Russia’s Top Five Persistent Disinformation Narratives

For many years, Russia has fabricated a set of false narratives that its ecosystem of disinformation and propaganda constantly injects into the global information environment. These narratives act as a blueprint, which allows the Kremlin to adjust these narratives, with consistency – a complete disregard for the truth as it shapes the information environment to support its political goals.

Russian military and intelligence entities engage in this activity across the Russian disinformation and propaganda ecosystem, including malicious social media operations, use of overt and covert online media, injection of disinformation into television and radio programs, the organization of lectures designed to influence participants to mistakenly believe that Ukraine, and not Russia, is responsible for the increased tensions in the region and the exploitation of cyber operations to deface media and conduct hack and release operations.

Here are five major recurring themes of Russian disinformation that the Kremlin is currently readjusting in an attempt to fill the news 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 back up these claims, Russia is turning to one of its favorite labels to try to fight back: “Russophobia”. After invading Ukraine in 2014, the Russian government and state-controlled disinformation outlets began accusing 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 a major issue for the Russian Foreign Ministry or state-funded disinformation outlets until the Russian military invaded Ukraine. Allegations of “Russophobia” persist across a range of topics and are used whenever the Russian government wants to play the role of victim, when in fact it is the aggressor.

Chart showing mentions of the words “Russophobia” and “Russophobe” by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sputnik and RT, 2001-2017. (Source: DFRLab)

Theme #2: Historical revisionism

When history does not align with the political goals of the Kremlin, Russian government officials and their proxies deny historical events or distort historical accounts to try to portray Russia in a more favorable light and serve its national agenda. and geopolitics. 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 regime of Putin. In 2020, in an attempt to downplay and rationalize Stalin’s decision to align himself with Hitler, Putin released a twisted version of the start of World War II, downplaying the Soviet role and blaming the war on others. other countries. Russia often goes further, 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 the Ukrainian state, to the conduct of NATO during the collapse of the Soviet Union, to its GULAG prison system, to the famine in Ukraine known as Holodomor and many other events where the Kremlin’s historic actions do not serve its current action. political goals.

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

Russia pushes the false claim that Western civilization is collapsing and has drifted away from “traditional values” because it strives to ensure safety and equality for LGBTQI+ people and promotes concepts such as women’s 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 19and century.

This “values” based misinformation narrative conjures up ill-defined concepts including “tradition,” “family values,” and “spirituality.” Russia claims 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 claimed that the West had practically canceled the concepts of “mother” and “father” and replaced them with “parent 1 and 2”, while Foreign Minister Lavrov wrote that the Western students “learn in school that Jesus the Christ was bisexual.

Theme #4: “People’s movements are US-sponsored ‘color revolutions’”

The Kremlin struggles to accept that all individuals have the fundamental right to freedom of expression and that the government is accountable to its people. Russia has accused the United States of instigating uprisings or plotting “color revolutions” in Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Ukraine and throughout the Middle East and Africa. If a grassroots movement is pro-democracy and pro-reform and not considered to be in Russia’s geopolitical interest, 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 can have agency, dignity and independent aspirations to defend themselves, just as it denies these qualities to the Russian people.

Theme #5: Reality is what the Kremlin wants it to be

The Kremlin frequently tries to create multiple false realities and introduce confusion into the information environment when the truth is not in its interest. Often intentionally confusing, Russian officials make arguments intended to try to shift blame away from the role of the Russian government, even though some of the accounts contradict each other. However, over time, the presentation of multiple conflicting accounts can itself become a technique intended to generate confusion and discourage responses. Other elements of Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem, such as the abuse of state-funded disinformation outlets and militarized social media, help spread 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 In the four weeks since that incident, Russia’s state-funded and run media RT and Sputnik ran 138 separate and conflicting accounts 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 numerous false claims following other events, such as the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and the invasion and continued occupation of Georgia. by Russia in 2008, to divert conversations from their role in the events. Again, the goal is to confuse and distract others and manipulate the truth to suit Kremlin interests.

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