The U.S. Releases ‘Russia’s Top Five Persistent Disinformation Narratives’
| Onkareshwar Pandey - Editor in Chief - CEO, IOP - 20 Jan 2022

FACT & FICTION of Russia-Ukraine relationship in the U.S. Eyes

Examples of ‘Russian lies about the current crisis and its causes – and the truth’, according to the U.S. Department of State

By Onkareshwar Pandey

At a time of global spread of disinformation and misinformation which has compelled the WHO to term and brandish the menace of Fake News as ‘Infodemic’, the United States of America has released a set of "Russia’s Top Five Persistent Disinformation Narratives”.

Yes, they call it Naratives! And this concept of “narratives” often comes up in the context of Russian and pro-Kremlin disinformation and influence efforts. In a very simple definition, a narrative is an overall message, communicated through texts, images, metaphors, and other means. For example, repeatedly portraying individual politicians as crooks will eventually establish a narrative that politicians in general are corrupt and deceitful. Some of these narratives have been in use for hundreds of years. Variations of the narrative of “The Decaying West” are documented since the 19th century.

Before I give you an overview of the “Russia’s Top Five Persistent Disinformation Narratives” issued today on Jan 20th 2022 by the U.S. Department of State, and which is largely being circulated through social networks and social messaging, let us see the reason behind this sudden outburst.

Yesterday, the US President Joe Biden was quoted saying that he thinks Russia will attack Ukraine, warning that Moscow would face a “stiff price”, but he admitted Nato was divided on how to respond if there is only a “minor incursion”. And soon after his statement the White House was forced to issue a hasty clarification to that last point, saying that any movement of Russian forces over the border would be treated as invasion. So, this is the latest mistrust between the two global powers.

According to the U.S. Department of State, “Over many years, Russia has fabricated a set of false narratives that its disinformation and propaganda ecosystem persistently injects into the global information environment.  These narratives act like a template, which enables the Kremlin to adjust these narratives, with one consistency – a complete disregard for truth as it shapes the information environment to support its policy goals.”

The US thinks that “Russian military and intelligence entities are engaging in this activity across Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem, to include malign social media operations, the use of overt and covert online proxy media outlets, the injection of disinformation into television and radio programming, the hosting of conferences designed to influence attendees into falsely believing that Ukraine, not Russia, is at fault for heightened tensions in the region, and the leveraging of cyber operations to deface media outlets and conduct hack and release operations.”

Here are “Five Major reoccurring Russian Disinformation Themes” according to the U.S. Department of State, the Kremlin is currently readjusting in an attempt to fill the information environment with false narratives about its actions in Ukraine.

Theme #1: “Russia is an Innocent Victim”

Russian government officials falsely portray Russia as a perpetual victim and its aggressive actions as a forced response to the alleged actions of the United States and our democratic allies and partners.  To further these claims, Russia turns to one of its favorite labels to attempt to hit back: “Russophobia.”  After invading Ukraine in 2014, the Russian government and state-controlled disinformation outlets began to accuse anyone who questioned Russia’s actions of being xenophobic Russophobes.

For example, Russia claims that the international community’s negative reaction to its invasion of an independent country was simply because people feared and hated Russia.  According to the chart below, Russophobia was not an issue of major concern to the Russian Foreign Ministry or state-funded disinformation outlets until the Russian military invaded Ukraine.  Claims of “Russophobia” persist across a range of topics and are employed whenever the Russian government wants to play the victim, when it is actually the aggressor.

Theme #2:  Historical Revisionism

When history does not align with the Kremlin’s political objectives, Russian government officials and their proxy voices deny historical events or distort historical narratives to try to cast Russia in a more favorable light and serve its domestic and geopolitical agenda. For example, the 1939 non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which helped precipitate World War II, is politically inconvenient for the Putin regime.  In 2020, in an attempt to minimize and rationalize Stalin’s decision to align himself with Hitler, Putin published a twisted version of the start of World War II, downplaying the Soviet role and shifting blame for the war to other countries.  Russia often takes this a step further by labeling those who disagree with its twisted version of history as Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.

The Kremlin also applies this formula to the history of Ukraine’s statehood, NATO’s conduct during the collapse of the Soviet Union, its GULAG prison system, the famine in Ukraine known as Holodomor, and many other events where the Kremlin’s historical actions do not serve its current political goals.

Theme #3: “The Collapse of Western Civilization is Imminent”

Russia pushes the false claim that Western civilization is collapsing and has strayed from “traditional values” because it works to ensure the safety and equality of LGBTQI+ people and promotes concepts such as female equality and multiculturalism. The demise of Western civilization is one of Russia’s oldest disinformation tropes, with claims of “the decaying west” documented since the 19th century.

