Kremlin propaganda aims to undermine, provoke West
Ukraine top target in fake news narratives
In response to Russia’s recent time actions, which included placing more troops and munitions alongside the eastern Ukraine border and in occupied Crimea, the United States European Command organisation raised the monitoring of this situation to the highest level. Analysts have confirmed a rise with tensions in these disputed areas, which are implemented not only to provoke Ukraine but also to alert and defy the West by all possible means. Hence the worsening of most recent-time relations between Russia and much of the democratic world today.
But when it comes to searching and identifying fake news, it is not always necessary to divulge too deeply into the plots of these alleged “stories”, delivered by recruits loyal to the Putin regime. Many articles are often a set of standard propaganda templates that are frequently riddled with theoretical clichés. Therefore, many fake news bulletins become fairly transparent, as they follow a certain trend and set pattern.
In many of these falsified “claims” there are often repeat scenarios, displaying minimal logic. There are few, if any, additional, contradictory narratives found. Thus there is no real balance of opinion that should theoretically follow and justify these “assertions”. Basic standards of actual journalism no longer apply.
At the same time, Russian propaganda uses numerous sources of high repetition and various “arguments” with which to get across their agendas. Modern-day propaganda is fast, rapid, continuous, cynical, over-flowing and able to quickly abide and respond to any latest, on-the-spot developments.
Regardless of fabrications, or not, what is distinctly clear is that the large proportion of recent Russian news is to undermine Ukraine and its European Union and NATO ambitions. Also, to disrupt attempts to resolve the critical situation in eastern Ukraine and elsewhere within the conflict zones. In short, the Kremlin is trying to deliver continual negative out-takes towards the EU to Ukrainians, and to anyone else who listens in, while at the same time raising fear with continual internal and external threats from all sides.
It’s also conclusive that the Kremlin is using anti-European narratives to try to break up the European Union, once again by any means, and to damage the EU-US relationship. In most cases, these operations are still similar repeat plots, dating back to Soviet times, which are now fairly obvious and nothing new.
Pro-Kremlin media narratives target individual EU countries and how good, bad, friendly or “unfriendly” to Russia they may be, while continuing to push the assertion that “Ukraine is an unreliable partner for the European Union because of its constant violations of its obligations”. Another claim is that the “signing and implementation of an Association Agreement with the EU is also a disadvantage to Ukraine, and will only lead to an increase in utility tariffs, insecurity and the furthering of general poverty”.
And for good measure, other equally remarkable and unfounded claims, always in favour of Russia, such as: “Ukrainians in the EU will always be second-class citizens” or “The West needs Ukraine only for one thing, to irritate us (Russia), and to look for new reasons to intensify anti-Russia rhetoric. They (the West) want to weaken everything that is around us, or anything which is naturally ours”.
All this comes at a favourable moment, with the timely Sputnik vaccine, which is another twist altogether, as this “wonder-cure” comes as a “gift’ to demonstrate Russia’s desire to normalise relations with individual European countries. Such cloak-and-dagger means and smoke-and-mirrors methods continue their undercover attempts to lure and submit Ukraine back to its former realm. Moscow wants to deprive Ukraine of any general support and keep the country far from the Western hemisphere as much as possible. To achieve this, the Kremlin discredits Ukraine as a reliable international partner at all times, and frequently “warns” Ukrainians about the consequences of developing cooperation with the EU, by insinuating “leave us at your peril”.
Despite further arguments, manipulations and continual force (and farce) displayed by Russia, Ukraine still wants the divorce, no matter how hard the proceedings. But “Emperor” Putin needs a victory and still has to prove himself to his people, that he can bring Ukraine back “home”, regardless of anything. Despite his attempts, a geopolitical mistake has been made, as he has ultimately lost Ukraine.
Everyone I met while there on many occasions told me “there is no going back”, even if President Putin’s intentions are to punish the West for the fall of the Berlin Wall, which bought a whole new thaw to East- West relations. Although much of the free world rejoiced during 1989 and continues to do so today. It was clear Putin was and still is not happy, and saw those times as a humiliation to the former Soviet Union. Therefore it is his quest to reverse this.
Regardless of his personal vanity, and in defiance to the oppressor, the Ukrainians still want to move forwards with the rest of Europe. It’s up to the West to fully support them, as the threat is now a far bigger picture than ever before. Russia will invariably use the same core elements of info-wars to attempt to loop Belarus back into its frame too.
