Bad Santa Comes With Deceitful Gifts

The Kremlin recycled many tired disinformation tropes in 2023, targeting Ukraine and it’s supporters with absurd lies. From seeing ‘Russophobia’ and biolabs everywhere, to calling everyone a Nazi, 2024 will likely bring more of the same, but we will not be deceived. The Kremlin’s master Putin is the bad Santa of disinformation.

By EUvsDisinfo | December 28, 2023 —

Every year, he returns to give a huge baskets of gifts we never wanted. In 2023, he passed out many awful presents. Meanwhile, his army of trolls – all disinformation manufacturers and pushers – worked hard to spread his big bags of lies.

So this holiday season, we at EUvsDisinfo take a moment to make a Christmas list of sorts, detailing the naughtiest instances of pro-Kremlin manipulative behaviour. This might give a hint about what is in store for 2024.

Unwanted gifts, re-gifted again and again: what didn’t change in 2023

Sometimes relatives re-gift the same old gift to each other, over and over again. Usually it’s a present that you didn’t want in the first place, like an oversized jumper or an ugly tie. Many pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives this year felt like these re-gifted, unwanted presents.

For example, not surprisingly in the Kremlin’s twisted alternative reality, Ukraine is still very bad and doing very, very, very bad things. It’s still a NaziterroristSatanic country that commits war crimes, fakes Russian war crimes, exploits children for sexual trafficking, harvests and sells human organs and even children’s organs, and is preparing covert biological and nuclear attacks to order to blame their consequences on Russia. Not exactly the sort of thing that puts one in the holiday spirit.

Yet more ridiculous whoppers lie at the bottom of this sordid stocking. According to the spinners of Russia’s nightmarish fantasy tales, Western countries are also still very bad and doing bad, bad things. Devious Westerners have nothing else to do than to be Russophobic and to spread instability and chaos wherever they can. In case you’re wondering, when pro-Kremlin commentators call you Russophobic, it often means you are daring to oppose Russian bullying of the country’s smaller neighbours.

And if Western countries aren’t full-on Nazi – although on the Kremlin’s black list Canada definitely is – then they’re certainly Nazi-curious. According to this holiday fever-dream, the West is trying Nazism out, as you would try out a fresh pair of New Year’s trousers at the shop. By the way, Canada isn’t just Nazi. It’s a monstrous woke machine.

This list wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include re-gifted presents that were full-on crazy. These rambling assertions, for example, claim that Ukrainians aren’t fighting Russians at all. In fact, Ukrainians are fighting alongside Russians against Polish or black American mercenaries on the side of Ukraine’s armed forces. Nothing spices up the Kremlin’s Christmas fruitcake like a dash of racism.

New ‘goodies’ for the new year?

So those are the wretched, pro-Kremlin gifts of yesterday. But do we have any indication of what the hellish ovens of bad Santa’s trolls might be cooking up for the year to come?

In the latter half of the year, pro-Kremlin outlets and commentators spread disinformation narratives proclaiming Russia’s alleged emergence as a leader among mostly southern and eastern countries. In this increasingly prominent third batch of disinformation messages, Russia is, if not exactly good, at least better at pretty much everything. And definitely better than the sunset-empire of the collapsing, decadent Europe where according to the Kremlin-lingo LGBT-Gayropa rule. We recently documented this particular nasty trend of sexual-toned disinformation and manipulation.

Other gifts in the bag feature outlets routinely aired claims that Russian military equipment is far superior to that of Western countries with the glee reserved for hanging shiny ornaments on trees. They also trumpeted, again and again, assertions that Russia is fighting the entire assembled might of the ‘collective West’ and NATO and winning nonetheless.

Other stories have claimed that little old Russia is not a threat to anyone, and that it was the wicked West that is to blame for Russia’s illegal and illegitimate decision to launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine. As the twisted logic goes in Moscow: We bomb to advance peace.

Like a lonely holiday caroller singing as loudly as possible to distract from the lack of fellow singers, outlets and commentators proclaimed that Russia is not alone but is, in fact, a leader of the emerging multipolar world.

Taken together, the disinformation narratives point towards a post-conflict vision of Russia flying majestically over the world like Santa and his sled on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, both images are fairy tales. But this particular tale might come back to us again as 2024 moves along.

Old lies, new ways of telling them

Finally, as we gaze into a snow globe containing a miniature Kremlin and a miniature Putin dressed as a very bad Santa sitting on top of it, we should also call attention to a Kremlin tactic we will likely see more of in the future. Namely, pro-Kremlin disinformation spreaders will apply old disinformation narratives to new events.

For some time, pro-Kremlin outlets have alleged without evidence that Ukrainian authorities are selling Western weapons on the black market. Stories across outlets have alleged that these weapons have been diverted to countries in the Middle East, to the Taliban, to anyone else in the world, and even to rioters in Europe.

So it was no surprise when, after Hamas’ 7 October assault on Israel, pro-Kremlin outlets and pundits immediately began to allege that Ukraine had sold Western weapons to Hamas. A variety of fake stories, distributed by impersonating credible organisations like the BBC and Bellingcat, were unwrapped to give this allegation weight. They were quickly debunked. It is possible, however, that Russia may be diverting Western weapons that it has captured on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Prepare for 2024

We should also look forward to old, undesired gifts repurposed for new uses that are equally objectionable. Over the past year, Russian disinformation as become more standardised, regimented, and fatuous. It consists of continuous cries that Ukraine is bad, the West is bad, and Russia is better. The Kremlin adapts these fundamental messages to fit any new event or situation.

We hope you had a chance to follow our December Calendar featuring the wildest disinfo claims of the year.

Don’t be deceived. Check the EUvsDisinfo database

We wish you all a great holiday season!

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