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How to Recognize Russian Propaganda, - Petro Oleshchuk



Russia's rhetoric for the West is a readiness to negotiate and end the war. Petro Oleshchuk, an expert at the United Ukraine think tank, writes about this in his article for The Gaze. The text of the article can be found below.


The Great War in Europe could not but have an impact on the information space, where the fighting has been going on for almost two years now. It is clear that from the very beginning, Russia sought to dominate the media in an attempt to justify its aggressive war against a sovereign state, Ukraine.


Initially, Russia did not do very well, because they clearly got the subject matter wrong. The Russian authorities wanted to explain the war through the need to "denazify" Ukraine. Accordingly, all efforts were made to prove that "Nazism" prevailed in Ukraine. But there was little faith in this, because everyone knew that in 2019 Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is of Jewish descent, was elected President of Ukraine. In general, different ethnic and religious groups are represented in Ukraine's government, which did not fit with the thesis of Nazism, which immediately looked artificial and far-fetched.


The idea that Ukraine should be fought against because of "Nazism" did not succeed. Another important factor was the fact that modern information technology allowed for very rapid transmission of any information. The whole world quickly learned about the destruction of a theater with civilians in Mariupol, about war crimes in Bucha, and about the heroism of Ukrainian citizens who protested against Russian aggression.


Therefore, Russia immediately began to learn from its mistakes and modify its information policy to influence the West.


Two Realities

If we analyze the propaganda used by the Russian authorities, the first thing that strikes us is that it differs greatly depending on the audience. For Russian citizens, it is as aggressive as possible and calls for conquering not only Ukraine but also European countries, attacking Berlin, Paris, and London with nuclear weapons, and stopping at nothing.


But for the West, Russian rhetoric is completely different. Here, they are spreading theses about their readiness to negotiate and end the war, and that they have no intention of going further, but are ready to be satisfied with what they have already captured.


They are not so much proving their case for war against Ukraine, since they have realized that almost no one wants to recognize this case, as they want to prove the "futility" of the war and, therefore, of aid to Ukraine.


It is clear that aid to Ukraine is the most painful topic for Russia, so it spares no resources to discredit this aid and get it stopped. The following theses are used here:

  1. military aid is being stolen because Ukraine is very corrupt;

  2. it will not help Ukraine because Russia is too strong anyway, so aid will only prolong the war and multiply the victims;

  3. Russia is a nuclear power, and therefore can use nuclear weapons, so Ukraine cannot win anyway.

Russia does not so much want to convince anyone of anything as it wants to sow doubt, uncertainty, and fuel disputes and divisions in societies.


How Is Russian Propaganda Delivered?

It is clear that most citizens of civilized countries consider Russian President Vladimir Putin to be a dictator and untrustworthy. The same is true for his inner circle. Therefore, launching any information on his behalf for a Western audience is a futile endeavor. Accordingly, Western politicians and journalists act as repeaters of Russian propaganda in the West. These are either far-right and radical left-wing public and political figures with whom Russia has been establishing ties for decades. Usually, they are either journalists or just well-known musicians and artists.


They all have one thing in common: they are critical of modern Western societies and their political systems. Such people are welcomed in Russia. They are invited to pay visits, organize concerts and exhibitions, and are given opportunities to speak to audiences. All of this has been taking shape for more than a day. Moreover, Russia does not expect its "friends" to approve of Putin or the Kremlin. It only wants them to criticize Western society, Western politicians, and, as a result, the assistance that these politicians provide to Ukraine.


But information can also be thrown in through exclusively fake channels. Armies of bots on Twitter are constantly spreading completely fictitious facts about Ukraine that are supposed to attract the attention of the audience. And even if the audience does not believe in all the fictions, that is not the main thing. Russian propaganda fakes do not convince as much as they destroy beliefs and sow doubts. This is their main tool.


So How Do We See Propaganda?

It's not easy, because the Russians are very good at spreading their ideas by hiding them behind something else. However, certain theses and ideas are constantly moving from one propaganda text to another.


Since it makes no sense to deny that Russian aggression against Ukraine is a crime, they try to hide this fact by trying to blame the "other side." They say that Ukraine is "to blame" for the war because it did something wrong and was "corrupt." Accordingly, this should share the blame, and thus relieve Russia of some of it. This is how Russia seeks to justify itself by blaming the victim of its own aggression.


The second very popular thesis is an attempt to convince everyone that Ukraine's resistance is "futile." The Russians cannot deny the heroism of the Ukrainian people, which is known to the entire civilized world, so they are trying to portray it as futile. Because Russia is simply bigger, and therefore "must win." They completely ignore the fact that there have been many examples in history of a larger state losing to a smaller one.


Russians are very fond of manipulating the world's respect for Russian culture, and therefore want to transfer the aura of Tolstoy's books and Russian ballet to the Putin regime. They say, how can the bearers of this culture be bad? It is clear that Putin's criminals have no real relation to any culture.


And the most important thesis that the Russians are constantly manipulating is the idea that Putin is ready to stop if he is "negotiated with." To this end, they constantly shout about their readiness for "negotiations." At the same time, they are silent about the fact that there have been negotiations before, the Minsk agreements were signed, which Putin violated when he wanted to do so. The problem is not the readiness or unreadiness of someone to negotiate, but the fact that the Russian regime does not want to fulfill anything that is agreed upon with them.


Source: "The Gaze"


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