Russia has been bombarding Ukraine with fake news since 2014. Sound familiar?

Preface.  Long before Russia bombarded the U.S. with fake news in the 2016 election campaign, Ukraine was the target, where Russia honed its propaganda skills.  The parallels with their fake news assault on the U.S. are striking, perhaps if more people were aware of how Russia attacked Ukraine with propaganda (and their own citizens) they might be better able to spot lies in Facebook and other social media here.  The tactics are similar.

Ukrainians now have a news show “StopFake” that’s as popular as 60 minutes is in the U.S., exposing Russian fake news and conspiracy theories using evidence.  This helps to build the critical thinking skills of its citizens and protect them from fake news by recognizing it when they see it.  

Check out StopFake here, this is a really good show. We have nothing like it, our TV news is too entertainment oriented and full of short pieces to cope with our short attention span.  https://www.stopfake.org/en/main/

If only the U.S. had a show dedicated to fake news that explains why it’s false.

Below are excerpts from two articles about Russian propaganda in the Ukraine.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Lynch, J. 2019. StopFake braces for ‘bombardment’ of Russian propaganda in Ukraine election.  Columbia Journalism Review.

In 2013 at least 100,000 protestors demonstrated agains Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych distancing the nation from the EU.  A three month struggle to pull Ukraine from Russia’s grip began.  Kremlin-backed bloggers and trolls launched a torrent of fake news to discredit the protests. “I would go online and I would see tons of stories that never happened circulating,” Kruk told me. Social media accounts called her stupid, advocated for her arrest, and said she should be raped.

Eventually, Yanukovych was overthrown. But soon after, Russian troops swarmed eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The faculty at the Mohyla School of Journalism believed that Russia was using TV stations and news outlets like weapons. “When we started to work we noticed that it was very systematic. It’s not just misinformation,” Fedchenko said. “It’s disinformation.”

Ukraine is often a laboratory for the Kremlin to experiment with propaganda and cyber-attacks that they later aim at the west. Before Russian intelligence agents hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential elections, the Kremlin perfected the tactics in Ukraine, targeting government websites and individuals. Before the web of Russian-backed social media bots and trolls targeted American politics, they infested Ukrainian politics.

“Russia wants to portray Ukraine’s elections as illegitimate and portray it as a failed state,” Kateryna Kruk, the host of StopFake’s TV show (started in 2014), in which she airs and dissects the last week’s propaganda, told me in early March. “Instead of promoting pro-Russian candidates they are promoting mistrust of the entire system.

StopFake has expanded to publish articles in 11 languages and monitors Russian propaganda in France, Spain, and Germany.

During the 2019 election there were too many manipulations for the staff to keep track of.

About 74 percent of Ukrainians say that TV is their primary source of news. (By comparison, a recent Pew poll said that 44 percent of Americans prefer TV, which is still the most popular medium.) Most of the largest TV stations are owned by oligarchs. Their airwaves are filled with opinion-laden punditry that serves two purposes—propelling the owners’ political interests and keeping costs down.

At the center of the Russian web are Kremlin-owned and -allied TV stations like NTV, Russia 1, and RT. These channels feature Putin-aligned guests and are followed by the country’s media elite. For instance, Russian political scientist Dmitry Kulikov spoke on a state-owned TV channel about the ongoing Ukrainian elections. “It does not matter who will win, because this victory will have nothing to do with the will of the people,” Kulikov said.

The TV stations and websites in both Russia and Ukraine then parrot those messages, he said. For example, the Russian-based website Ukraine.ru cited a poll it said showed the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians didn’t believe in the integrity of the elections. Dmytro Dmitruk, who was part of the team that conducted the poll, said that it had, in fact, said the opposite—that many Ukrainians were so concerned to eliminate fraud that protests were possible.

Social media makes Russia’s task easier. On Facebook, Russian influence was ubiquitous in the run-up to the first round of elections. Facebook and Instagram pages that were set up by Russian individuals portrayed Ukrainian schools as unhealthy, spread false news about protests and disinformation about NATO. Many targeted Poroshenko, the president.

Some of the pages were uncovered and eventually shut down by Facebook after it received a tip from American law enforcement officials. Facebook, which pledged in January 2019 to get tough on foreign political advertising and introduce other transparency measures, implemented them just 13 days before the first round of voting. And just days before the final vote, nearly 2,000 additional Russian-pages were found, many of which targeted Ukrainian politics.  

