Made in Russia: Narratives and Methods of Russian Propaganda’s War on Ukraine — Artem Babak
At the end of 2013, the Russian Federation launched a massive campaign to discredit Ukraine and the West. The Russian media’s continuous information attack is of a propagandistic nature, since they disseminated the messages monotonously and simultaneously through all possible channels.
The Kremlin-controlled Russian media provide extensive support for the ruling elite and its goals. To exacerbate the split in Ukrainian society, among EU countries, between the EU and the US. To justify the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. To deny involvement in the war in Ukraine’s East. To weaken anti-Russian sanctions. To change the Ukrainian Government. To stop NATO’s enlargement. To prevent mass protests inside the Russian Federation. To save the popularity ratings of Vladimir Putin among Russians.
Depending on the course of events in Ukraine and the world, Russian propaganda during the period of 2014–2017 has created many anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western narratives, using a variety of methods.
We will give further consideration to the most important of them below.
Narratives of Russian propaganda
Ukraine — failed state
The themes of the social and territorial breakup of Ukraine, the impossibility of its existence within certain boundaries, dependence on other countries — appeared long before Euromaidan. However, when the information and, subsequently, military aggression began, Russian propaganda was intensified, reaching a previously unprecedented level.
The narrative about Ukraine as a failed state, unable to maintain its existence as an independent and viable political and economic unit, remains a trend. For example, philosopher and permanent Russia Today contributor Timofey Sergeytsev stated that “The idea of creating an independent Ukrainian political culture is absolutely utopian … other political cultures will simply not allow this — neither the Russian nor the American (US) nor traditionally European.” They underlined several aspects. Ukraine will not survive without Russian resources. It is governed from outside (“it is wholly dependent on Western donors and the US” ). It fails the reforms. The level of corruption is the highest over the course of independence (“while under Yanukovych kickbacks were 25%, then with Poroshenko the kickbacks to receive a state contract were up to 50%, and sometimes 75%”). After the annexation of Crimea and the start of riots in the east, the Russian mass media did not leave the narrative that Ukraine is falling apart due to “civilizational” differences. “The construction of a new and multipolar world establishes clear boundaries between the new geopolitical subjectness (civilizations), and one of them passes along the Dnipro or even to the West of it,” another Russian columnist, philosopher-anthropologist Vladimir Lepekhin, wrote in 2017.
With the help of manipulations and fake organizations, Kremlin media spread the disinformation about the alleged desire of the Ukrainian regions to become independent from Kyiv. For example, about the creation of the “Bessarabian Republic Budjak” in Odessa Region, or that the Transcarpathian and Chernivtsi Regions will receive autonomous status or become part of neighboring states. Such messages were spread due to the activities of separatist organizations in Ukraine, such as the People’s Council of Bessarabia, Assembly of the Romanians of Ukraine or the People’s Council of Mykolayiv, which according to the Security Service of Ukraine, are coordinated by the Russian Federation.
Ukrainians need a new Government
The Ukrainian post-revolutionary Government remains one of the primary targets of the Russian media today. In 2014, Russian TV channels widely used the term “junta,” reinforced by the message of a violent coup by Euromaidan followers with US financial support (one term that is often used is “Ukrainian scenario”). Eventually, the Russian media began to speak less about the “junta,” and have given preference to “Kyiv regime” or “Kyiv authorities.” Binding the capital should emphasize the illegitimacy and insufficiency of power.
Accordingly, the Ukrainian Government, which is hostile towards the Russian Federation, needs to be delegitimized and changed in any manner whatsoever.
Each year, Russian mass media use hard issues in Ukraine (currency instability, raising of utility tariffs, actions of radical organizations on the occasion of the anniversary of Euromaidan, the ban on Russian social media, etc.) to intimidate people and predict the “third Maidan” or “nationalist revolution”. They are talking about a change of power through force, hyperbolizing radical thinking in society: “the words “third Maidan” are hanging in the air, shouting out from newspaper pages, TV screens, from the Internet. People are whispering this to one another in their kitchens, the Security Service warns about this”, was said in a RIA-News article from 2016.
To warm up the image of the Ukrainian authorities as ineffective and criminal, Kremlin media have been spreading “horror stories”, that Ukrainians will freeze in the winter, they will run short of gas, nuclear and thermal power stations will stop for lack of coal, Ukrainians will not be able to pay utility bills at higher tariffs, and so on. Against this background, since 2014, prophecies of early elections and the arrival of pro-Russian forces remain popular.
