Victory Day, celebrated in Russia on 9 May, is a special day for the Kremlin’s machine of information manipulation and disinformation. Sure, on paper, for Russia this date marks the end of World War II. But for information manipulators and disinformation peddlers, including the liar-in-chief himself, 9 May is a yearly occasion to fan the flames of deceit, reinforce the Kremlin’s line, and re-calibrate disinformation narratives, if needed.
Same as last time, this year was no exception. The pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem was quick to pick up the cues from Putin’s lacklustre Red Square speech to push the same disinformation narratives freshly endorsed by their master.
Let’s have a look at what got the most traction.
Source — EUvsDiSiNFO — May 11, 2023 —
Table of Contents
Finally at war
The central message was one of singular gloom – war has been once again unleashed on Russia. Right from the start, the speech was laden with pro-Kremlin historical revisionism and a ‘siege mentality’. Of course, pro-Kremlin outlets have been pushing the disinformation narrative that Russia is at war with the whole West, including the collective might of NATO, for some months now, as we saw during his manipulative speeches marking the WWII Leningrad blockade and the Battle of Stalingrad. But Putin, by leading his May 9 speech with that message, gave renewed impetus to this deceitful disinformation narrative.
Pro-Kremlin outlets such as RIA Novosti, TASS and Izvestia also amplified the imagery of Russia as the defender of ‘traditional values’ and the only force that stands against the immorality of the West. The invocation of traditional values is a go-to manipulative tactic for the Kremlin, as is referring to the war in religious overtones.
Putin’s baseless complaints about the West erasing memory and destroying the Soviet legacy provided a springboard for pro-Kremlin outlets to push the disinformation narrative about ‘Russophobia’ taking root in Europe. Curiously, pro-Kremlin commentators seemed to be blissfully unaware that Russia’s efforts to sow division, including by staging fake protests to discredit Ukraine, have long since become transparent.
Russia the Peacemaker
Another important disinformation angle in Putin’s 9 May speech did not go unnoticed by pro-Kremlin disinformation amplifiers. That angle was claims that for Russia, there are no unfriendly or hostile people anywhere. That notion stands starkly at odds with constant vocal outbursts that ‘Western elites’ are threatening Russia’s very existence. But then again, consistency has never been a strong suit for pro-Kremlin disinformation propagators.
Another example of such inconsistency is casting Russia as a liberator and peacemaker who is only interested in a stable and peaceful future for all. Juxtaposed with constant accusations of warmongering against the West, this narrative tries to make a compelling argument that Russia only seeks peace. Don’t be deceived. Russian calls for peace are empty PR stunts designed to distract and dismiss the atrocities Russian invaders commit in Ukraine every day.
Numbers don’t lie
Pro-Kremlin disinformation peddlers tried hard to inspire awe and dispel the air of increasing nervousness, but ultimately, numbers don’t lie. The parade was shorter in time and smaller in scale. No jets dominated the air and no modern tanks shined on Red Square. So in a reverse of Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to speak softly while carrying a big stick, Putin and his pro-Kremlin disinformation amplifiers spoke loudly, because their sticks put on display on 9 May were rather small.
Notably, the cancellation of the ‘Immortal Regiment’ denied ordinary people a chance to display photos of relatives who were veterans. The Kremlin had worked hard during previous years to embrace this popular part of the parades. It’s likely this step was taken to avoid a public display of the many Russian soldiers killed while involved in aggression against Ukraine.
Release the drones
The pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem was already poised to erupt into a frenzy due to two drones exploding over the Kremlin just days prior to 9 May. Ukraine has denied any involvement in this incident, but regardless of who might be behind it, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets pounced on the opportunity to open Russia’s firehose of falsehood and spread absurd theories about what happened.
Some used the occasion to target the reliability of the political leadership in Kyiv by making false claims that President Zelenskyy has fled Ukraine, fearing Russian retaliation. Others, like the odious one-time presidential seat warmer Dmitry Medvedev, went further and called for the immediate physical elimination of Zelenskyy. Fear-mongering was also a favoured tactic. While some used more veiled threats of ‘concrete measures’ to retaliate, others went all in and deployed overt nuclear sabre-rattling.
But the uniting theme was clear – paint Ukraine as a terrorist state attacking Russia for no good reason at all. That’s not a new tune, however. We have heard it many times before. None of it is true.
Those damn Anglo-Saxons
If all roads once led to Rome, then for pro-Kremlin disinformation pundits, all fingers inevitably point to the US. It was not long until pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets started accusing the US of being behind the drone attack. Of course, we have long since followed the Kremlin’s obsession with so-called Anglo-Saxons who seem to be among the top-tier Kremlin scapegoats for all that is wrong in the world. We have gathered a neat collection of pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives using the trope of ‘Anglo-Saxons’.
Also on EUvsDisinfo’s radar this week:
- Pro-Kremlin disinformation agitators do like some good, old-fashioned nuclear sabre-rattling, so their baseless claims that Romania is preparing to deploy US nuclear weapons on its territory are as uninspired as they are absurd. Romania ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 and non-proliferation represents a fundamental objective of Romanian foreign policy. Moreover, NATO’s nuclear policy accounts for the NPT’s provisions and the Alliance’s nuclear sharing agreement is fully compliant with the NPT.
- Always on the lookout to demonise their perceived adversaries, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets were also quick to make a ludicrous claim that Europe steals children evacuated from Ukraine. This is a clear case of Russia’s tendency to project its own wrongdoings onto others and to shift Russian responsibility for the massive deportation of Ukrainian civilians, including children. Europe does not steal children from Ukraine . Children from Ukraine and families with children receive refugee status in Europe. They are provided with shelter, help, and support. They are free to return to Ukraine with their families at any time. Conversely, the abduction and forced transportation of Ukrainian children from the occupied territories to Russia has been documented by the UN, Human Rights Watch,and Amnesty International.
- Hardly anything conjures a more conspiratorial picture than pro-Kremlin allegations that the West has conducted medical experiments on Ukrainians for two decades. This is nothing else but a simple re-purposing of well-known pro-Kremlin disinformation tropes about ‘secret biolabs’. Russia’s claims about a US-funded biological weapons programme in Ukraine have been widely refuted – including by the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu and by Russian biologists who examined Moscow’s ‘proof’