EUvsDisinfo, a disinformation watchdog run by the European Union’s foreign service, has posted a compelling summary of the current pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign in light of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the EUvsDisinfo post, the Russian disinformation effort “has become ever more detached from reality, and at times cartoonishly unhinged:”
During the past days, weeks, months, and years, we at EUvsDisinfo have shared our understanding of the anatomy of pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns, discussed their tactics, and countered the toxic narratives aimed at deceiving and distracting citizenry and decision-makers alike. As the tensions of Russia’s making have now increased to the boiling point, we have witnessed together with other members of the debunking and fact-checking community that pro-Kremlin disinformation has become ever more detached from reality, and at times cartoonishly unhinged. Recent, sad examples include the Ukrainian Armed Forces allegedly shelling with surgical precision an insignificant shack nearly 40 kilometers away from the line of contact, allegations that Ukrainian troops infiltrated Russian territory with equipment that they do not possess(opens in a new tab), and claims that the Ukrainian army shelled a kindergarten located in their own territory(opens in a new tab). One would think that pro-Kremlin media has stopped altogether trying to convince anyone outside Russia of anything. Nevertheless, we must note that even inept fabrications are insidious and harmful, especially given that the Kremlin’s disinformationists have been laying the groundwork for events unfolding now for a while. Nazis lurking behind every corner, great humanitarians, and loose nuke-talk We examined six months’ worth of Ukraine-related rhetoric from Russian state media outlets, pro-Kremlin outlets linked to the Russian state, and Russian official diplomatic accounts on Twitter. We started by calculating the volume of mentions of Ukraine-related keywords in combination with keywords representing casus belli narratives, or fabrications used as pretexts for invading Ukraine. For example, pro-Kremlin outlets have consistently portrayed Ukraine as a ‘Nazi’ state to vilify Ukrainians, particularly in the eyes of domestic Russian audiences, and thus to justify Kremlin aggression. We have seen this tactic a number of times, including in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and of course in the past six months, as shown in the diagram below. It is exactly this framing of Ukraine as a ‘Nazi’ state that has enabled Russian state-controlled outlets and now-sanctioned(opens in a new tab) politicians to make gruesome and completely fabricated allegations of genocide in Donbas and to spin wild conspiracy theories about Ukraine using chemical and other prohibited weapons.
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In late January, the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reported on what UK media described as a propaganda campaign pushing twisted historical facts and the lie that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people.”
In recent months, we have extensively covered Russian disinformation operations targeting Ukraine. We will continue to monitor developments as this extraordinary event unfolds.