The Russian mass media and politicians have repeatedly called the Ukrainian Government a “nationalistic dictatorship” or a “fascists”, who conduct a “military operation against residents of the South-East.”
Similarly, the peaceful population in the occupied areas of Donbas suffers not from the ineffectiveness of the new government of the separatists, lawlessness or anarchy — but at the hands of the “Kyiv regime.” They depict the “DNR/LNR” leaders as those who have come to the rescue and are not responsible for the low standard of living. The Ukrainian authorities allegedly abandoned the idea and no longer want to return Donbas. For this purpose, the “punishers” are destroying the occupied settlements, killing civilians, carrying out an economic and trade blockade, are not paying pensions.
Ukraine is a country of beggars, chaos, and radicals
According to the Kremlin’s propagandists, since the end of 2013, radicalism has been blossoming in Ukraine. Therefore, we should accept without any surprise the statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov in 2015 that Ukraine has become a “firing ground of neo-Nazism.”The great narrative that Euromaidan generated “Ukrainian crisis” — chaos, radicalism, anarchy, the economic crisis, and the return to the “evil 90’s” — has achieved several tasks. First of all, it provoked a part of Ukrainians in the East and Crimea to take active action against the new Government and support Russian sentiment. Secondly, the narrative discredited in the eyes of Russians the Ukrainian protest against corrupt power. Thirdly, it created a convenient explanation as to why Russians should not go out onto the streets against Putin’s regime.
Russian media talked about Ukraine’s economy defaulting in 2014, and are still predicting this in 2017. At the same time, they often repeat the narrative about Ukraine on the verge of collapse and “civil war.” In 2017 alone, there were several apparent fakes about the situation of people in Ukraine: how hungry people take bread from pigeons and about the introduction of ration cards.
Before this, there were stories about young people in Kherson who swear allegiance to Hitler and in Zaporizhya veterans are not allowed to celebrate May 9 and their greeting program included performances showing the rape of Ukrainian women by the Red Army.
In recent years, Russian propaganda has notably exaggerated the role of the Voluntary Battalions such as Right Sector, Azov, Aidar, the Svoboda party and other radical organizations in Ukraine. Convicted Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov turns out to be a member of Right Sector. Dmytro Yarosh “almost” became the country’s president (using made up statistics). In a fake Russian video on YouTube, produced by the Russian Federation, Azov threatened the residents of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And mainly Aidar and Azov fighters were demanding the release of Nadiya Savchenko from a Russian prison.
Almost any incident between the authorities and members of radical organizations — which, as is known from the Russian media, can fuel a new revolution — hits the main news of TV channels and is actively promoted. For example, Russian channels spoke more about the armed incident in Mukachevo between Right Sector and People’s Deputy Mykhaylo Lanyo in July 2015 than about “DNR/LNR.” At the same time, there were publications about the separatism of the Rusyns and Hungarians, and that Ukraine will not receive the visa-free regime after such events.
Ukrainian servicemen are criminals
Russian propaganda has transformed Ukraine into one of the main enemies for the Russians (of course, after the US). In addition to endless stories about the crimes of the Ukrainian authorities, during the last three years, the Ukrainian army remains the main anti-hero in the eyes of the Russian media. The propagandists revived the Soviet term “Kyiv punishers” to denote members of the National Guard, regular military units, and volunteer battalions.
The favorite plots of Russian TV channels remain stories about the shelling of “civilians in Donbas”, images of destroyed houses, difficult living conditions in the occupied territories. The biggest amount of stories about the “atrocities” of the Ukrainian Army could be seen in the Russian media in 2014–2015. After establishing a relative truce, Russian TV channels continue to film TV reports from the occupied areas of Eastern Ukraine, but less frequently than before.
There are some incredible stories that Russians could watch on their TV screens. For the murder of a resident in the occupied territories, the authorities allegedly guarantee Ukrainian soldiers two slaves and a plot of land.
Ukrainian soldiers raped all the women and killed all the men in two villages of Donetsk Region. They have drugged a boy and made a missile target out of him. It is also worth remembering the stories about mass alcoholism, desertion, huge losses, demoralization of the Ukrainian army, open drug trafficking by Ukrainian officers, the adoption of “prisoners” in the ranks of the army, etc.
