Section 3 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
Putin began to re-Sovietize Russia before the 2004 Orange Revolution.47 This could be clearly seen in the revival of three inter-connected ideological tenets integrated from the conservative era from the 1960s to mid-1980s, when the Soviet Union was ruled by Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko. These were the formative years for Putin at school, socialization into Soviet life, and in his career in the KGB. The first is the revival of the Great Patriotic War as the new ‘state religion’, the second is a cult of Joseph Stalin,48 and the third ideological tirades (now information warfare) and disinformation against the perfidious West and treacherous Ukrainians. Russia’s defeat of Nazism in the Great Patriotic War is a central element of the ideology of Putin’s regime, ‘Presenting Ukrainians as Nazis stands centrally in the attacks on Ukraine that target Russian audiences, so that they view Ukraine as an acceptable target of Russian military aggression’.49
Putin’s promotion of the Great Patriotic War has monopolized the victory over Nazi Germany to the extent of claiming that Russia would have been victorious, even without Ukraine’s contribution. Soviet and Russian information warfare on the Great Patriotic War share a number of similar narratives:50
- Believing that Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians were ‘Nazi collaborators’;
- Targeting Ukrainians as supporters of nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. The term banderivtsi is used against ‘Ukrainians in general and pro-Ukrainian activists in particular’;51
- Discussion of Nazi-Soviet collaboration in 1939–1941 is forbidden;
- The terms opolchentsy (resistance fighters) and karateli ([Nazi] pun- ishers) with the former associated with pro-Russian Donbas proxies and the latter with Nazi occupiers (i.e. Ukrainians);
- NATO and the EU are linked to Nazi and US hegemony;
- Nazi collaborators after World II began working for Western intelligence agencies.
The threads tying Soviet and contemporary Russian information warfare are readily available. When attacking Ukrainian dissidents and the Ukrainian diaspora, Soviet propaganda often attacked ‘Nazi collaborators to link them to the Nazi occupation of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War’. The Ukrainian Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries was controlled by the KGB and published Ukrainian (Visti z Ukrayiny) and English-language (News from Ukraine) weekly newspapers, which were unavailable in the USSR, geared to the Ukrainian diaspora and Western media and policy makers. Its activities and newspapers were dominated by stories of ‘Nazi collaborators’ lurking among Ukrainian émigrés and their ties to Western intelligence agencies.52
The Russian misuse of the term genocide first began in the 2000s during the 2004 Orange Revolution in attacks on opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko and in response to Ukraine’s international campaign to recognize the 1933 Holodomor (Murder-Famine) as genocide. In 2008, Russia accused Georgian forces who intervened in South Ossetia of commit- ting genocide with Ukrainian military technology. Russian troops allegedly ‘saved’ South Ossetians and Crimeans from Georgian and Ukrainian ‘genocide’.53 The term genocide has been repeatedly abused since 2014 against the Euromaidan authorities and Ukrainian troops operating in the Donbas, accusing them of being karateli, a term linking them to the Nazi occupation and its atrocities during the Great Patriotic War. The vitriolic nature of Russia’s information warfare depicted Ukrainian troops and volunteer battalions as committing ‘anti-Russian genocide’, raping, pillaging, and murdering their way through the Donbas.54 Ukrainian soldiers were allegedly promised two slaves and land in the Donbas. The most famous fake news was that of a young boy ‘crucified’ by Ukrainian troops and that President Petro Poroshenko authorized the Aydar volunteer battalion to rape 12 orphan children.55 Russian speakers in Ukraine are allegedly threatened by ‘language genocide’.
