When objective reality refuses to bend to the Kremlin’s will, Kremlin propagandists attempt to substitute it with their illusions.
In last week’s iteration of Disinfo Review, we covered the Kremlin information manipulation ecosystem’s habit of staying mum about topics that they do not have clear instructions on, or that they wish to stay away from the limelight. This week, though, it seems that the Kremlin disinformation peddlers have received a clearer set of instructions to follow.
Wishing upon a star
One thing that has refused to die down, despite the Kremlin’s wishing for it, is the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive. As Ukraine frees more territories, pro-Kremlin disinformation targeting the counteroffensive has been forced to find angles to take.
To have an impact on Ukrainian progress though weaponised information, Kremlin information manipulators have taken on several lines of operation.
First of all, towards their home audiences, their message has been one of soothing – all is good, everything is going according to the plan. Ukraine is not making any meaningful gains, but just wasting the resources that they do not have in the first place.
Nevertheless, like true gamblers, Kremlin minions are hedging their bets. Any losses can always be explained away by claiming that Russia is fighting not only Ukraine, but also all the West and its military might.
For external audiences, in order to affect internal societal cohesion in Ukraine, and to diminish the unity between Ukraine and its supporters and popular backing for supporting Ukraine in Western countries, Kremlin manipulators try to force-feed their illusions.
For these purposes, their false narratives vary from claiming that Ukraine’s mobilisation efforts have a discriminatory approach to suggesting that Western supporters are scheming behind Ukraine’s back and that Western military support to Ukraine is flowing into the wrong hands.
Not your children
One particularly nasty strain of Kremlin disinformation concerns Ukrainian children, a topic that we have covered in many cases in our Disinfo Database. The most recent examples are some of the most gut-wrenching that we have encountered so far.
Members of the pro-Kremlin disinformation ecosystem are now pushing allegations on Telegram and elsewhere that Ukrainian children are being sold on the dark web not only for sexual slavery, but also for organ harvesting.
Such claims were spread on at least 18 different Telegram channels in the Russian, English, Polish, and French languages, reaching at least 1.6 million views. One of the most notable channels spreading the message was a well-known, and sanctioned, pro-Kremlin disinformation outlet, Tsargrad. In addition to Telegram, the material also made its way onto propagandist websites and VK pages.
It is probably not a coincidence that disinformation about Ukrainian children is making its way into the Russian information manipulation ecosystem.
Such narratives have gained prominence as Russian officials such as Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova have faced arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court under charges of the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from temporarily occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.
Also blinking on EUvsDisinfo’s radar this week:
- The Russian army prioritises its soldiers’ lives while Ukraine sends its troops to slaughter. Like so many times before, Russian propagandists cannot help but project their own dirty deeds and shortcomings onto others. This time, in a vain effort to boost their mobilisation efforts, they attempt to portray the Russian army as an organisation caring for its subjects. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the well-documented examples of ruthless and inhumane Russian ‘meat-wave’ attacks
- Reducing trade with Russia has been the main requirement for EU membership since the 1990s. One of the many recurring pro-Kremlin narratives portrays Russia as a victim and surrounded by ill-wishing neighbours. One strand of this ahistorical and intentionally twisted narrative is to build an image of the EU as an anti-Russian project that it never was. In this particular case, false claims include some invented foreign trade requirements that never were part of the EU membership requirements, the so-called Copenhagen criteria.
- Ukraine itself is to blame for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following the worst traditions of chauvinism, Kremlin disinformationists are at it again. They are once more trying to cast the blame for Ukraine being assaulted onto Ukraine itself, suggesting that the country asked for it. The victim-blaming is an ugly part of the Kremlin’s toxic kit of narratives covering Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, where Russian information manipulation machinery attempts to justify the unjustifiable without showing even the slightest ability for self-reflection.