From time to time, Russian mass media outlets try to find connections between the terrorist organization ISIS and the Ukrainian authorities. After the flare-up between Turkey and the Russian Federation in autumn 2015, propagandists wrote about three battalions of jihadists who are subject to the Right Sector. It is interesting that the unconfirmed reports on ISIS and Ukraine appeared several times from foreign sources. In January 2016, the British newspaper The Independent, which is owned by Russian oligarch Aleksander Lebedev, reported that Ukraine allegedly plans to invade Syria to confront ISIS and there is a probability of clashes with the Russian army. This information has proven to be false. Moreover, in March, French Senator Nathalie Goulet said on French radio that there is a jihadist training camp in Ukraine. She later said that her words had been misinterpreted. They have often equated the terrorists of ISIS with members of the Crimean Tatar organization Mejlis. For example, that ISIS allegedly helped to undermine the electricity grid in Crimea.
NATO fights in Ukraine
In early 2015, Putin talked about the NATO Legion in Ukraine, implying the Ukrainian army, which seeks to restrain the Russian Federation. Since then, Russian media outlets have begun to support the thesis of the mass presence of foreigners from NATO countries involved in clashes on the side of the Ukrainian Army.
For example, that bodies in NATO uniforms were found under the rubble of the destroyed airport in Donetsk, as well as American weapons. Someone guided the bombardments of Slavyansk in accordance with “American tactics”. Americans train Ukrainian military to use Javelin anti-tank weapons. American Abrams tanks fired on the outskirts of Mariupol. The American Stinger portable anti-aircraft missile system was found at Luhansk Airport. All these stories are usually based on the testimonies of one person or fake evidence, videos or photos.
The desire to see the presence of NATO sometimes leads to amusing stories. For example, in 2016, separatists “detected” the flag of the Kingdom of Denmark next to the Right Sector flag in the ATO zone, which was confused with the flag of Volyn Region.
Along with the narrative on NATO involvement in the military conflict, data occasionally appears on losses among foreigners. For example, in 2016, a “DNR” representative said that 15 foreign contractors were allegedly killed during an attempt to launch an attack, and in early 2015, some Russian sites wrote that more than a thousand foreigners had been killed.
Along with the narrative about the flourishing of “fascism” in Ukraine, Russian media outlets are continuously promoting the idea of Russophobia among Ukrainians and Western politicians. Renaming the streets or getting rid of Soviet symbols within the framework of decommunization, supporting the Ukrainian language on radio or television — is interpreted as Russophobia. The European and American sanctions, disqualification of Paralympic athletes and other actions that harm the Russian Federation are explained by the Kremlin as the West’s effort to split the country due to Moscow’s attempt to pursue an independent policy.
Opposing of the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine to the radicals (nationalists) is still very popular. The latter are not only above the law but also freely pursue Russians and Russian speakers. “Nationalists understand that they will not be able to resist the Russian language in ‘this so-called Independent country.’ [Translator’s note: by describing Ukraine this way Russia shows its disparaging attitude] Product names or communication between people in the Ukrainian language is nowhere to be found. Therefore, radicals carry out a frontal attack against everything which is Russian,” states an article from 2016 posted on the Komsomolskaya Pravda site.
Since 2014, Russian politicians have been speaking at the official level of the “genocide of Russian-speaking civilians” (the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation), “linguistic genocide”, “violent Ukrainization” (Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova,” rights violation of the Russian-speaking population” in Ukraine to explain the support of unrecognized “republics” and the image of Russian power as their protector.
The narrative of mass Russophobia in Ukrainian society was probably the most successful during a special operation with the annexation of Crimea. People perceived information about the “train of friendship with the Right Sector,” coming from Kyiv to Simferopol, as a real threat [See film “Crimea. The Road to the Homeland”]. Russian media observers still explain the “voluntary” entry of the peninsula into the Russian Federation due to the Russophobia of the Ukrainian authorities, and not as a planned military operation: “Apparently, Crimea escaped from Kyiv because Ukraine ceased to be friendly to Russia and Russians” .
When suspicions fell on the Russian Federation in events like the shootings at Euromaidan, the tragedy in Odessa on May 2, the Boeing crash — the Kremlin’s press interpreted them as an anti-Russian conspiracy.
