For the past several weeks, the Kremlin’s channels have focused mainly on spreading disinformation about Western countries: trying to bury the facts about the Skripal poisoning under distractions and fakes; or inventing other chemical and biological attacks, like here, or here. But this past week, Russia’s disinformation campaign has re-focused on its number one target: Ukraine.
Thus, Kremlin-directed TV shows poured out the vitriol of disinformation messages known already since 2014, claiming that:
- Ukraine is a Nazi state, or a Nazi dictatorship, that it is governed by pro-Fascist elites, and that “Glory to Ukraine” is a Nazi greeting
- Ukraine is also just a part of the Russian world
- it started a war against its own nation – a civil war, that Russia has nothing to do with
- it is not a country, but a mere territory
- there is no elected parliament in Ukraine
- the Crimean Tatars’ leader Mustafa Dzhemilev is a terrorist who calls for killing Crimeans
All these disinformation messages have been proven false countless times, yet pro-Kremlin outlets keep repeating them – showing again that their purpose is not to inform, but to spread lies, to disinform, mislead, and spread hatred.
The debunks are once again repeated under the individual cases. We highlight here the general underlying strategy behind these fabrications. As documented by historian Timothy Snyder in his book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America, the message denying that Ukraine is a state was spread already by the fascist philosopher Ivan Ilyin in the first half of the 20th century, and was repeated later by top Russian representatives. By 2014, the word “fascist” had became synonymous with “Ukrainians who resisted Russian invasion” (chapter 4).
“Schizofascism was one of many contradictions on display in spring 2014. According to Russian propaganda, Ukrainian society was full of nationalists but not a nation; the Ukrainian state was repressive but did not exist; Russians were forced to speak Ukrainian though there was no such language,” writes Snyder.
The claim that “country XY is not a state anymore” is not new in the Kremlin’s arsenal. In the note of the USSR government to the Polish Ambassador, Foreign Minister Molotov justified the Soviet invasion of Poland with the claim that “the Polish state ceased to exist”.
Show me your evidence! Well, THAT is no evidence
But the pro-Kremlin outlets did not abandon Western countries totally. A significant portion of the Russian TV shows focused in this past week on the recent revelations in the case of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, and in particular on the identity of the two GRU agents involved in it – as presented in joint investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider. They also focused on the recent expulsion of GRU agents who were trying to hack the OPCW in the Netherlands.
This time, the disinformation organisations have not yet produced any “counter-evidence”, like faked documents or pictures pushing an alternative version of the story – as we have seen so often for example in the case of MH17. The defensive lines instead mostly followed two strands: that “The West is blaming Russia for everything bad that happens”; and that “there is no real evidence at all”.
Thus, we saw rather primitive rejections of the evidence presented, like: “Bellingcat did not investigate the Skripal poisoning”; “there is no evidence that Chepiga and Mishkin are GRU agents”; “the GRU agents were no GRU agents, but mere IT experts”; or “the OPCW and other international organisations are Russophobic”.
Last week, Czech radio published a story that the two GRU agents who tried to poison Skripal in Salisbury were following him already a few years ago during his visit to the Czech Republic.
And here again, the Pro-Kremlin disinformation machine produced a rather surprising defence: allegedly, the agents Chepiga and Mishkin did not go to the Czech Republic to follow their future victim, but to check on the Czech supplies of Novichok (the Czech Republic has clearly denied producing Novichok). How the idea that Chepiga and Mishkin were on a visit to check supplies of Novichok helps exonerate them remains a mystery.
Repetition is the mother of all disinformation
In order to achieve their desired impact, disinformation messages need to be constantly repeated, through as many channels as possible – as e.g. the RAND report The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda model described already two years ago. And some of the “Golden Oldies” of disinformation were indeed repeated again this week, targeting organisations and individuals that are very high on the target list of Russia’s propaganda. So, we learned: “the White Helmets smuggle chlorine to Syria and stage provocations”; “Angela Merkel plans to relocate 500,000 migrants to Georgia”; and “after staging colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, George Soros is now planning a colour revolution in the US”. See the table for the debunks.
All this messaging shows the clear distinction between real media on one hand, and tools of a disinformation campaign on the other. Whereas real media might make a mistake, but when proven wrong will correct it, the pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets keep deliberately repeating false messages no matter how many times they are presented with the facts.