This “values”-based disinformation narrative evokes ill-defined concepts including “tradition,” “family values,” and “spirituality.” Russia argues it is the bastion of so-called “traditional values” and gender roles and serves as a moral counterweight to the “decadence” of the United States and Western countries.  For example, President Putin has claimed the West has practically cancelled the concepts of “mother” and “father,” and instead has replaced them with “parent 1 and 2,” while Foreign Minister Lavrov wrote that Western students “learn at school that Jesus Christ was bisexual.”

Theme #4: “Popular Movements are U.S.-sponsored ‘Color Revolutions’”

The Kremlin has difficulty accepting that all individuals should have the human right to freedom of expression, and that the government should be accountable to its people.  Russia has accused the United States of either instigating uprisings or plotting “color revolutions” in Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Ukraine, and throughout the Middle East and Africa.  If a popular movement is pro-democracy and pro-reform and not deemed to be in Russia’s geopolitical interests, the Kremlin will often attack its legitimacy and claim that the United States is secretly behind it.  These baseless accusations often target local and international civil society organizations, as well as independent media that expose human rights abuses and corruption.  The Kremlin seeks to deny that people in neighboring countries could have agency, dignity, and independent aspirations to advocate for themselves, just as it denies these qualities to the people of Russia.

Theme #5:  Reality is Whatever the Kremlin Wants It to Be

The Kremlin frequently tries to create multiple false realities and insert confusions into the information environment when the truth is not in its interests.  Often intentionally confusing, Russian officials make arguments designed to try to shift the blame away from the Russian government’s role, even if some of the narratives contradict one another.  However, in time, presenting multiple conflicting narratives can itself become a technique intended to generate confusion and discourage response. Other elements in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem, such as the abuse of state-funded disinformation outlets and weaponized social media, help push multiple false narratives.

It was clear to the world, for example, that Russia attempted to assassinate former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, England, on March 4, 2018.  In the four weeks following that incident, Russian state-funded and directed outlets RT and Sputnik disseminated 138 separate and contradictory narratives via 735 articles, according to the Policy Institute at King’s College London.

Russia has used the same technique of flooding the information space with many false claims following other events, such as the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and Russia’s 2008 invasion and ongoing occupation of Georgia, to distract conversations from their role in the events.  Again, the purpose is to confuse and distract others and manipulate the truth to suit Kremlin interests.

Now the question arises, is Russia really spreading disinformation and propaganda attempting to paint Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine relationship?

A press release issued today on Jan 20th 2022 by the U.S. Department of State categorically says that, “The Department of State, working with the U.S. interagency, is aware of several Russian military and intelligence entities that are engaged in information confrontation targeting Ukraine.  These activities include the spread of disinformation and propaganda attempting to paint Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine relationship.  Such measures are intended to influence Western countries into believing Ukraine’s behavior could provoke a global conflict and convince Russian citizens of the need for Russian military action in Ukraine.”

The U.S. Department of State has cited following examples of ‘Russian lies about the current crisis and its causes – and the truth’.

FICTION:  Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials are the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine relationship.

FACT:  False statements from the Putin regime blame the victim, Ukraine, for Russia’s aggression.  Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, occupies Crimea, controls armed forces in the Donbas, and has now amassed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine while President Putin threatens “retaliatory military-technical” measures if his demands are not met.

FICTION:  The West is pushing Ukraine toward a conflict.

FACT:  Moscow instigated the current crisis by placing more than 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine, with no similar military activity on the Ukrainian side of the border.  Russian military and intelligence entities are targeting Ukraine with disinformation attempting to paint Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine relationship.  The Russian government is trying to trick the world into believing Ukraine’s behavior could provoke a global conflict and to convince Russian citizens of the need for Russian military action in Ukraine.  Russia blames others for its own aggression, but it is Moscow’s responsibility to end this crisis peacefully through de-escalation and diplomacy.  Moscow invaded Ukraine in 2014, occupies Crimea, and continues to fuel conflict in eastern Ukraine.  This follows a pattern of Russian behavior of undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries in the region – invading and occupying parts of Georgia in 2008, and failing to honor its 1999 commitment to withdraw its troops and munitions from Moldova, where they remain without the government’s consent.

FICTION:  Russia’s deployment of combat forces is a mere repositioning of troops on its own territory.

FACT:  Deploying more than 100,000 Russian troops, including battle-hardened combat forces and offensive weaponry with no plausible innocuous explanation, to the borders of a country that Russia has previously invaded and still occupies in places is no mere troop rotation.  It is a clear, renewed Russian threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The buildup is paired with active disinformation measures designed to undermine confidence in the Ukrainian government and create a pretext for further Russian incursion.

