Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets openly call for revenge and retaliation in the aftermath of the Crimean Bridge explosion, urging Russia to commit more war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.
On the morning of 8 October, an explosion rocked the Crimean Bridge, which connects the illegally annexed Crimean Peninsula to Russia. Opened in 2018, with Putin himself notoriously taking the inaugural ride across, the bridge stands as one of the more tangible symbols of Russian imperial ambitions vis-à-vis its neighbours’ sovereign territories.
Just the day before, the pro-Kremlin disinformation system was thoroughly immersed in paying tribute to the Kremlin’s master on his 70th birthday. Although EUvsDisinfo fixed some of the more disinformation-laden greeting cards, overall it seemed that pro-Kremlin pundits had taken a day off from their usual rants inciting genocide against the Ukrainian people. But as soon as the world learned about the bridge explosion, the prevailing mood of the pro-Kremlin disinformation system changed immediately.
While some outlets sought to downplay the extent and impact of the explosion, most echoed Putin’s accusations of terrorism against Ukraine for deliberately attacking Russia’s critical infrastructure. Likewise, pro-Kremlin outlets flocked to emphasise the symbolic meaning of the bridge, stirring up emotions and using the explosion as a rallying cry for indiscriminate retaliation against all Ukrainians.
Inevitably, once the dust had settled, the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine turned to the same tactic of sowing confusion it has most recently employed regarding the leaks in Nord Stream pipelines. First, it spread various versions as to the cause of the explosion, then implied Western interference and culpability, and finally used the explosion to marshal its vengeance toward Ukraine.
De-nazify, de-humanise, de-electrify
The revenge demanded in increasingly menacing tones by pro-Kremlin propagandists was swift and devastating. Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, deliberately targeting civilian and critical infrastructure.
However, it is important not to fall into the pro-Kremlin disinformation pundit’s trap that Ukraine somehow provoked these attacks on its civilians. Pro-Kremlin pundits have dropped any pretence that Russia only strikes military targets and openly call all Ukrainians terrorists who deserve eradication. And its disinformation outlets and their amplifiers call for ‘de-electrifying’ Ukraine, basically advocating that the Russian military commit war crimes by striking civilian targets.
Some pro-Kremlin outlets tried to summarise the goals and impact of Russian strikes on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure by stressing their demonstrative nature as a warning of things to come. Others expressed an uncharacteristic caution about the military impact of these strikes for Russian positions on the front lines.
However, the unifying themes in pro-Kremlin outlets and their amplifiers were discrediting Kyiv as a terrorist actor and sowing fear and disarray in Ukraine.
Never mind the bombs, give peace a chance
Russia continues to pelt Ukrainian cities with its far-from-precise missile strikes, killing innocent people with deliberate intent. Some call for continuing such terror. Others continue to spread the equally unrealistic idea of freezing hostilities and pursuing peace negotiations, regardless of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine.
This dangerous notion, attractive to proponents of appeasement, is mostly guided by self-interest. It has become a steady undercurrent in pro-Kremlin disinformation since Putin’s speech of 30 September announcing the annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories. The Kremlin’s signalling of its openness for negotiations is reminiscent of the ‘fight and talk’ tactic often employed by other aggressors to strong-arm better positions at the negotiating table. We should not be deceived and remember the wise words of Benjamin Franklin – ‘Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.’
Also on EUvsDisinfo’s radar this week:
- Among the most ludicrous pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives is the claim that Russia does not threaten anyone with nuclear weapons. Yet, on 27 February 2022, three days after launching a full-scale invasion on Ukraine, Putin ordered his military to put Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert. Before that, Putin had warned that ‘whoever tries to hinder us’ in Ukraine would see consequences ‘you have never seen in history’. The same threat was clearly repeated on 21 September, stating that Russia could use ‘all weapons systems available’ and emphasising that ‘this is not a bluff’.
- Pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets continue to push the deceitful narrative that the sham referendums in occupied Ukrainian territories were legitimate and compliant with international law and standards. Let’s be clear – the illegal sham referendums, held in many cases at gunpoint, are in violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and in blatant breach of international law. These grotesque parodies of democracy were also condemned by NATO, the G7, the US, as well as Russia’s partners like Serbia and Kazakhstan.
- Since the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive stymied the Russian invasion, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets have increasingly turned to the false claim that Europe is waging an open war against Russia. The truth is that Europe supports Ukraine with military and financial aid for the country’s self-defence against an unprovoked Russian invasion. In fact, Western leaders have been continuously calling for talks and a peaceful solution to stop Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, but Moscow has ignored these efforts.