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Thursday, 05 April 2018 10:15

STOPPING FAKE NEWS: HOW UKRAINIANS ARE DEFEATING RUSSIA'S MASKED WARFARE

Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 05.04.2018 
  
Ukrainians are very good at unmasking Russian warfare. They should be good at it, as Ukrainians have learned painful lessons from centuries of invasion and occupation by Russia. So it was that Ukrainians quickly spotted Russia up to its old information warfare tricks in Latvia. Ukrainians caught Russian hate propaganda TV using an actress to portray an aggrieved Russian speaking Latvian resident and speak against Latvia’s education law. The Russian propagandists used the same actress they used in 2014 during the first phases of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or an actress who looks very similar and uses the same rhetoric of emotional outrage.
 
In late February/early March 2014, Russian hate propaganda TV used an actress to portray an angry Odesa housewife, to rail against “pro-fascist” politicians who grabbed power in a “coup” in Ukraine. Russian information warfare portrays Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity as using this pejorative language, and the so-called ‘Odesa housewife’ spoke like reading from the Kremlin’s script. But Ukrainians noticed that the ‘Odesa housewife’ looked and sounded the same as a ‘soldier’s mother’ at the barricades in Kyiv – in an attempt by Russia to portray the security forces who were attacking peaceful protestors on Maidan Nezalezhnosti as somehow being the victims. The Russian TV actress was also seen in propaganda clips from two other cities in Ukraine: in Kharkiv (where she appeared wrapped in a Russian flag) and in Sevastopol. She even turned up in Norocherkassk in Russia to play at being a Ukrainian ‘refugee.’ Russia uses actors regularly, as the carefully-scripted lies presented by propaganda TV cannot tolerate a genuine person-in-the-street interview.
 
Ukraine has taken more effective action against Russian information warfare in the last couple of years of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas. Latvia has less experience. When Latvia decided to move to the next stage of implementing a law about state education, Russian TV propaganda pounced with their well-travelled actress from 2014. Latvia will teach Latvian pupils in the Latvian language at Latvian secondary schools. That’s it. That is the law about national education in the state language which has the Putin regime worked into a lather. That’s what has the Russians sending their top propaganda actress to play the spokesperson of an ‘outraged’ Russian-speaking Latvian population.
 
Latvia should not be surprised that it has been especially targeted by Russia over such a benign measure. The Putin regime has been using its proxies in Hungary, Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó, to attack Ukraine over the same thing. Ukraine wants to teach Ukrainian pupils in the Ukrainian language at Ukrainian secondary schools. But because some of those schools are in Zakarpatia (Transcarpathia), where there are some Ukrainian citizens of Hungarian heritage, the prime minister and foreign minister of Hungary interfere in their neighbour Ukraine’s sovereign affairs. Now it’s Latvia’s turn to get the same treatment, guided by Russian information warfare. The presence of the previously-exposed actress from 2014 shows Russia’s hand.
 
The real target of this clumsy hate propaganda by the Putin regime that is at war with the West is not Ukrainians or Latvians. Ukrainians and Latvians live in free and democratic societies, and they enjoy the benefits of a free press, Internet access, and of belonging to the European family. The real target of Russian information warfare is the slave-nation of Russia itself. Russians have been ‘zombified’ for generations by hate propaganda, by secret police state terror, and by elite-driven nihilism and kleptocracy. Russian TV propaganda is so effective that even direct experience cannot contradict it. Russian artillery fires from residential areas of occupied Luhansk and occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, right amongst houses and apartments. But when Russian propaganda blames “fascists” and “Banderists” from “Kiev” then witnesses to Russian war crimes deny the truth of their experience and repeat the lie of the talking heads and actresses on TV.
 
One of the earliest and most effective efforts to inoculate Ukrainians to the pernicious effects of Russian propaganda as it is practiced in the 21st century is the Stopfake.org fact checking site. Stopfake.org was founded on 2 March 2014 by University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy lecturers, graduates, and students. Their tag line is “Struggle against fake information about events in Ukraine.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas, with its massive information warfare component, has made Stopfake.org grow up fast. From its proven experience exposing Russia-generated fake news, Stopfake.org sees a pattern in what the Putin war machine is doing. Russia has a style of information warfare in which flimsy and easily-exposed lies actually play a key part. The technique the Russians use has become known as the “Four Ds”: Dismiss, Distort, Distract, Dismay.
 
When Russia was first invading Ukraine, reports of Russian soldiers were dismissed, with great vehemence, by Kremlin propaganda. Putin said that Russia had no intention of going into Crimea. Then, when video of the Russian Spetsnaz (special forces soldiers) appeared, Russian propaganda moved to the distort phase: they were “little green men” (later, in Donbas, the lie was put out that they were “pro-Russian separatists”). Phase three, when the invasion was an accomplished fact, was the distract phase: Russia shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, invaded with Russian regular forces at the Battle of Ilovaisk, and eventually started a bombing campaign against Syrian civilians. Even when it was something bad to say about Russia, the distract phase got people to talk about something other than Crimea. The final phase of all information warfare is the dismay phase: here the Russians proudly proclaim their war against the West, saying: “It was us. We did it. Russia is great because it inspires terror. Russia will destroy you.”
 
Ukrainians have learned how to cope with Russia’s dismiss/distort/distract/dismay propaganda. Americans have not. The United States has still not begun to recover from the information warfare defeat it suffered at the hands of Russia in 2016. That’s when American democratic institutions were decimated and the presidential election was falsified by Putin’s ‘special war.’ If Americans do not want to go down to a final defeat to a regional power like Russia, then they had better learn from the experience of Ukrainians. Ukrainians easily spot a Russian TV propaganda actress, but Americans still have a hard time telling a Russian troll and a “make America great again” patriot apart.
 
Never forget that Russian propaganda in the 21st century has no positive agenda. There is not building ideology behind it. Putin regime propaganda is pure nihilism. It is raw hatred and flimsy lies that don’t even build up Russia, but only tear down democratic Western societies that are too weak to defend themselves. Ukraine is a Western democratic society that has found the strength to defend itself. We can all learn from Ukrainians how to stop fake news.
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