FICTION:  The United States has planned chemical weapons attacks in the Donbas.

FACT:  The United States and Russia are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.  In accordance with its obligations under that international agreement, the United States does not use chemical weapons.  However, the Russian government has twice used chemical weapons in recent years to attack and attempt to assassinate opponents, including on foreign soil.  Rather than fuel conflict in eastern Ukraine as Russia has done, the United States has provided more than $351 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by Moscow’s aggression there since 2014.   Russia is using statements from high-level officials as well as disinformation and propaganda outlets to intentionally spread outright falsehoods to attempt to create a pretext for military action.

FICTION:  Russia is defending ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

FACT:  There are no credible reports of any ethnic Russians or Russian speakers being under threat from the Ukrainian government.  There are, however, credible reports that in Russia-occupied Crimea and in the Donbas, Ukrainians face suppression of their culture and national identity and live in an environment of severe repression and fear.  In Crimea, Russia forces Ukrainians to assume Russian citizenship or lose their property, their access to healthcare, and their jobs.  Those who peacefully express opposition to Russia’s occupation or control face imprisonment on baseless grounds, police raids on their homes, officially sanctioned discrimination, and in some cases torture and other abuses.  Religious and ethnic minorities are investigated and prosecuted as “extremists” and “terrorists.”

FICTION:  NATO has plotted against Russia since the end of the Cold War, encircled Russia with forces, broken supposed promises not to enlarge, and threatened Russia’s security with the prospect of Ukrainian membership in the Alliance .

FACT:  NATO is a defensive alliance, whose purpose is to protect its member states.  All Allies reaffirmed at the June 2021 Brussels Summit that “the Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia.”  In fact, in 2002 President Putin himself stated “Every country has the right to choose the way it ensures its security.  This holds for the Baltic states as well.  Secondly, and more specifically, NATO is primarily a defensive bloc.”

NATO does not encircle Russia – Russia’s land border is just over 20,000 kilometers long.  Of that, less than one-sixteenth (1,215 kilometers), is shared with NATO members.  Russia has land borders with 14 countries. Only five of them are NATO members.

In response to Russia’s use of military force against its neighbors, NATO deployed four multinational battlegroups to the Baltic States and Poland in 2016.  These forces are rotational, defensive, proportionate, and requested by the host nations.  Before Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea, there were no plans to deploy Allied troops to the eastern part of the Alliance.

NATO never promised not to admit new members.  NATO enlargement is not directed against Russia.  Every sovereign nation has the right to choose its own security arrangements and to enter into defensive regional alliances for purposes of self-defense.  This is a fundamental principle of European security, reflected in the UN Charter, and is one that Russia has affirmed in myriad international and regional instruments such as the Helsinki Final Act.

Map depicting NATO borders with Russia. Boundary representation is not necessarily authoritative.

FICTION:  The West shuns diplomacy and goes straight to measures like sanctions.

FACT:  The United States and our partners are engaging in intensive diplomacy to resolve this crisis, including directly with the Russian government.  President Biden has spoken with President Putin twice and U.S. officials have held dozens of high-level meetings and phone calls with Russian and European counterparts as part of a comprehensive diplomatic effort to resolve this situation peacefully.  What remains to be seen is whether Russia is willing to meet its responsibilities as a member of the global community and take steps to de-escalate the crisis it has generated.  But we have also made clear, publicly and privately, that we and our partners will impose swift and severe economic costs on the Russian economy should President Putin choose to further invade Ukraine.

“Now they tell us, war, war, war.  It seems are preparing another operation and are warning us not to get in the way, or there’ll be sanctions.” – President Putin

“We have to be mindful of our own security, not just for today and not just for next week, but in the short term.  How is Russia to live with all this?  Do we always have to stay on guard, watching what happens there and when a strike might come?  But what does it all mean if we end up in the conflict you are asking about?  This is not our choice, and we do not want this” – President Putin

”We will decide for ourselves solely what to do on our territory.” – Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Ryabkov

“We have identified the presence of over 120 members of U.S. mercenary groups in the cities of Avdiivka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations…Tanks filled with unidentified chemical components were delivered to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations.” – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu

“We see and know what is happening in Donbas.  It certainly looks like genocide” – President Putin

“… all this is happening against the background of active military ‘expansion’ on the territory of Ukraine by NATO countries creating a direct threat to the security of Russia.” – The Kremlin

” would be a mistake that our ancestors would see as a grave error. A lot of mistakes have been made over the past 30 years, and we would better avoid more such mistakes in this situation.” – Presidential foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov

Representative File Image –Source FB Page - Vladimir Putin The Leader Of The World 


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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANI. Email - SMS- 9910150119)





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