The Modest Charm of Russian Propaganda
Any war has an information component. It is an integral part of warfare. Therefore, countering enemy propaganda and information and psychological special operations (IPO) is as important as countering an enemy army on the battlefield. Two and a half thousand years ago, the prominent Chinese philosopher and strategist Sun Tzu noted in his work The Art of War that to defeat an enemy, one must first destroy his plans, then create discord in his alliances, and only then destroy his army and attack his fortified cities. The main goal of most externally oriented IPSOs is precisely to sow discord in allied relations between states.
The main goal of Russian propaganda in the media space of Western countries is to break the unity of those who support Ukraine. That is why, almost every day, we see constant injections of messages designed to create anti-Ukrainian sentiments in Western society. Russian propaganda tries to use various methods to divide and disillusion the West to undermine support for Ukraine. For example, the narratives argue that Western countries cannot agree among themselves on supporting Ukraine, cannot trust each other, and that each of them has different interests. In this way, Russia is trying to reduce support for Ukraine and increase its chances of achieving its goals.
Russian propaganda uses various methods to divide and disillusion the West, including:
- supporting and promoting nationalist movements and parties in Western countries that oppose integration with Ukraine and are pro-Russian;
- dissemination of fake news and information aimed at stirring distrust in Western governments and undermining their credibility;
- using social media to spread propaganda and fake news, as well as to provoke conflicts between users;
- creation and funding of lobbying groups and organizations that promote pro-Russian policies and have a negative attitude towards Ukraine;
- use of disinformation and manipulation to attract young people to pro-Russian ideology and turn them away from Western culture and values.
As for the focus of the theses, Russian propaganda most often tries to distort historical events using pseudo-analogies. For example, by constantly accusing Ukraine of being a manifestation of Nazism, it tries to disguise its totalitarian nature. It also uses direct disinformation. Most often, these are absurd theses about "oppression of the Russian-speaking population" and accusations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces of "attacking themselves" or "destroying civilian objects themselves." As was the case when the Russians organized the largest environmental and man-made disaster in Europe by blowing up the dam of the Kakhovka Reservoir.
From time to time, the Russian authorities also resort to intimidation, broadcasting theses about the possible use of nuclear weapons, and thus trying to influence public opinion to reduce the level of support for Ukraine due to the fears of Western citizens about the escalation of the war.
Internal Russian Election Propaganda
In addition to externally oriented IPSO, the Russian authorities use various manipulative technologies based on the capabilities of powerful state propaganda to zombify the population and divert its attention from current and future problems that have resulted from Russia's war against Ukraine. In this way, before the upcoming elections in Russia, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is trying to justify the war, hide his losses, and show his domestic voters that everything is fine. Russia still influences various processes, Europe may support Russia at some point, and so on. That is, propaganda primarily works for the internal electoral process.
Now, in the context of the full-scale war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine, it is very important to understand what non-military methods of influence Russia is using both to justify its aggression and to reduce the level of support for Ukraine from our Western partners.
In addition, we should not turn a blind eye to the internal propaganda work conducted by the Russian authorities among their citizens, stimulating in them a sense of hatred and aggression towards all representatives of the civilized world.
In particular, the idea of an "aggressive and unjust West seeking control over Russians" is fostered, as well as "inappropriate values" and their "threat" to "real Russians." At the same time, Russian propaganda uses various methods to show that the Russian government is strong and effective in countering this "Western aggression," which helps to strengthen its position among the Russian electorate.
The Russian propaganda machine also tries to constantly support the thesis in the Russian information space that there is a "war between Russia and NATO" in Ukraine. Since NATO member states are neighboring Russia, the stirring up of such sentiments among the Russian population may indicate preparations for the spread of hostilities on their territory.
Yes, it may seem ridiculous, but the great German unifier Otto von Bismarck emphasized that "for every military trick you play, the Russians will respond with their unpredictable stupidity."
Let me remind you that Finland, which twice during the twentieth century was forced to fight the USSR (the restoration of whose borders the current leadership of the Russian Federation is seeking) and pursued a consistent policy of political and military neutrality, joined NATO in April 2023 because of the threat of another war at the initiative of the Russian Federation. Therefore, Russia's threats have ensured that instead of NATO's "Finlandization", Finland's NATOization has taken place.
This was a powerful blow to Russian propaganda. And we can already predict that further internal Russian hysteria about "waging war with NATO" only increases the risk of unpredictable Russian stupidity.
Moreover, provocations use not only media technologies but also weapons. Therefore, Western support for Ukraine in its war with Russia is the best safeguard to prevent such a scenario from unfolding. Russians have always respected only the right of force and coercion. And this is the only way to force them to peace. Agreements with a terrorist country do not work, because diplomacy is considered a weakness, and Russia always responds to someone else's weakness only with aggression. As history teaches us, the borders of the "Russian empire" end where it receives a worthy rebuff.