To continue this way, here are “The Seven Commandments of Fake News”, as recently presented in The New York Times:
- Look for cracks” and vulnerabilities in target societies. Find social divisions one can exploit and wedge open, such as economic, regional or linguistic ones. Look for ways to emphasise those divisions and make people lose trust in one another.
- “Create a Big Bold Lie”. So outrageous no one could possibly believe it was made up.
- “Wrap That Lie Around a Kernel of Truth”. Propaganda is most effective when there’s a touch of truth in it. Then such disinformation becomes a little more acceptable as a whole.
- “Conceal Your Hand” and make it seem the story came from elsewhere. When people search for the original source, make sure they never realise it’s you who is behind it.
- “Find Useful Idiots” who will unwittingly push these messages to appropriate audiences.
- “Deny Everything”. If someone is trying to expose you, deny everything even when the truth is obvious. This works well to a certain degree, because general attention span is quite short. That is why “denial” provides some cover-time until next time.
- “The Long Game”. Be prepared to play the long game and put sufficient resources into things that may not bear fruit for many years to come.
When it’s clear how an “info-op” is formulated and continues to develop, there is a better understanding of how these stories, which have now become mere child’s-play to the trolls, are arranged. As the tools, techniques and methods, alongside the stories, also became more flexible and inventive.
Some “stories” have had the desired effects over the bought-and-sold media that Russia clearly has a hand in, at least for now, which is a bonus to them, while other scripts and TV news have backfired and fallen short on international fair-play. Still, regardless of outcome, keep ’em rolling! So there are many more stories relating often enough to the same thing.
In short general terms, it is precisely these factors that make propaganda models effective, while complicating the development of fair-play originals. The wide range of narratives and multiple channels used for spin measures ensures the stability of the entire propaganda system. If these adversaries succeed in discrediting and blocking any individual elements, then the short term gain has been achieved, at least for the time being. Also, fabricating false facts is far less time-consuming than fact-checking work.
The Kremlin, to further increase its influence on its closest neighbours, instead of applying assumed and eventual “soft power” after general achievements on its side, also applies blackmail, political pressure, economic blockades, further hybrid disinformation and more military intervention, as still is the case with Ukraine. And of course, other members of the Eastern Partnership still remain at odds with Moscow’s endeavours, such as Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. And the three less vulnerable Baltic States, which were once under Soviet control, although now EU and NATO members, they too could be next in line.
Very often these information operations are accompanied by military sabre-rattling and pursue an escalating domination strategy (massive army drills, provocations at the border, cyberattacks, sabotage and so forth). Their goal is to bring tensions to a climactic boil so as to pressurise other countries into negotiations with Russia, as well as perhaps also giving “concessions” to Moscow.
Fortunately there are now recent positive practices where truth and fact-finding organisations work to identify fake news reports. They go about de-coding false data to expose them for what they really are. One is the commendable “Stop-Fake”, as seen below.
Another promising way to dispel the flow would be to boost media literacy. A well-informed society, media and government would then be able to distinguish and contribute to ensuring greater resilience to such attacks of disinformation campaigns, as well as exposing all fakes and discrediting them publicly. Therefore, newfound campaigns should be carried out to raise awareness of misinformation, and to educate audiences in order to protect the integrity of every nation and individuals. Plus, to protect the integrity of other countries’ election campaigns, as very much noted and debated with recent US elections, and other countries elsewhere.
All-round media trust needs to be restored with better quality journalism. United decisive action needs to be taken, perhaps more seriously, with various democracies world-wide to rebuke and repel general propaganda and uncalled-for aggression of any kind, by intelligence means, and preferably without conflict.
Until then, as we know, regrettably the hybrid war and applying sanctions on Russia continues. Therefore, the ability to predict any future directions of Russia’s information war-games, by building an effective system to combat against all hybrid aggression and gain united security for the sake of the future, is most advised.
*Special thanks to Maria Avdeeva from “iSANS”, the International Strategic Action Network for Security, for her reports and for granting permission to use them. https://uaeuxperts.org/en/on-the-brink-of-a-new-cold-war/
And to Olga Yurkova from Stopfake http://stopfake.org/ for these follow-on stories.
Examples of fake stories are as follows:.