Victory Day for Recycling Propaganda
Last week, the world commemorated the end of World War II in Europe, celebrating Victory in Europe Day on 8 May, marking the 77th anniversary of Allied victory over the Nazis and the end of World War II in Europe. The Kremlin, however, focuses its spectacle of victory on a different date.
This year, due in large part to Russia’s war against Ukraine, launched on 24 February, the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem was abuzz with misleading narratives and outright lies about the ongoing “special military operation” in Ukraine. While most reputable media and news outlets made predictions about the eventual contents of Putin’s Victory Day speech, Russian-state controlled disinformation outlets seized the opportunity to accuse the West of panic-mongering and “Russophobia”.
Notably, in the days leading up to 9 May, perhaps sensing the overwhelming absurdity of portraying the Russian military debacle in Ukraine as successful, the Kremlin’s disinformators worked hard to distance the “Victory Day” parade from events in Ukraine. So when Putin did deliver the speech, it was unsurprising that the celebratory notes about “victories” in Ukraine were nowhere to be found. Instead, the lacklustre and underwhelming speech largely recycled the Kremlin’s well-known disinformation tropes, rehashing Putin’s odious speech of 24 February.
On cue, there was fearmongering about Ukraine preparing to invade the territory of Donbas and even Russia. Then came the recycling of accusations of Ukraine committing genocide and attacking civilians in Donbas. The preposterous claims of Ukraine’s alleged “monstrosity” were conveniently juxtaposed by the frankly absurd assertions that Russia only wants peace. Of course, no rant from Putin about Ukraine could be complete without the Kremlin’s favourite disinformation trope – the West uses Ukraine to tarnish the glory of Russia.
There were, however, a few new disinformation angles in the Kremlin’s false narrative on Ukraine. Most noteworthy, Putin unashamedly characterised the “special military operation” in Ukraine as the continuation of the Great Patriotic War, practically claiming that Russia is still fighting the Nazis of WW2. The Kremlin’s obsession with fighting Nazis was then readily offered as the reason for a pre-emptive attack on Ukraine.
Do Unto Others
While the 9 May coverage overall dominated the Russian state-controlled disinformation ecosystem in the past week, it was not the sole focus of the pro-Kremlin propagandists. Putin may try to invoke reverence for “traditional values”, but in a grotesque perversion of the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31), the Kremlin’s attempts to shift the blame for its crimes in Ukraine are nearly complete. In an attempt to distract the world from the atrocities Russia has committed across the occupied territories in Ukraine, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets have shamelessly accused Ukraine of crimes against humanity.
Following the tactic of projecting Russia’s wrongdoing unto others, the pro-Kremlin’s disinformation actors continued to level baseless accusations against the West for using Ukraine to destabilise global security. Oddly enough, the same disinformation outlets threatening their audiences with the “all-powerful West” seeking to destroy Russia are also making claims that the West’s help to Ukraine is futile. It seems they want to have their cake and eat it too.
The most recent target of the Kremlin’s game of shifting the blame and decrying false flag operations allegedly mounted against Russia has been Moldova. Disinformation ranged from stoking fears and panic over attacks near the large ammunition depot in Transnistria, to portraying the EU’s financial support to Moldova as financing for “anti-Russian propaganda”, to accusing the West of militarising Moldova to drag it into the war in Ukraine. None of these disinformation claims are substantiated by facts, but all fall neatly in line with the Kremlin’s disinformation playbook used elsewhere.
A New Level of Absurdity
Lately, the Russian disinformation and propaganda actors seemed to have plunged head-first into the deep end of a pool of absurdity. The false allegations of clandestine James Bond villain-like Western plots to develop biological weapons in secret labs in Ukraine pale in comparison to the latest claims of Ukraine owing its success on the battlefield to black magic rites. And this is not whispered in some darkened corners of under-the-radar Telegram channels devoted to conspiracies. These are propagated by major Russian outlets like Ria Novosti, and actively supported by Russian “thinker” Aleksandr Dugin. Then again, this is not the first time Russia has claimed to be locked in an epic struggle between the light and the darkness, taking on Satan himself in Ukraine.
This struggle is perhaps best exemplified by the portrayal of the battle of Azovstal, with the pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets accusing the defenders of the steel plant of using civilians as human shields or keeping civilians in the plant by force and denying access to evacuation corridors. In short, all things “Azov” are clearly the work of Satan or, interchangeably, the Nazis, who, according to the Kremlin’s propaganda outlets seek every opportunity to fire upon unsuspecting civilians in Ukraine. The reality, however, is that the storming Russian forces are disrupting the civilian evacuation corridors, denying access to humanitarian aid and indiscriminately bombing residential areas across Ukraine.
The final absurdity is the claim that Ukraine, aided by the West, seeks to prolong the war. Any country fighting as bravely and bearing the sacrifices as solemnly as Ukraine would be the first to welcome the return of peace, provided that the aggressor forces of Russia return to whence they came. Yet, in the twisted mirror world of the Kremlin’s propaganda it makes absolute sense to blame Ukraine for prolonging the war Russia started, while digging in for the long-haul, still spitefully and wrongly believing that the spirit of Ukraine can be broken.