What could genocide and Nazis possibly have in common with the 2018 FIFA World Cup? Nothing would be the most obvious answer. But for the pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigners all these three topics serve as sources of inspiration.
This week, it was all about creating a smokescreen around one of the most important frontlines: Ukraine. As we have seen before, the increased violence in Donbas – like recently – is preceded and accompanied by an intensified disinformation campaign in pro-Kremlin media.
1. World Cup. The disinformation campaign presented Ukraine as the main aggressor against Russia and Donbas, stating that Ukraine is to launch a “large-scale offensive in Donbas during the World Cup” to provoke a “humanitarian disaster and an exodus of the population”, and that the aim is to “brand Russia a party to the conflict and an aggressor”. This message was complemented with another repeated line: that Russia has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine – when in fact there is clear evidence of Russia’s involvement in it.
At the same time, the disinformation campaign was busy creating false reports about the mistakes of the Ukrainian side. Disinformation was spread about NATO service members getting killed because the Ukrainian armed forces command deliberately misled them into a minefield. This was quickly debunked by journalists.
2. Genocide. The next stage of disinformation messaging was to take a step further and justify Russia’s aggression. If Ukraine starts carrying out “genocide” in Donbas, Russia “will not stay on the side-lines”. Linking the word genocide to Ukraine and pushing this narrative from the marginal to the mainstream has been part of pro-Kremlin disinformation on Ukraine for years.
It was repeated on the highest political level when Russia’s president Vladimir Putin forecast that a massacre like Srebrenica could happen in Ukraine, and Russia “will not allow this”. But there is no evidence of a threat of a genocide in Ukraine, and there never has been. Human rights missions that travelled to Ukraine in 2014 did not find any evidence that the Russian speakers would have been in danger.
3. Nazis. The constant flow of framing Ukraine as a Fascist country continued in the background with claims that Ukrainian authorities are “sliding even deeper into fascist darkness” and that the official ideology in Ukraine today is that the country “would have flourished under Hitler”. As “evidence” of the evilness of the Ukrainian people, it was even claimed that Ukraine has built houses with the remains of Soviet prisoners of war shot by the Nazis. For the facts see here.
One of the techniques used at the St. Petersburg troll factory is to assign key words that will raise the needed topic higher up on search engines. And the Kremlin’s instruction to the major media companies will take care that the right topics will be covered from the right angle.