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Putin lied to justify Russia’s war on Ukraine

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Putin lied to justify Russia’s war on Ukraine

In the tense weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russian officials denied that it planned any such plans, fueling the panic and anti-Russian hatred of the United States and its NATO allies. condemned for provoking. When he invaded, the authorities denied that it was at war.

Since then, the Kremlin has cycled through a stream of lies to explain why it had to wage a “special military operation” against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addicted neo-Nazis. Massacre. American Biological Weapons Factory. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens in Russia. The Ukrainian military is bombing its own cities, including theaters that shelter children.

Wartime propaganda is as old as war, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. This has given Russia – and its allies in China and elsewhere – powerful means to promote the claim that the invasion is justified, taking advantage of propaganda to rally its citizens at home and discredit its enemies abroad. . Truth has become just another front in Russia’s war.

Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish lies, President Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternate reality in which Russia is at war not with Ukraine but with a larger, more deadly enemy in the West. Since the start of the war, the lies have become more and more bizarre, changing from the claim that “true sovereignty” for Ukraine was possible only under Russia, which had been created before the attacks, to those who used bioweapons. The carrying were about migratory birds.

Russia’s message has proved successful domestically, where the Kremlin’s claims are undeniable. Surveys show that most Russians support the war effort. Internationally, campaigns have entered an information ecosystem that allows them to reach audiences that were difficult to reach.

“Previously, if you were sitting in Moscow and you wanted to reach an audience sitting in Idaho, you had to work really hard to do that,” said Alice Thomas, a researcher in Australia for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the Soviet Union. related propaganda campaigns. “It will take you time to set up the system, whereas now you can do it with the press of a button.”

The power of Russia’s claim that the invasion is justified does not come from the veracity of any individual lie, but from a broader logic. Personal lies about bioweapon labs or crisis actors are pushed by Russia as fast as they are debunked, with little consistency or logic between them. But supporters hold to the widespread belief that something is wrong with Ukraine and that Russia will fix it. Those connections prove hard to shake even when new evidence is presented.

That legend, and its resilience in the face of fact-checking and criticism, “demonstrate the ability of autocratic and malicious actors to fully drive us to the point where we don’t see what’s in front of us,” Laura Thornton, Director and Senior Fellow of the German Marshall Funds Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The Kremlin’s narrative today draws on pre-existing ideas of the root causes of the war, which Mr Putin has nurtured over the years – and re-established last week in increasingly harsh language.

The tactics of deceiving or at least confusing international observers were used after the bombing of a maternity ward in Mariupol on 9 March.

Twitter and Facebook eventually removed the posts, but gruesome photos stamped “fake” continued to circulate across the Internet, including on the chat app Telegram.

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Another meme gained even more traction, relying on a year-long campaign in Russia to fuel unfounded fears that the United States was manufacturing biological weapons in Ukraine.

When Russia took such claims at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, however, it faced criticism. The British representative, Barbara Woodward, told the council: “Russia has today brought to the Security Council a series of wild, completely baseless and irresponsible conspiracy theories.” “Let me say this diplomatically: They are complete bullshit.”

Russia’s accusations about nefarious American activities in Ukraine date back decades, re-emerging in new forms with each new crisis, such as the political turmoil in 2014 that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Ukraine itself is conducting an information campaign aimed at discrediting Russia, exaggerating its military successes and minimizing its losses. It has also circulated false reports of heroism, including the martyrdom of soldiers guarding an island in the Black Sea and the exploits of an ace fighter pilot in the skies over Kyiv.

By most accounts, Ukraine is now winning the information war, led by a powerful social media operation that flooded the internet with its own anecdotes and myths, boosting morale among Ukrainians and the Western world for its cause. united. The most central figure in his campaign has been President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, whose video messages to Ukrainians and the world have combined bravery with the stage presence of the television artist he once was.

However, Russia has more equipment and access, and it has the upper hand with weapons. The strategy is to overwhelm what is “really their focus”, especially at home, said Peter Pomerantsev, a scholar at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, who has criticized Russian propaganda. written about in detail.

Russia’s propaganda machine plays into skepticism of the West and NATO, which over the years have been discredited on state television, deepening distrust in Russian society. State media have also echoed beliefs recently developed by the QAnon movement, which blames the world’s problems largely to the global elite and sex traffickers.

These beliefs make people feel “scared and uncertain and isolated,” said Sofia Moskalenko, a social psychologist at Georgia State University. “As a result of manipulating their emotions, they are more likely to adopt conspiracy theories.”

Mr Putin’s public remarks, which dominate state media, have become increasingly harsh. He has warned that nationalist sentiment in Ukraine is only a threat to Russia, as is NATO expansion.

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Yet when the invasion began, it seemed that the parts of the propaganda apparatus had not been prepared. Officials and state media accused the Biden administration of what Russia claimed were only routine military exercises, not the creation of an invasion force.

“Clearly, they didn’t design an information war machine,” said Mr. Pomerantsev. “It takes months to build something like this.”

This may explain the changing, disjointed nature of Russia’s campaign. The threat of biological weapons in Ukraine – the secret US weapons factories that are producing them there – was not cited as a rationale for the “special military operation”, which Mr Putin announced at dawn on February 24. These lies came to light only later.

“They throw stuff out and they see what works,” said Ms. Thomas, a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “And what’s really working for them at the moment is the Biolab stuff.”

The Kremlin’s campaign has gone far beyond simply disseminating its message. It has swiftly gone as far as to quell dissenting attitudes that may have dispelled the fog of war and discouraged the Russian population.

For now, according to most polls in Russia, the campaign has mobilized public opinion behind Mr Putin, though not as high as it might be for a country at war.

“I think a lot of people in Russia are buying into the government’s statement,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They have tampered with the images on the state-controlled media. The private media does not cover the war for fear of 15 years in prison. The same goes for people on social media. Russia has lost the information war globally, but the regime remains quite successful at home. ,

The question is how long.

The information fortress being built by the Kremlin has developed cracks.

A week after the invasion began, when it was already clear that the war was going badly for Russian troops, Mr. Putin rushed to enact a law that would punish “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. gives. Media regulators warned broadcasters not to view the war as a war. He also shut down two flagships of independent media – Eko Moskvi, a liberal radio station, and Dozd, a television station – that voiced the Kremlin’s opponents.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and most recently Instagram has also been blocked inside Russia – with the country’s diplomats all continuing to use platforms outside to deliver misinformation. Once spread, misinformation can run rampant, even in places with a free press and open debate, such as the United States, where polls show that more than 40 percent of the population believes the 2020 Pre-election President Donald J. Stolen from Trump.

“Why are people so surprised that such widespread propaganda can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?” Ms Thornton of the German Marshall Fund said.

As the war in Ukraine continues, with casualties rising, families in Russia are coping with the loss of fathers and sons. It could test how persuasive the Kremlin’s information campaign really is.

The Soviet Union tried to maintain a similar silence around its decade-long swamp in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the truth somehow permeated the public consciousness, shattering the very foundations of the system. Two years after the last troops withdrew in 1989, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

Claire Fu Contributed to research.

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