The battlefield dynamics of Putin’s bloody war of aggression against Ukraine continue to be extremely fluid, but as we enter the second month of this unjustifiable invasion, at least one thing remains certain. The pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem continues to bend reality in the most Orwellian way. The pro-war rally at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow was a morbid example of how far the ruler in the Kremlin is willing to go to build his cult of personality by crushing the lives and spirits of innocent people.
Having disappeared from the public eye for quite some time, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu made a reappearance with claims that the main goals of the first phase of the “special military operation” had been accomplished. This, of course, contradicts the lofty goals of “de-Nazification” and “demilitarisation” of Ukraine stated in Putin’s declaration of war on 24 February 2022. Yet the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine had no problem once again re-adjusting the reality. Now it touts as the main goal of the war to “reduce the combat potential of Ukrainian armed forces” so that Russia can focus on liberating the self-proclaimed separatist entities in eastern Ukraine from the yoke of Kyiv.
The notion of “liberation” is becoming an increasingly prominent part of the disinformation narratives surrounding Ukraine. Yet, it stands starkly at odds with the reality of laying siege on cities and indiscriminately bombing civilians. As always, the pro-Kremlin disinformation machine has a ready-made explanation: alleged Nazis and Ukrainian nationalists are to blame for hiding among the civilians and shelling their own people. The obsession with fighting Nazis has been a favoured and long-running disinformation trope for the Kremlin, so it is not surprising they use it left, right and centre.
Dark days are getting darker
While the Kremlin’s architects of the unprovoked war against Ukraine try to unfurl the liberation banner over the smouldering Ukrainian ruins, the grip of state-mandated censorship in Russia is tightening even further. Novaya Gazeta, a bastion of integrity and independent journalism for nearly three decades, was forced to suspend its operation after receiving a second warning from the Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor for failing to identify itself as a “foreign agent”. Forcibly silencing a Nobel Peace Prize winner is a new low in the censorship of the free media in Russia. And this censorship continues unabashed, including taking even children’s cartoons off the air.
In parallel, the state censorship also tightens the vice for the social media platforms trying to operate in Russia, most notably designating Meta as an “extremist organisation” and effectively banning Facebook and Instagram in Russia. Yet, in a textbook example of cognitive dissonance, the Russian Foreign Ministry continues to use Facebook freely to propagate falsities and disinformation, including attempts to discredit legitimate fact-checkers.
All the world’s ills
Despite the claims of accomplishing military goals in Ukraine, the Russian state-controlled disinformation machine continues to churn out immoral lies and disinformation targeting Ukraine at a steady pace and with a scattershot approach.
Accusations of alleged war crimes committed by Ukrainian soldiers against Russian prisoners are intermingled with the ever-present disinformation narratives of rampant “Russophobia” spreading in the West and Nazis hiding in nearly every hospital and kindergarten in Ukraine, targeting civilians and using children to wage war. Yet the forced deportation of thousands of besieged people to Russia does not seem to qualify as newsworthy for the pro-Kremlin pundits.
The sabre-rattling and scare-mongering on biological weapons is now on a par with the most imaginative scripts of James Bond films – from allegations of genetically targeted viruses to deep-running conspiracies connected to the current US administration. Needless to say, these claims are not substantiated by any reliable evidence. But they serve as a crucial distraction from the atrocities committed by the invading Russian forces on a daily basis. And even more sobering, it may yet be used to provide false justification for Russia possibly using chemical weapons in Ukraine.
The pro-Kremlin disinformation machine is also quick to deny any linkages between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and potentially devastating global consequences. In the Kremlin’s view, the Western sanctions against Russia are responsible for shortages of sunflower oil in supermarkets in Europe or the price of gasoline at the fuel pump. Disinformation also claims that seeking energy independence from Russia may lead to a “climate catastrophe”. Except that the sanctions are targeted to cripple the financing of the Kremlin’s war machinery, not reduce food production. And the reduction of energy imports from Russia will rather lead the EU to increase the proportion of renewable energy. Let’s be clear – the war Russia started on 24 February 2022 is the cause for food supply disruptions and rising global energy prices.
If we were to believe the world painted by the Kremlin’s disinformation brush, all the world’s ills are now manifesting in Ukraine, and none of them is attributable to Putin’s decision to start a wanton war of aggression against a peaceful neighbour. Evidence, facts and eyewitness testimonies from the countless innocent victims in Ukraine do not seem to matter to the pro-Kremlin pundits, who have long since gone through the looking glass to a world where the indiscriminate bombing of cities means “help” and whole-sale occupation is “liberation”.