As world leaders condemned Russia’s declaration of war on Ukraine and full-fledged invasion of the country, causing frightened residents to flee and sanctions being imposed, Russians were fed a misleading “fog of disinformation” about the conflict.
State-funded media presented a rosy picture of Russia’s military’s actions starting during the beginning of the invasion — insisting the Kremlin was merely defending neighbors and that Ukraine was the aggressor.
After President Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s recognition of the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine as independent states and ordered its troops to “maintain peace” there, TV broadcasters gushed about the “historic” day and claimed it represented good news for the residents of the breakaway regions.
“You paid with your blood for these eight years of torment and anticipation,” anchor Olga Skabeyeva said Tuesday morning on Russia 1 state television. “Russia will now be defending Donbas.”
Vladimir Solovyev, a TV commentator, also presented the inching toward full-scale invasion as altruistic maneuvering.
“We will ensure their safety,” he said on state Vesti.FM radio. “It is now dangerous to fight with them … because one will now have to fight with the Russian army.”
“The invasion has begun,” declared Yevgeny Popov, a Russia 1 TV host. “But it wasn’t Putin who invaded Ukraine — instead, Ukraine went to war with Russia and Donbas.”
State-funded TV station Channel One celebrated the moment, as a correspondent in Donetsk claimed that local residents “say it is the best news over the past years of war.”
“Now they have confidence in the future and that the years-long war will finally come to an end,” she said.
Valentina Shapovalova, an expert in Russian media and propaganda at the University of Copenhagen, told France 24 the spread of misleading information was needed because Russia’s recent military actions have been “much less popular” with the population than 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“The goal is to create so many different — and sometimes even contradictory — versions of what is happening at the border that no one can really distinguish the true from the false anymore,” said Shapovalova.
Stefan Meister, a specialist in Russian security and disinformation at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told the outlet Putin “already used the same techniques in 2014 to justify the annexation of Crimea”, and that “it’s impossible to imagine Russia today conducting a conflict without a cyber-propaganda dimension.”
The misinformation campaign has proved somewhat effective, experts said.
Denis Volkov, director of the Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster, told the Associated Press that surveys show more than half of Russians were ready to support Putin’s moves.
“The situation, as it is understood by the majority, is that the West is pressuring Ukraine” to make a move against the rebel-held areas, “and Russia needs to somehow help,” Volkov said.
“This notion of helping in an extraordinary situation translates into support” for recognition of the separatist regions, he added.
In addition to the disinformation Russian state media has broadcast in recent days, Putin recently used deceptive tactics in his own public statement.
Putin recorded his declaration of war against Ukraine on Monday, days before the address that aired on state TV in Russia on Thursday, according to multiple reports. An outlet posted metadata purportedly from the Kremlin’s website indicating the footage was created at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21, not immediately before the full-scale invasion began late Wednesday.
The Moscow-based Conflict Intelligence Team also noted that Putin wore the same maroon tie and dark suit during Thursday’s address as he did during a Monday meeting with the Russian Security Council.
With Post wires