The sins of their forefathers
Duality is the name of the pro-Kremlin disinformation game. Last week Russia’s tendency to make diametrically opposed disinformation-laden claims came into sharp focus.
In the Kremlin’s view, there is no contradiction between being a mighty superpower, ordained by God, and being a victim, attacked by all. Or claiming that the US, all of Europe, and the mighty NATO are fighting Russia while dismissing Western aid to Ukraine as insignificant. Or calling the future history.
The victimhood card is wearing thin
Putin showcased the victimhood angle of pro-Kremlin disinformation when delivering a well-choreographed performance of clearly pre-scripted questions and answers to commemorate the breaking of the siege of Leningrad in World War II. Apart from the heavy rhetoric of Kremlin Newspeak, Putin’s performance struck two important disinformation notes.
First, he recast Russia as the victim of Western aggression in Ukraine and drew clear parallels between the Holocaust and the siege of Leningrad, decrying that the genocide against the Soviet people went unpunished. The implication was clear – the West has always mistreated Russia and snubbed its plight against evil. And, in the view of pro-Kremlin disinformation specialists, history is now repeating itself in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has weaponised victimhood for years to justify its outward aggression against perceived threats. To supplement the disinformation narrative of Russia’s victimhood, General Valery Gerasimov, in his new role overseeing Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, drummed up the existential threat Russia is facing because of Western support to Ukraine.
The casting of Russia as the victim goes hand in glove with the accusation that Ukraine does not want peace and will not talk to Russia. This, of course, is not true, as President Zelenskyy has put forward concrete ideas and conditions for peace.
The future is history
Second, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem continues to bask in the glory of the Soviet past, still echoing Putin’s obsession with history, particularly the visions of the historic future for Russia that Putin proclaimed on 24 February 2022. One thing that stood out in Putin’s Leningrad performance was his reminiscences of Russia’s victories over Hitler and Napoleon and the need to preserve the correct ‘historical memory’ of those events. A translation for those who do not speak Kremlinese – history can be re-written to spur nostalgia for a glorious past to justify the infallibility of the Kremlin’s present decisions. Or as phrased by George Orwell: ‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’.
A practical example of the Kremlin’s attempts to rewrite history also came in the form of dismantling a graveyard monument dedicated to fallen Finnish heroes of the Winter War, lest it give people the wrong idea about resisting authoritarian oppression.
As usual, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem was well coordinated on the message, if not particularly creative. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov essentially repeated the same disinformation trope about Napoleon and Hitler when delivering his annual press conference reviewing Russian diplomacy.
Nazis everywhere, again
That was enough for pro-Kremlin disinformation pundits to connect the dots. Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine is, in fact, a continuation of the Great Patriotic War. Therefore, in the Kremlin’s disinformation-addled minds, it stands to reason that Russia will prevail, as did the Soviet Union. Consequently, Russia would be fully in its right to strike against European nations because all of Europe, or, in the Kremlin’s words, the Nazis are now helping Ukraine in its satanic war against all that is good and Russian.
Beyond recasting the historic victims of Nazi occupation as vengeful aggressors bent on committing genocide against Russia, pro-Kremlin pundits went about looking for Nazis in present-day Europe. This week, the EU High Representative was on the receiving end of the Kremlin’s ‘Nazi brush’, as was the head of the Spanish government. And the Latvian decision to show solidarity with Estonia by downgrading its diplomatic mission to Russia is, of course, a rampant expression of Russophobia akin to Nazism.
We have covered this Kremlin obsession with Nazis at length in the past. Typical of the Kremlin’s doublethink, Russian propagandists continue to unearth the imagined sins of our forefathers while glossing over their own crimes.
Looking for cracks in all the wrong places
Finally, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets also sought to expose any cracks in the edifice of Western support to Ukraine. As per usual, they advanced the disinformation narrative of lost European sovereignty and pushed the false claim that the US has ‘colonial interests’ in Europe. They also tried to depict the meetings in Davos and Ramstein as signs of wavering Western support to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, as Western countries commit to sending more heavy weapons to Ukraine for its legitimate self-defence (as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN charter), the Kremlin spins it as leading to ‘further escalation’, or as efforts made in vain because Ukraine’s defeat is certain. As if Russia’s invasion itself is not the escalation that has endangered peaceful co-existence between Ukraine and Russia. The same pro-Kremlin outlets also dismissed the 10th EU sanctions package currently under discussion as having no impact on Russia and European deliberation on the issue as a sign of disunity.
Even the European Parliament resolution for a tribunal on Russia’s actions in Ukraine was portrayed as weakness and incompetence. Evidently, self-deceit and wishful thinking knows no bounds in the Kremlin. Or perhaps they’ve just spent too much time listening to their own lies.
Also on EUvsDisinfo’s radar this week:
- Outrageous pro-Kremlin disinformation claims that the West is using military casualties in Ukraine to set up a human organ trafficking Of course, there is no evidence given to support such outlandish claims, but it has been a recurring pro-Kremlin technique to accuse NATO and the Ukrainian army. In truth, transplanting organs is a complex and time-constrained medical procedure and cannot be carried out in the field. This pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative has been repeatedly debunked.
- The pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem has also continued to propagate nuclear fear-mongering, including through entirely unsubstantiated claims that Kyiv stores Western-supplied ammo in nuclear plants, thus increasing the risk of a nuclear catastrophe. This is a classic pro-Kremlin deflection tactic since it is actually Russia that has deployed artillery systems, rocket launchers, tanks, and personnel carriers there, turning the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant into a military base.
- Continuing in the spirit of deflection, pro-Kremlin disinformation also accuses Ukraine of having become a private military company for NATO. Apart from the deflection of Russia’s own notorious ‘private military company’ Wagner, this allegation also a part of the broader pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative that aims to frame Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraineas a confrontation with a Russophobic and belligerent NATO.