Imagine you could re-invent yourself. Start from the beginning, erase wrongdoings, polish your past and take credit for some good things that happened. Re-invention is usually about creating the future you want rather than erasing the history you have. That is, unless you’re in the pro-Kremlin disinformation space, where historical revisionism is a favourite tool which seems to have no boundaries.
This week we saw plenty of historical re-inventions in pro-Kremlin outlets. For example, the staggering number of victims of communist regimes was dismissed as having been “pulled out of a hat”. It was also claimed that Georgia had joined Russia out of free will in 1801, although it was actually an annexation of the (then) Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti. The wording reminds us of a more recent annexation.
Or how about the demand made on state controlled Pervyi kanal that the EU should compensate Russia for genocide during WWII since the European armies invaded USSR and killed millions of people? This both ignores the contribution of allied European forces to defeating fascism and ignores the fact that the EU was founded after WWII.
Blaming Europe for atrocities did not stop there. In another show on state controlled Rossiya 1, it was claimed that the USSR mass famine – known in Ukraine as the Holodomor – was caused by Europe. In fact, the famine was a result of Stalin’s policies, which in the case of Ukraine has been recognised as a crime against humanity in several international resolutions.
We also saw some official polishing of Russia’s history, with the claim that it was Soviet soldiers who saved 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation to Nazi Germany during WWII. It was actually the combined forces of the Bulgarian people, the Orthodox Church and Bulgarian leaders that saved around 50,000 Jews from Sofia from deportation to Nazi Germany.
Misrepresenting the facts on the ground
Another prevalent theme in pro-Kremlin disinformation this week was the war in Ukraine. Specifically, there was disinformation targeting international observers in Ukraine and made up stories about the Ukrainian Armed forces.
One story spread in pro-Kremlin outlets was that the Ukrainian Armed forces had killed a boy in Donetsk through shelling. But in fact, the tragic death of the boy was caused by an unexploded mine according to local Donetsk authorities. This was also reported by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) who followed up on the information and came to the same conclusion as the local authorities. The SMM were then accused of not acting independently by Russian state controlled TV; it was stated on a popular TV show that the independent monitoring mission receive instructions from Western Europe about what to report on. No evidence was presented to support the accusations. Read more about the OSCE SMM here.
The idea of a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine has been discussed lately. Russian REN TV made its contribution to the discussion by claiming that such a mission would result in … genocide. As we have highlighted several times before, the term genocide is regularly used in pro-Kremlin disinformation to inspire fear, usually without having any connection with the actual act of genocide.
Screenshot from Russkaya Vesna. The website disinformed its readers that the Ukrainian military would have conducted a raid on a monastery looking for conscripts.
Furthermore, the Ukrainian military was accused of raiding a Catholic monastery in search of conscripts, an accusation that was refuted by the Ukrainian Catholic Church as fake and, with no apparent sense of irony, Russia was identified as the guarantor of security in Ukraine. Seeing as Russia has illegally annexed a part of Ukraine and is backing the separatists in the East of the country, we feel that this is a statement that needs some further explanation.
But the highlight of this week’s wave of pro-Kremlin disinformation was the fact that the Russian Ministry of Defence used images from a computer game as its irrefutable evidence that the US is supporting ISIS. See the full story by Bellingcat here. This is not the first time this tactic has been used, and it is encouraging to see more international media sharing the story and helping debunk this particularly puerile form of disinformation.