In addition to fake news and disinformation, Russian officials have been using sarcasm in times of conflict to deflect attention from actions seen as threatening by democratic countries, international media outlets say.
Russia used such a tool when it annexed Crimea in 2014, Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University, told the U.S. radio station NPR on February 22, 2022.
“I remember very clearly [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin saying at the time that there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, and, if there seemed to be, it was just people who had bought used camouflage from a local store,” Snyder said. On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine once again, after sarcastically brushing off speculations that invasion was imminent.
Sarcasm and scathing jokes are tools Moscow officials have long used to belittle rivals, AP reported on February 16.
“It’s a kind of postmodern cynicism, trying to put you on the back foot, to confuse you,” Snyder said. “There are two ways of doing this. You can do nothing and insist you are doing something, or you can do something and insist that you are doing nothing. And right now, they are clearly doing something.”
The derisive tone “has become a kind of trademark” for the Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry as well as other high-ranking officials, the German news site DW reported.
For instance, after the European Union and the United States tightened sanctions against Putin and Russia in late February, such as imposing travel bans, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that “the sanctions against the president and the foreign minister [Sergei Lavrov] are an example and a demonstration of the total impotence of Western countries.”
In February, Russia also attempted to ridicule the U.S. media for predicting that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be February 16 (a Wednesday). “Let me know when the next invasion of Ukraine will be, so I can plan my vacation,” Zakharova said, ABC International reported. “I hope the media publishes the calendar of our next invasions this year.”
Russian Ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov also ridiculed U.S. President Joe Biden for predicting that war could begin as early as that Wednesday. “Wars in Europe rarely start on a Wednesday,” Chizhov said, ABC News reported.
For his part, Lavrov said his February 10 meeting with his British counterpart Liz Truss felt like a conversation between mute and deaf people, Reuters reported.
Truss replied that she will carry on confronting Russia about its aggressive behavior. “We are concerned about a government that is expansionist in its intent, that seeks to undermine the democracies on its border […]. Frankly I don’t care what insults are levied at me by Sergei Lavrov,” she said.
Snyder explained on NPR the big difference between the sarcasm of the Russian government and the kind of language that diplomats in the democratic West use.
“Diplomats in the West are generally earnest […]. When confronted with the Russians, they do their best to be extra factual and careful about the way they speak, because they want to avoid the trap of being drawn into […] some kind of comedy contest or some kind of sarcasm contest,” he said.