A major watershed in this vitriolic Russian information warfare was the violent conflict in Odessa on 2 May 2014 when 48 died, six from gunshot wounds and two from a fire in the Trade Union building. With 42 of the 48 fatalities pro-Russian activists, Russia’s information warfare went into overdrive to depict the fire as a ‘genocide’ and ‘massacre’ aimed at ‘exterminating’ the Russian-speaking population. Halya Coynash points out that such inflammatory language had important consequences because it led to Ukrainians and Russians joining pro-Russian forces in the Donbas, where some of them possibly committed human rights abuses or were later killed in battle.56
Another thread linking Soviet and contemporary Russian information warfare can be found in the use of maskirovka, a mix of denial, disinformation, and deception coupled with a blurring of the truth and illusion, reality, and fiction. The Russian military encyclopaedia defines maskirovka as measures to mislead the enemy about the presence of forces, their objectives, and combat readiness. Maskirovka was used by the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s and today is a synthesis ‘of Soviet content with Western entertainment’.57 Pomerantsev believes the ‘Kremlin came to postmodernism through post-Soviet cynicism’.58
The head of RT said there is no ‘truth’, while Russia’s version of the ‘truth’ is as valid as that of Western international television channels. ‘In this cynical relativist world of swirling competing versions, nothing is really true’.59 ‘Black is white and white is black. There is no reality. Whatever they say is reality’.60 Russian information warfare has inherited a ‘truth’ that is malleable and changeable over time and that can be adapted to current needs.61 Such a world creates a dramaturgia in which fantasy replaces reality and ‘In place of politics, there is performance art’.62
44. ‘Text of Putin’s Speech at NATO Summit (Bucharest, April 2, 2008)’, UNIAN, 18 April 2018, https://www.unian.info/world/111033-text-of-putins-speech-at-nato-summit-bucharest-april-2-2008.html.
45. T. Kuzio, Putin’s War Against Ukraine, pp. 118–40; and S. Glazyev, ‘Okkupatsiya’.
46. Interview with Nikolai Patrushev, Tass, 15 January 2019, http://tass.com/world/1040080.
47. O. Kryshtanovskaya and S. White, ‘The Sovietization of Russian Politics’, Post-Soviet Affairs 25 (2009) pp. 283–309.
48. T. Kuzio, ‘Stalinism and Russian and Ukrainian National Identities’, Communist and Post-Communist Studies 50 (December 2017) pp. 289–302.
49. ‘Attacking Ukraine via Canada’.
50. ‘Nazi East, Nazi West, Nazi Over the Cuckoo Nest’, EU Disinformation Review, 27 February 2017, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/nazi-east-nazi-west-nazi-over-the-cuckoos-nest/; and K. Pynnoniemi and A. Racz, Fog of Falsehood.
51. K. Pynnoniemi and A. Racz, Fog of Falsehood, p. 72.
52. ‘Soviet-Sponsored Societies of Friendship and Cultural Relations’, Central Intelligence Agency, 1957, CIA-RDP78- 00915R000800190022-9, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP78-00915R000800190022-9.pdf
53. P. Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (New York: Public Affairs 2014) pp. 230–31.
54. J. Ioffe, ‘My Mind-Melting Week on the Battlefields of Ukraine’, New Republic, 16 June 2014, https://newrepublic.com/article/118131/week-battlefields-ukraine.
55. Disinformation Review, 7 June 2016, http://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/euvsdisinfo/docs/disinformation_review_07_06_2016_eng.pdf.
56. H. Coynash, ‘Russia’s Most Toxic Lies About a Fictitious “Odessa Massacre” and the Responsibility Ukraine Bears’, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, 2 May 2019, http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1556716320 (accessed 8 May 2019).
57. P. Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, p. 6.
58. P. Pomerantsev, ‘We’re All Putin’s Useful Idiots’.
59. L. Harding, ‘Who Killed Boris Nemtsov? We Will Never Know’, The Guardian, 3 March 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/02/boris-nemtsov-never-know-who-killed-moscow-vladimir-putin-russian-opposition.
60. P. Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, p. 86.
61. Ibid., p. 207.
62. B. Whitmore, ‘Is the Kremlin Drinking Its Own Kool-Aid?’ The Daily Vertical, RFERL, 3 July 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/podcast-is-the-kremlin-drinking-its-own-cool-aid/27108528.html.
Taras Kuzio firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Political Science
National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy
2 Skovoroda Street
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