Apart from Russophobia, Ukrainian politicians and society were accused of anti-Semitism, artificially provoking interethnic hostility. In early 2014, the Kremlin’s media and highest political leadership (Vladimir Putin, Sergey Lavrov) actively used the theme of anti-Semitism to justify the need for “Crimea’s reunification with Russia.”
The story of Margarita Simonyan at Russia Today in March 2014 is a good illustration of the anti-Semitic narrative. In her article, the current editor-in-chief of this TV channel spoke about alleged persecution and fleeing of the Jews, the plundering of the synagogue in Kyiv, anti-Semitism among Ukrainian politicians, etc. Later on, media and a representative of a Jewish organization debunked this material.
Crackdown on dissent and lack of freedom of speech in Ukraine
Another popular Russian narrative about Ukraine (and the West) is lack of freedom of speech and the persecution of dissent. The ban on propagandist Russian TV channels is presented as a violation of the Constitution and the right to an alternative view. The ban of social networks in May 2017 was called the transformation of Ukraine into North Korea. Searches carried out in the Kyiv office of the Vesti publication is an “undeclared war with an overly independent media outlet in an unceremonious struggle against dissent”. Moreover, any protest actions in Ukraine, like against the raising of utility tariffs, are dangerous for one’s health due to the actions of radicals.
The classic example of the destruction of dissent in Ukraine for the Russian press was the murder of journalist Oles Buzyna in 2015 (according to Dmitry Kiselyov, head of the “Russia Today” news agency — “the greatest Ukrainian in his generation”). The popular Russian publication Lenta.ru called this day “the beginning of the season of political assassinations.”
Creating the narrative of mass persecution of dissent in Ukraine, Ukrainian political actors play into Russia’s hands. Since 2014, members of the former Party of Regions have actively talked about political repressions in Ukraine and have counted more than 50,000 cases. It is not for nothing that representatives of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc remain the most frequent commentators of Ukrainian events on Russian TV channels.
Ukraine violates Minsk Agreements
Settlement of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is a separate area for Russian propaganda. The central thesis of the narrative is that the Ukrainian authorities are sabotaging, disrupting and not going to comply with the Minsk Arrangements. This is supported by reports from the ATO zone about the crimes of the Ukrainian Army, quotes from the leaders of the “DNR/LNR” on the use of banned weapons, etc. In the summer of 2016, the message that Ukraine was responsible for violating the Minsk Agreements was the fifth most popular.
At the same time, Russian TV channels position the Kremlin’s leadership as the main peacekeeper, who suspended bloodshed and made the greatest efforts to conclude the Minsk Agreements. Following the bloody clashes near the Verkhovna Rada in the summer of 2015 caused by the approval of the decentralization bill (not yet adopted), the Russian media is still repeating the Russian president’s thesis about Ukraine’s inability to comply with the Minsk Agreements.
Legitimation of “DNR “/”LNR”
During 2014–2015 Russia’s mass media actively promoted the idea of legitimizing the unrecognized republics, in parallel with questioning the legitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities. Russians who came to Eastern Ukraine to conduct hostilities, such as Igor Strelkov, Igor Bezler, Nikolai Kozitsyn, turned into the leaders of so-called “Novorossiya” (Vladimir Putin outlined its boundaries from Kharkiv to Odesa Regions). From the summer of 2014, Russian security officials received less attention, to the benefit of local Ukrainian leaders like Alexander Zakharchenko, Alexey Mozgovoy or Ihor Plotnytsky. The latter distributed messages almost every day, which were then disseminated by central Russian TV channels: about the capture of Ukrainian military equipment, successful military operations, the demoralization of troops, and the importance of “humanitarian convoys” from Russia.
Legitimization was partly carried out through the emphasis on the fact that the creation of new “states” comes from below: “people’s referendum,” “people’s governor,” “self-defense,” “people’s militia,” etc. The use of the term “people’s militia,” in fact, legitimized the fighting of the “republics” against the “fascists” (by analogy with the Soviet narrative of the exceptional heroism of the people’s militiamen during the Second World War). Volunteers from Russia who came to fight against the Ukrainian army are regarded as restoring historical justice and continuing the work of Soviet soldiers.
