Following the Kremlin’s order to launch a military operation against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “great machinery of interference” went into overdrive to sway global public opinion against Ukraine, the United States, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Spanish newspaper ABC reported on February 25.
“The complex web of spokespeople, state propaganda, affiliated media inside and outside Russia, columnists […] is working in full swing, claiming […] that Moscow is within its rights to invade Ukraine, and that it would be fodder for neo-Nazism were it not for the intervention,” ABC added.
The “Nazi” narrative is an integral part of Russia’s disinformation campaign to justify the invasion. Putin, along with his top officials and the state-controlled press, promote the false narrative that Ukraine is “Nazi-occupied” since the annexation of Crimea, Voice of America reported on February 26.
The debunking and verification community “have witnessed that pro-Kremlin disinformation has become ever more detached from reality, and at times cartoonishly unhinged,” said EUvsDisinfo, a European platform that promotes public awareness and highlights the Kremlin’s disinformation operations.
For example, pro-Kremlin media reported that the Ukrainian Armed Forces allegedly infiltrated Russian territory with equipment they did not possess, claimed that the Ukrainian Army had bombed a kindergarten on its own territory, and made “gruesome and completely fabricated accusations of genocide in Donbas.”
Other false narratives that Russian disinformers use involve fabricating stories that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada are using Ukraine as a weapon against Russia and presenting NATO as an aggressor and Russia as a victim, EUvsDisinfo said.
A January 20 U.S. government report indicates that Russian state-owned media outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik are critical elements in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem. An example of that, the report adds, is the constant use of these platforms to try to change public opinion about Ukraine, the United States, and Latin America.
The report also highlights the five main disinformation themes that the Kremlin uses to fill the information environment with false narratives: presenting Russia as an innocent victim, denying or distorting historical events, promoting the false collapse of Western civilization, falsely accusing the United States of promoting “color revolutions,” and creating multiple false realities that the Kremlin wants to happen.
According to Global Americans, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Latin America and the Caribbean, the use of state-sponsored disinformation campaigns is part of the strategy of non-democratic regimes.
The think tank also says that Russia and China are very active in promoting false information, disinformation, and propaganda in Latin America through their state media channels, such as RT, Telesur, Sputnik Mundo, and Xinhua Español.
Russian and Chinese misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda focus disproportionately on issues that lie at the intersection of democratic fault lines, fueling local political rifts, promoting local non-democratic forces with similar ideologies, and depicting Russia and China as benevolent partners and alternatives to the United States throughout the region, Global Americans added.
The Russian disinformation strategy focuses on disrupting the social order and political stability. The Kremlin also seeks to win new friends who prefer not to lean on the United States, with the hope of expanding its political influence, Global Americans said.
Consequently, the use of Spanish language in the Russian disinformation and propaganda strategy is crucial, as it is the key to a worldwide audience of nearly 600 million people, the Spanish newspaper ABC reported. “The Kremlin lies as naturally as it breathes,” Nicolás de Pedro, a researcher at the London-based Institute for StateCraft, a pro-democracy think tank, told Spanish TV channel Antena3 on February 24.
“We know that other players try to use the same technique, but oftentimes disinformation and these hybrid operations are very broad, so you cannot see them,” Ruslan Deynychenko, director of the Ukrainian fact-checking organization StopFake, told the U.S. TV network CBS News, on February 17.
StopFake has spent nearly eight years debunking Russian disinformation that state and private media and internet troll armies disseminate through unofficial social media networks, CBS News reported.
Moreover, the invasion of Ukraine is shaping up to be Europe’s first major armed conflict in the age of social media, bringing the risk of instant dissemination of dangerous, even deadly, disinformation, the Associated Press reported on February 25.