Section 5 from “Old Wine in a New Bottle: Russia’s Modernization of Traditional Soviet Information Warfare and Active Policies Against Ukraine and Ukrainians”.
by Taras Kuzio, the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Kyiv, Ukraine
The EU Disinformation Review describes Russia’s information warfare against Ukraine as ‘Belittle, Ridicule, and Dehumanize’. The Ukrainian authorities are portrayed as cynical modern heirs to 20th-century Nazism. Russian rhetoric surrounding military and political confrontations has been accompanied by denigration of Ukraine and Ukrainians, such as poking fun at the size of Ukraine’s navy during the crisis in the Sea of Azov in late 2018. State TV Pervy Kanal host and Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Pyotr Tolstoy, a long-time Russian chauvinist on Ukraine, told his audience: ‘This week, we learned two important things. The first. Ukraine, it turns out, has a navy. More precisely — it used to have a navy, but lost a third of it, but more on that later … ’. On Rossiya 1 channel, Dmitry Kiselyov said the same:
Our border guards coped brilliantly with the task. As a result, everyone is alive, and now almost a third of the active Ukrainian fleet is kept under arrest in (the Russian port of) Kerch. Ridiculous. Although it did create a lot of noise.72
There are countless other examples of dehumanizing and degrading com- mentary on Ukraine and Ukrainians. These include Ukrainians stealing food from pigeons in order to survive, trade in human organs, and how Ukrainians are pressured to reject relatives who live in Russia. ‘The combi- nation of disinformation and denigrating language serves as an example of how Russia uses communication as a hybrid form of aggression, which it in this case integrates into a military confrontation with a foreign country’.73
Besides the traditional stories of a ‘Nazi-run Ukraine’, Ukraine shooting down MH17 and even Ukraine being behind the attempted poisoning of Sergei Skrypal and his daughter in the UK, there was of course the need to manufacture disinformation on the conflict in the Sea of Azov:
The traditional ‘blame the West’ narrative was there too, as was the myth of the Azov Sea belonging to Russia. The case of the Azov Sea revealed the long-game of disinformation campaigns, where the aim is not only to distract and distort the facts, but also to prepare the information space well in advance for events that might take place on the ground.74
Ukraine is used as a whipping boy to distract attention from unpleasant accusations of Russia being accused of shooting down MH17 and poisoning the Skrypals. Another aim is to turn Russians away from seeking similar democratic changes to their country as those that are taking place in Ukraine to which they could look for inspiration. Denigrating reforms since the Euromaidan Revolution are central to this messaging, in order to instill in Russians the view that it is pointless to seek change and that the Orange and Euromaidan Revolutions were not beneficial and worked in the interests of West, which is seeking to destroy Russia. A vivid example of this was the interview with an alleged disappointed Ukrainian, broadcast by Russian state TV, where the interviewee turned out to be a Belarusian actor.75 European integration is routinely attacked as bringing no benefits to Ukrainians. Apart from that, there are allegations that 10 million Ukrainians have fled from Ukraine to the EU using the visa-free regime where they have been enslaved and forced to work for food.
The purpose of this Russian information warfare is as follows:
Finally, if Western audiences can be led to believe this kind of message, on top of the claims that Ukraine is not a real state and that Ukrainians and Russians are one people, the Kremlin can hope that political sentiments in the West will be tempted to see support and solidarity with Ukraine as not worth the while. The Kremlin can perhaps dream that it will eventually lead Ukraine’s partners to swallow the pill of accepting the country as in the Kremlin’s ‘sphere of interest’.76
Constant messages in Russian information warfare include the following:77
- Ukraine is a Nazi state, and Nazi dictatorship and is governed by pro-Fascist elites, while ‘Glory to Ukraine’ is a Nazi greeting;
- Ukraine is part of the Russian World;
- Ukraine started a civil war against its own people that Russia has nothing to do with;78
- The most prominent claim is that Ukraine is not a country but merely territory;79
- Ukraine is a weak state with limited sovereignty that does not control its own borders;
- Ukraine does not exist; it is a ‘southern branch of the Russian people’, a state ‘built on lies’ that ‘cannot be regarded as a serious state’, and ‘an unformed nation and an unformed state’. ‘There is no Ukraine’, and ‘Ukraine is disappearing in history’;
- Ukraineisastatethat‘iscontrolledbytheUSAandEuropeandlivesoff their money and has de facto ceased to exist’;
- There is no elected parliament in Ukraine;
- Elections are a comedy show in Ukraine;
- Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev is a terrorist who calls for the killing of Crimeans.
- Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, the peninsula’s media have expanded their repertoire of inflammatory terms. These include such terms as ‘Banderivtsi’ (followers of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera), ‘peasant people’ and khokhly (derogatory name for Ukrainians), ‘Little Russians’, ‘Galician Nazis’, karateli, ‘Western puppets’, ‘followers of Hitler’, ‘nationalist extremists’, ‘UkrNazis’, ‘ultranationalists’, ‘Russophobes’, and ‘fascists’.80
72‘Denigrating Ukraine With Disinformation’, EU Disinformation Review, 10 December 2018, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/denigrating-ukraine-with-disinformation/.
74‘RIA, Writing and Geography’, EU Disinformation Review, 7 November 2018, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/ria-writing-and-geography/.
75‘Russian State TV Broadcasts Staged Interview’, EU Disinformation Review, 17 December 2018, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/russian-state-tv-broadcasts-staged-interview/.
76‘Ukraine Under Information Fire’.
77‘Russian State TV’s Targets This Week: Ukraine, Poland and the US as Antiheroes’, EU Disinformation Review, 16 September 2017, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/russian-state-tvs-targets-this-week-ukraine-poland-and-the-us-as-antiheroes/ and ‘How to Become a Stateless Nationalist’.
78 Vinogradov, ‘“Nedostrana” i “grazhdanskaya voyna”: na chem postroyena rossiyskaya propaganda ob Ukraine?’ Radio Svoboda, 12 November 2018, https://www.radiosvoboda.org/a/29595896.html.
79 Churanova, ‘Russian Disinformation: Ukrainian NGO’s on the Frontline’, UA: Ukraine Analytica 1 (2018) pp. 59–66, http://ukraine-analytica.org/wp-content/uploads/analytyka11-1.pdf; and M. Terentieva, ‘They Who Must Be Blamed for Watching the Tales: Russian Propaganda in Ukraine’, New Eastern Europe, 5 January 2018, http://neweasterneurope.eu/2018/01/05/must-not-blamed-watching-tales-russian-propaganda-ukraine/.
80 Burmagin, I. Sedova, T. Pechonchyk, and O. Skrypnyk, Yazyk vrazhdyi v informationom prostranstve Kryma, Informatsiono-Analytycheskyy Doklad. Mart 2014–Iyul 2017 (Kyiv 2018), https://crimeahrg.org/wp-content /uploads/2018/03/Hate-book-RU.pdf.
Taras Kuzio firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Political Science
National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy
2 Skovoroda Street
The opinions expressed in this Blog page are not necessarily those of British-Ukrainian Aid.