Since 2015, there has been a trend to impose the idea that “DNR/”LNR” will not return to Ukraine under pressure from Western countries. The “republics” will become similar to other countries with frozen conflicts protected by the Kremlin, such as Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
In the spring of 2016, Russian propaganda began to talk much more about the internal situation in Ukraine, paying very little attention to the “DNR/”LNR”. However, on the eve of the recent elections to the State Duma and the lack of preconditions for re-election in Ukraine, Russian propaganda has actively returned to stories about Zakharchenko and Plotnytsky, the shelling and suffering of the civilian population.
Russia is not involved in the events in Ukraine
Right from the start of aggression, the Russian authorities have stubbornly denied their involvement in any military actions on the territory of Ukraine. The capture of the Russian military is attributable to the fact that they are no longer serving in the army and are volunteers (the case of Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev), or that they got lost (the case of 10 troopers in Donetsk Region).
The Kremlin’s media present Russia as a peacekeeping country. It is not for nothing that in 2015 propagandists promoted the idea that the Russian Federation should be present in the Ukrainian region on a permanent basis. The successful conclusion of the so-called Minsk Agreements, which supposedly stopped the shelling of Donbas, was presented as the merit of Vladimir Putin.
The responsibility for violation of the truce falls on the Ukrainian military, volunteer battalions (which Kyiv is not able to control) or politicians who need a war to seize power. A Russian missile or separatists could not have in any way brought down the Boeing-777 which crashed in Donetsk Region in July 2014. Similarly, Russian mass media outlets have since the summer of 2016 constantly denied the alleged involvement of Russian special services in the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet.
The “Crimean issue”
For Putin, annexed Crimea is an important symbol of the Kremlin’s successful policy. Therefore, during the past few years, the Russian media have been working to ensure that this symbol was not perceived as a failure. To make it clear — for Crimea, it is better to be with Russia than with Ukraine. In this regard, top Russian politicians come to the peninsula to open schools, the Artek children’s camp for the celebration of Victory Day.
In the absence of improvement in living conditions on the peninsula and constant problems with electricity, water or tourism, the Russian’s media interest in Crimean life is gradually fading. The Crimean narrative was the most noticeable on Russian television channels in 2014 when it was filling up approximately the same amount of airtime as events in Ukraine. Since 2015, the number of news stories about the peninsula’s life has decreased; however, the TOP-5 Russian TV channels still included the Crimea narrative. In 2016, the Russian media talked even less about Crimea, paying more attention to other international events such as the US elections, Brexit, the war in Syria, etc.
The Russian press repeatedly used the Crimean issue to support other narratives. For example, they used a civil blockade and a power outage in 2015 to accuse Ukraine of aggression; detention of alleged Ukrainian saboteurs in summer of 2016 was interpreted as Kyiv’s attempt to worsen US-Russia relations.
The West does not need Ukraine
Russian media always refracts Ukraine’s European integration. They claimed that a visa-free regime would be of no benefit to Ukrainians — “political simulacrum and fake”.Here, for example, is how Dmitry Kiselyov interpreted an approval of visa-free travel: “visa waiver, which caused Poroshenko’s giggling, turns his citizens into slaves of the European Union. After all, out there they are aliens who have no social guarantees, no legal contracts, and even no legal housing. It is humiliating and pathetic.”
Treaties between Ukraine and the EU are positioned as something particularly negative. The visa-free regime did not bring anything new for Ukrainians since there is no money for travel, and migrant workers will still not be able to work legally. Moreover — they will have to accept Syrian refugees.
The Ukraine-EU Association Agreement is advantageous only to Europeans, as for Ukraine it is nothing but a loss, since it will have to return Western Ukrainian lands to the Poles.
In 2016, there were many news items on Russian TV channels about a potential thaw in Washington-Moscow relations in the event of a Donald Trump victory. There were frequent messages that Ukraine would be “bartered” for Russia’s consent to cooperate with the US in the Middle East. After the Republican victory, the Russian press started writing that Ukraine is a “burden,” and nobody needs it any more: neither Russia nor the United States. The Ukrainian pro-Russian publication Vesti even wrote that Washington is already seeking an alternative to Poroshenko and no longer has direct interests in Ukraine. “A representative of a gas production company, Burisma Holdings (the son of current US Vice President Joe Biden is a member of the company’s board), hinted that Washington no longer needs Ukrainian shale gas, and recalled that Trump aims to develop domestic oil production and shale deposits.“
The West is an enemy who wants to destroy Russia
After the annexation of Crimea and the war in the East of Ukraine, the Kremlin had to legitimize its actions in the eyes of Russians and the world. With the help of the mass media, over the past three years Russian propagandists have managed to construct vividly negative images of Ukraine, the EU, and the United States. The monitoring of Russian federal TV channels in 2016 showed that five out of the six most common messages were characterizing the West negatively. The first: the EU and the US are in collusion and try to expand their presence in Eurasia by weakening the Russian Federation. The second: the European Union (Schengen Agreement, EU Neighborhood Policy) comes to an end. The third: Russia gets up from its knees and progresses in spite of the sanctions and provocations of the West. The fourth: Russia, China, India, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, Eurasian Economic Union are new vectors of geopolitical processes and an alternative to the EU-US. The fifth: modern Western values are degrading, and only Russia has retained healthy civilizational landmarks. In fact, the Russian media mentioned the West twice as much as the internal situation.