Commentators and networks backed by Russia receive financial contributions or special access to public projects, Fedchenko says. In the effort to combat Russian-propaganda, Ukraine has banned at least 77 out of 82 Russian TV stations from the country. In 2017, Ukraine banned the Kremlin-connected social networking site VKontakte—similar to Facebook. Fedchenko believes that other governments should do the same. “Russian disinformation is basically masquerading as the real media which invokes the freedom of speech clause,” Fedchenko says. “Definitely the First Amendment should not be used for them.”

Yuhas, A. 2019. Russian propaganda over Crimea and the Ukraine: how does it work?  The Guardian.

By shutting down independent press, Russia controls more of the story; by spreading half-truths and rumors, the Kremlin not only confuses opponents but also sows unwitting support for its cause; finally, by pushing the boundaries with its version of events, Moscow’s leadership can force other countries to play by its own very pliable rules.

Win the “information war”, as one Russian MP calls it, and you can gain the upper hand without ever firing a shot.

ladimir Putin’s Kremlin has been silencing independent voices one at a time for months, effectively dismantling the press. In December, Putin ordered the “restructure” of the state-owned but historically independent RIA Novosti – liquidating most of the outlet, merging its remains with Russia Today and installing as editor in chief Dmitry Kiselyov, a TV presenter notorious for saying gay people’s hearts should be incinerated and playing up how Russia can turn the US into “radioactive ash”.

RIA was just the first. Dozhd, the country’s last independent TV channel, was “pushed off a cliff” right before the Winter Olympics. Then the radio station Ekho Moskvy had its director replaced by its owner, the state-controlled energy company Gazprom. Most recently, the editor-in-chief of Lenta.ru, a highly respected, independent news site, was suddenly replaced with a pro-Kremlin editor, a move apparently made through back channels with the site’s conglomerate owner.

The Kremlin’s tighter grip on the media has coincided with the rise of Russia Today, which unapologetically skews news in Putin’s favor.

Putin, for whom recent events in Kiev have been not only unfavorable but a threat, wants to rebrand history in such a way that it protects him. To that end, a constant theme spouting from Russian sources has been the Ukrainian revolution’s alliance with “fascists” – a vague word that’s become a catchall for anti-Semites, terrorists, insurgents, anarchists and thugs.

Though there were nationalists and far-right nationalists among Kiev’s protesters, and there are some in the new interim government, there decidedly weren’t and aren’t many – if any – bona fide fascists. This line has been both taken up and debunked (thoroughly), but any discussion of fascists at all is a Kremlin win. If you’re busy trying to decide how anti-Semitic Ukraine’s right wing is, then you’re not busy watching Russian soldiers slip across the border. (Ukraine’s chief rabbi is stalwartly pro-Kiev, by the by, and has taken up propaganda-busting, pointing out that the diverse anti-Yanukovych coalition is now anti-Putin.)

Fear of fascists goes a long way in Ukraine, which suffered in the second world war. By definition, fear (“Fascists are coming for your family!”) and confusion (“Fascists? Are there fascists? What’s a fascist?”) matters much more in propaganda than truth (not so many fascists). It doesn’t have to make sense – in fact it’s better if it doesn’t. Incoherent theories of a gay, Jewish, Muslim fascist conspiracy in Kiev don’t matter so long as they’re riling someone up.

Skewed facts, half-truths, misinformation and rumors all work in the propagandist’s favor. By reminding everyone of a real military agreement, you can profess innocence while having military “exercises” overstepping their bounds. By removing insignias from Russian uniforms, you can pretend as long as you like that soldiers with Russian guns and vehicles, speaking Russian and occasionally admitting they’re Russian, are merely local “self-defense” bands.

By spreading talk of fascists, of gangs of unknown armed men, of coups and self-determination and persecution – while sending armed men into Ukraine, egging on real and staged protests, bribing politicians and blocking the media – the Kremlin is enacting and realizing its propaganda on the ground. The Ukrainian government and military has shown remarkable restraint in not falling for the ploy, but Putin appears prepared to increase the pressure,

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2 Responses to Russia has been bombarding Ukraine with fake news since 2014. Sound familiar?

  1. WL says:

    I’m so surprised by this post. You’d better take Dmitry Orlov out of your list of experts.

    • energyskeptic says:

      I disagree with a lot of what he writes, but his evaluation of how Russia fell and why it will be much harder for Americans is spot on