Pro-Kremlin fabricated make-believe fails to convince anyone but the audience of one
Source : https://euvsdisinfo.eu/ – December 16, 2021
During the past days, weeks, months, and years, we at EUvsDisinfo have shared our understanding of the anatomy of pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns, discussed their tactics, and countered the toxic narratives aimed at deceiving and distracting citizenry and decision-makers alike.
As the tensions of Russia’s making have now increased to the boiling point, we have witnessed together with other members of the debunking and fact-checking community that pro-Kremlin disinformation has become ever more detached from reality, and at times cartoonishly unhinged.
Recent, sad examples include the Ukrainian Armed Forces allegedly shelling with surgical precision an insignificant shack nearly 40 kilometers away from the line of contact, allegations that Ukrainian troops infiltrated Russian territory with equipment that they do not possess(opens in a new tab), and claims that the Ukrainian army shelled a kindergarten located in their own territory(opens in a new tab).
One would think that pro-Kremlin media has stopped altogether trying to convince anyone outside Russia of anything. Nevertheless, we must note that even inept fabrications are insidious and harmful, especially given that the Kremlin’s disinformationists have been laying the groundwork for events unfolding now for a while.
Nazis lurking behind every corner, great humanitarians, and loose nuke-talk
We examined six months’ worth of Ukraine-related rhetoric from Russian state media outlets, pro-Kremlin outlets linked to the Russian state, and Russian official diplomatic accounts on Twitter.
We started by calculating the volume of mentions of Ukraine-related keywords in combination with keywords representing casus belli narratives, or fabrications used as pretexts for invading Ukraine.
For example, pro-Kremlin outlets have consistently portrayed Ukraine as a ‘Nazi’ state to vilify Ukrainians, particularly in the eyes of domestic Russian audiences, and thus to justify Kremlin aggression. We have seen this tactic a number of times, including in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and of course in the past six months, as shown in the diagram below.
It is exactly this framing of Ukraine as a ‘Nazi’ state that has enabled Russian state-controlled outlets and now-sanctioned(opens in a new tab) politicians to make gruesome and completely fabricated allegations of genocide in Donbas and to spin wild conspiracy theories about Ukraine using chemical and other prohibited weapons.
We have also found that to support Russia-backed (and now Kremlin-recognised) thugs ruling the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR)” and the “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)”, pro-Kremlin media has tried to frame Russia’s own aggression in humanitarian terms.
The volume of mentions of the keyword “refugee” sharply increased following the prerecorded and synchronised announcements(opens in a new tab) of so-called “DPR” and “LPR” leaders of mass “evacuations” (read: forced relocations) of civilians from Donbas to Russia.
While the Kremlin-controlled media is awash with images(opens in a new tab) of women, children, and the elderly arriving in Russia, the still remaining independent Russian media(opens in a new tab) outlets have collected the testimonies of people in the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” clearly saying that they don’t believe Russian propaganda, they don’t want to leave their homes, and they don’t consider Ukraine an enemy. But don’t let the facts spoil a good and emotionally manipulative story.
Lastly, the volume of mentions of the keyword ‘nuclear’ in the context of Ukraine has been growing steadily since November 2021. It is consistent with Russia’s military posturing and the pro-Kremlin outlets’ loose talk about the country’s nuclear weapons and military might. A recent example includes the EU-sanctioned propagandist Dmitry Kiselev thanking ‘comrades Stalin and Beria(opens in a new tab)’ (among others) for creating Russian nuclear weapons.
A grotesque two-act play to please the disinformationist-in-chief
Much pro-Kremlin disinformation is directed at home audiences as a rallying cry to invoke support for the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions and military adventurism. In particular, this disinformation aims to please an audience of one who is sitting in the Kremlin, or near Sochi, or in some undisclosed location isolated from the rest of the world.
This audience of one was the central figure in a carefully orchestrated play of two acts, which at times broke the rules of physics and the space-time continuum(opens in a new tab). First, there was a choreographed meeting of the Russian Security Council filled with clumsy theatrics including schoolyard bullying(opens in a new tab). The meeting was the scene not only for a violation of international law(opens in a new tab) in the form of a hastily copy-pasted(opens in a new tab) recognition of the so-called “LPR” and “DPR”, but also for new heights of disinformation in the second act.
The second act of this grotesque play took the form of a widely televised speech presenting a medley of the greatest hits of pro-Kremlin disinfo since 2014, alleging that:
- Modern Ukraine was a creation of Russia, thus denying the sovereignty and statehood of Ukraine. We have debunked this dangerous myth numerous times, as others have done(opens in a new tab).
- Ukraine is under foreign rule and influence and is used as a tool against Russia. This is another often used toxic narrative, debunked many times.
- Russian speakers and ethnic Russians in Ukraine are persecuted, or even victims of genocide, which clearly is not the case. Others have also debunked(opens in a new tab) these irresponsible allegations.
- Now an eight-year-long war in Donbas is allegedly of Ukraine’s making, and Ukraine is claimed to be harboring plans to solve the problem militarily. As we know, these assertions are false. Russian leaders, together with their proxies, are the true aggressors(opens in a new tab) undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
- US and NATO aggression somehow threatens Russia. Another recurring claim, debunked a number of times.
This Kremlin-directed play has given us a glimpse into the minds of the ruling autocrat and his henchmen. If pro-Kremlin disinformation has been at times clownish in its desperate fabrications and laughed off by Western audiences and analysts, the Kremlin’s absurdist tragicomedy was a bone-chilling peek into things to come. The audience of one has clearly been listening to the lies that the machinery of his own making has spewed in recent years and has become, ironically enough, disinformation’s most consequential victim.
Edit [24/02/2022 – 10:52am]: This text was written just hours before yet another unjustified Kremlin attack against Ukraine. #StandWithUkraine