One of the cornerstones of Russia’s information war is to propagate the thesis that the United States selfishly and ruthlessly competes for world domination, so Russia’s efforts to confront the US are commendable. EU countries, especially of Central and Eastern Europe, are depicted as Russophobic puppets of the United States. Accordingly, any NATO enlargement or training near the borders with the Russian Federation is seen as an outrage, threatening, and encroachment on Russia’s “sphere of influence.”
Explaining the internal problems of the Russian Federation by external factors is peculiar to the Kremlin media. For example, on the talk shows of national TV channels, one could repeatedly hear that the United States deliberately provoked the fall in global oil prices to weaken the Russian economy; mention of Vladimir Putin in the so-called Panama Papers is an attempt to destabilize Russia.
Since 2015, media outlets have begun to prepare the Russian population for a long-standing confrontation with the West. Therefore, the number of news items about pro-Russian European politicians who favor the lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation has increased, as have reports on the exaggerated effect of Russian sanctions on the EU economy.
Furthermore, depending on the mission, propagandists can quickly change the characters and create new enemies (or friends). A good demonstration was the Turkish case with a plane that had been shot down, when for some time Ankara turned, in the eyes of Russians, into one of the main enemies.
Methods of information presentation by Russian propaganda
The monitoring and analysis of the Russian media in recent years indicate the use of various misinformation methods. In particular, manipulative use of photo/video/sound, seeming diversity of thoughts, mixing of comments, opinions, and facts, appealing to fear and to the enemy, quoting questionable or unverified sources, manipulative hero search, stereotyping, repetition and exaggeration, inaccurate information, etc.
Understatement and exaggeration
Russian media outlets are obstinately hushing up the facts of capture of Russian service members, security officials, and the use of the latest Russian weapons in Eastern Ukraine. They also ignore the successes of the Ukrainian Army.
Since 2015, the Kremlin has almost completely concealed the facts of trade and economic ties between the “DNR”/”LNR” and Kyiv. When the transport blockade began in 2017, Russian media explained events with the desire of “radicals” to force Petro Poroshenko to intensify the offensive against the “republic” and with Kyiv’s dependence on Donbas coal.
The incident in Mukachevo in the summer of 2015 showed the Russian media’s ability to exaggerate the significance of events that are beneficial for maintaining the image of Ukraine as a country of radicals, lawlessness, and anarchy. The information bubble about the armed conflict in Mukachevo was presented as a trigger for fresh disorder in Ukraine. For almost two weeks, RTR, NTV, Zvezda, and LifeNews talked much more about the events in Mukachevo than about the “DNR”/”LNR” (media attention was due in no small part to a large number of mutual accusations between representatives of Right Sector and the Government).
Emotionality and identification of the next enemy
A notable feature of Russian propaganda is the emotional presentation of information. For example, continuously displaying destroyed homes and suffering of civilians, they reach out to human feelings (like pain, fear, and compassion) and diminish the ability of viewers to perceive and analyze information in a critical fashion.
Propagandists always put the blame for the suffering of the “peaceful population of Donbas” on the Ukrainian Army and the authorities, Americans or Europeans. In Crimea, Russian propaganda added the Crimean Tatars from the Majlis, an officially forbidden organization, to the list of enemies.
Labelling the West an “enemy” consolidates the Russians in front of an imaginary threat and becomes a convenient justification for the Kremlin’s persecution of the opposition. In one of Dmitry Kiselyov’s programs, Russian oppositionist Alexey Navalny was called an agent of the British and American intelligence services. This scheme fits perfectly with the narrative that only Vladimir Putin can effectively counter “external threats”, the likes of NATO’s preparation for a war with Russia.
