet to the other.

People gathered in a room applaud while the Ukrainian president, whose image is shown on the big screen, smiles.

Canadian MPs applaud Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after his speech broadcast in the House of Commons, March 15, 2022.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

A arsonist propaganda

Whether Russia succeeds in bringing certain regions of Ukraine, such as the Donbass, under its fold, or whether it comes to the point of withdrawing its troops to return empty-handed, it will end up to refocus one’s forces on a struggle for influence […] more underground against the West and its ideals, predicts Arnaud Mercier.

This is what I call arsonist propaganda, he adds. The idea is to identify the points of internal tension in our societies and to throw oil on the fire to ensure that they fracture even more, that they become increasingly ungovernable. Russia has already proven that it can play this game, in particular by interfering in the 2016 American presidential election.

Meanwhile, other powers are watching the information war between Ukraine and Russia and taking notes, according to historian Ian Garner. The next disinformation campaigns will be even betterhe advances.

I believe all countries will learn a lesson from this, he said. Namely, information warfare is just as important as conventional warfare.

Leave a Comment