Thursday, May 26

Russia is escalating the propaganda war

Is Ukraine carrying out genocide on its own citizens? Has NATO planned to invade Russia? Are the neo-Nazis in power in Kyiv?

Of course not.

To a Western audience with some knowledge of the conflict in Ukraine, the allegations appear to be – at best – dubious.

But these are some of the stories most Russians now get hammered in via both on social media and via their own state-controlled TV stations and newspapers.

And the allegations go straight home. In a poll carried out on December 14, 50 percent of Russians answered that it is the NATO countries that are to blame for the tense situation in Ukraine. Only 4 percent thought Russia was responsible.

– Brutal negotiation technique

At the same time as increasing Russian military forces are deployed at Ukraine’s borders, warns several experts that the Kremlin’s propaganda war is also gaining momentum.

Common to the Russian claims about Ukraine is a total rejection of the truth. They shape the information universe in such a way that it supports their political goals, it is said in one report published by the US State Department on January 20.

Although some of the purpose may be to create domestic support for an invasion of Ukraine, Geir Hågen Karlsen at the Norwegian Defense College believes that the disinformation is part of a larger, political picture.

– This is a complex and brutal negotiation technique, says Karlsen to TV 2.

– Here rhetoric, military demonstrations of power and diplomacy are combined in context. They want to test the West to see if they find weaknesses that can be exploited, such as lack of Western unity or support for Ukrainian President Zelensky, he continues.

CENSORSHIP: All Russian TV channels and other major media are subject to close state control. Photo: NTB Scanpix

Chemical weapons

One of the most sensational stories presented about Ukraine so far was that of the Russian Minister of Defense assertion December 21 that the United States had allegedly shipped in chemical weapons to be used in eastern Ukraine.

No documentation was presented, and Sergei Shoigu contented himself with stating that it was all part of a Western “provocation”.

However, the statement, with subsequent embroideries, was spread in a massive way both in social media and in Russian English-language online newspapers.

– The Russian allegations may have been an attempt to cloud the water before they even started an operation, says Bret Schafer in the organization Alliance for Democracy.

– In the classical propaganda sense, this can be used to later accuse others of something you have done yourself, he says to New York Times.

The EU’s body for monitoring disinformation has previously proven how Russian media spread similar, undocumented allegations that Western countries have used chemical weapons in Syria. In fact, the Syrian regime was behind countless chemical attacks on its own people.

Complaints against NRK

Here at home, NRK Dagsrevyen was one of the very few media that chose to bring the story of chemical weapons in Ukraine forward, and got criticism for this.

– The Ukrainian embassy has complained about the feature to PFU (journ. Note: The press’ professional committee) and we now have a dialogue with the embassy about this. Beyond that, I have no further comments, says Foreign Minister in NRK Sigurd Falkenberg Mikkelsen to TV 2.

In general, experts are unsure to what extent Russian misinformation about Ukraine will gain a foothold outside the country’s own borders.

SURPRISED: Lieutenant Colonel Geir Hågen Karlsen is head teacher of strategic communication at the Norwegian Defense College.  Photo: Synne Nilson

SURPRISED: Lieutenant Colonel Geir Hågen Karlsen is head teacher of strategic communication at the Norwegian Defense College. Photo: Synne Nilson

But Karlsen at the Norwegian Defense College believes that the narratives from Moscow seem to have reached parts of the Norwegian public.

– I am constantly surprised at how many people understand and promote Russian views and who are obviously unreasonable and contrary to the facts, he says to TV 2.

War fantasies

At home in Russia, it is not just the blackening of opponents that is used to win the support of the population.

The state-controlled Russian television has recently been full of military experts who have explained how Russia can easily win a major war against the West.

Among other things, it has been presented in detail scenarios for how Russian forces will defeat Gotland and then invade the Baltic NATO countries.

– This is good internal medicine. It is popular and entertaining. The Russians are proud to live in a strong and powerful country. This has also been Putin’s profile all the way, says Lieutenant Colonel Geir Hågen Karlsen to TV 2.

Perhaps a little unexpectedly, one of America’s most popular TV profiles has also become a favorite on Russian screens.

Weekly, Russian TV broadcasts long sequences with Tucker Carlson from Fox News, who has stated that he supports Putin in the conflict with Ukraine.

He now conveys the views of the Kremlin so wholeheartedly to his American audience, that the Russians are beginning to worry that he may be taken off the air, according to media commentator Julia Davies.

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