Disinformation works more efficiently in the absence of alternative sources of information. The monitoring carried out in 2015 showed that Russian TV channels invite a small circle of political actors. It is not for nothing that the Russian authorities blocked access to the Krym.Realii website (a Radio Svoboda project), the ATR TV channel and other media over which the occupying authorities had no influence.
Talk shows and news programs on the main television channels unanimously criticize the Ukrainian Government and armed forces, supporting the actions of the Russian authorities. It is normal for Russian talk show hosts to mix their thoughts with facts, act like experts, use irony and sarcasm while speaking about Ukraine and to ignore official sources.
Instead of acting as a go-between to discuss public policy issues, Russia’s central television channels, Russia-1, NTV, and the Channel One, openly demonstrated violations of ethical standards, biased attitude, showing sympathy for one side and disrespect for another. During talk shows, they often used strong language when mentioning the official representatives of Ukraine, the USA, the EU and the West as a whole.
When covering these events, Russian media outlets usually maintain lines favorable to the Kremlin. For example, after the destruction of a bus at the Ukrainian roadblock near Volnovakha, there were various explanations, which came down to the only responsible party — Ukrainian. It is revenge by the Ukrainian Army for the loss of Donetsk Airport. The OSCE’s investigation has not confirmed the guilt of the “DNR”, therefore responsibility falls on Ukraine. The Security Services of Ukraine organized the operation to discredit the “people’s militia” and Russia.
One of the favorite techniques used by the Kremlin’s propaganda in complex cases, when the suspicion clearly falls on the Russian Federation, is to propose various theories, apart from those that are true. When separatists shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 Boeing-777 with the use of a Russian Buk missile, Kremlin propaganda tried to cover it up with quasi-realistic theories of who is to blame. Eventually, Russia’s mass media began to claim that due to the political component it is impossible to identify who is responsible for shooting down the passenger plane, and it will be unreasonable to bring accusations against Russian Federation.
Similarly, the Kremlin has commented on the destruction of a humanitarian convoy in Syria in 2016. At first, they said that it was a terrorist act, then that there was no airstrike at all, but they later shifted the blame to an American drone.
The Kremlin manipulates the selection of topics in news stories, distracting attention from domestic issues by highlighting the “Ukrainian crisis.” For example, during 2015, Channel One was in the main speaking about the situation in Ukraine (chaos, “DNR/LNR”, Crimea, Minsk Agreements). The second most popular topic is the Second World War. And the Russian economy is only in third place. The Russia-1 TV channel talked less about Ukraine (though it is still the main topic), focusing more on international issues.
When it comes to Europe, the media are constantly looking for events to interpret them in favor of the Russian Federation. The use of whataboutism (“and what about …”) makes it possible to assert: “Russia is not ideal, but neither is the West.” Instead of providing reasoned explanations of important things, the media focus on minor issues that are not related to the subject matter. For example, if you ask the Kremlin whether Russia had violated international law by military action in Crimea, the answer will be in the form of a question: why is the US is permitted to do so in Iraq or Afghanistan. Russian intelligence services contributed to the organization of the “DNR/LNR” self-defense — but who organized the Maidan protests? Putin’s friend has billions in offshore accounts, but what about Western and Ukrainian politicians?
Kremlin propaganda also denies and rejects any criticism of the Russian Government. All negative comments on Russia are presented either as fictitious or as unfair: the result of double standards, prejudice, and selfishness.
The use of eyewitness accounts, not confirmed by other sources, has become a tool used widely by spread tool of Russian propaganda. The epic story about a boy, who was “crucified” by Ukrainian soldiers in Slavyansk, was shown on Channel One three times.
Another lesser known story shown on LifeNews and NTV was about a boy whom Ukrainian military turned into a spy-drug addict and forced to be a gun spotter, was based on the words of leaders of pro-Russian militants. Both stories, from 2014, were quickly exposed, but none of the TV channels acknowledged their mistake.
TV channel Russia showed a news item about a journalist who allegedly saw a bullet flying between him and a representative of the “DNR” and the shot was fired from the side of the location of the Azov battalion. The Zvezda TV channel’s website published a news story about Ukrainian soldiers who were stealing domestic animals. The story was based solely on the comment made by a “witness” in the social media (using a fake photo that was subsequently deleted).