With a quick move, the camera zooms in on the map of Ukraine. One by one, pieces of Ukrainian territory get wolfed down by the EU member states, Hungary, Romania and Poland. “Kyiv’s eccentricity has already split the country”, the presenter explains intensively.
Since Transcarpathia belonged to Hungary prior to the beginning of the 20th century, Budapest wants to “regain control” of the region. “In the south it’s not at all historically Ukrainian either” and “the Poles are keeping an eye on Ukrainian Galicia, Polissia and Volhynia”, TV Channel Rossiya 1’s presenter concludes.
In the end, the Western aggressors are portrayed as having grabbed the whole of western Ukraine with just a rump state left around Kyiv.
TV Channel Rossiya 1 disinformed its viewers with a map on 21 September 2018.
Those behind the Russian disinformation campaign have quickly learned how to visualise their core false narratives. The state that really occupies territories in Ukraine – Russia – is blaming the West for its supposed ambition to do the same.
This is just one example in a row of similar instances of deceiving with maps.
Fictional map of the horrors of Europe
During Catalonia’s unofficial independence referendum, the Russian state-controlled propaganda machine pushed out the message that Spain is on the brink of a civil war; that all of Europe is divided by separatist movements, and risks splitting up even more. As an illustration it used this map of the dystopic future of Europe, where most of the western European countries are cut up into small parts.
Channel 1 showed 8 October 2017 a map where most of the western European countries are divided into parts.
One disinformation narrative aims to present Europe as deteriorated and racked by its own internal crises; but to serve the purposes of another disinformation message this same Europe suddenly changes into a superpower of aggression, to show that Russia is encircled by Russophobic enemies under constant war preparation to dismantle their eastern neighbor. See here how there has in fact been a clear record of attempts to build strong cooperation between the EU, NATO, and Russia.
Internally, the latter narrative intends to guarantee maximum support for the Kremlin. And for the external audiences its objective is to reduce the chance of countermeasures against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its condoning the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, or the Salisbury attack in the UK, by portraying such possibilities as “Russophobia”.
When we look at this week’s disinformation coverage, it seems that the brief honeymoon the West enjoyed in its treatment in the Russian state media around the FIFA World Cup and Trump-Putin summit is now over. Earlier, we saw exactly the same pattern ahead of the US election in 2016.
The house of mirrors
Thus, we heard that the West uses Ukraine to destroy Russia, just like it used Nazi Germany to destroy the USSR in 1938; that Kyiv is sabotaging the work of the Minsk Trilateral Group; and that the downing of Russian plane Il-20 in Syria was an act of aggression against Syria orchestrated by the US. Here the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign seems to having moved permanently to the house of mirrors: in fact it was Russia’s ally Syria that shot down the plane.
This disinformation did not stop in Russia, but spread the message of the hostile West to other countries as well. It distorted the poll figures ahead of the referendum in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and claimed that the “overwhelming majority” of Macedonians reject renaming the country “for the purposes of membership in NATO and the European Union under US dictate”. Russian media has clearly and deliberately given greater visibility to messaging in support of boycotting the referendum.
Failures of professional disinformers
But sometimes even the most experienced propagandists from the Russian Defense Ministry channel TV Zvezda may fail, also with maps. Earlier, this channel released a cartoon where Crimea was put right where it belongs – in Ukraine. This accidentally published factual information was too much for a channel that bases its reporting on such disinformation as “Ukrainians steal food from pigeons in order to survive“. So Zvezda deleted the cartoon.