War has a way of breaking the truth.
There are multiple journalists covering the ground in Ukraine, and information is coming through at an unprecedented pace. Social media is filling in the gaps of what’s happening between official news reports, and we understand more about what’s going on in Mariupol and Kyiv than about what our closest neighbours are up to.
Kremlin propaganda still makes it through.
You’ve seen some of it already.
Ukraine isn’t at war; it’s a training exercise. Russia is trying to protect Russian citizens in Ukraine. They’re fighting against Nazism. They didn’t bomb a hospital.
The trick about Kremlin misinformation is that they have an excellent, and well-oiled, cyberwarfare machine at their disposal. It’s hampered by other hackers, but if you’ve heard even one of the things we’ve mentioned, it means it’s still effective.
Here’s what’s going on according to the Kremlin and what’s really happening – with sources.
Ukraine is full of Nazis and fascists.
What the Kremlin said: The Ukrainian war is a peacekeeping mission to denazify and demilitarise Ukraine – without occupation.
- Ukraine’s strongest neo-Nazi group, the Azov Battalion was absorbed into the government’s military and has been instrumental in keeping the Russians out of Mariupol.
- Azov Battalion rose to acclaim because of their actions in Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
- There are no right-wing political parties in the Ukraine government: a coalition of major right-wing parties in Ukraine didn’t exceed the 5% support bracket that is required to enter the parliament.
Russia did not attack a maternity hospital.
What the Kremlin said: This story took a full turn – initially, the Kremlin claimed that there were no patients in the hospital and it had been taken over by the Azov battalion as a base, then that they full-out did not attack the maternity hospital. Images circulating social media of a heavily pregnant woman being led out were faked by a beauty blogger in Ukraine named Marianna Podgurskaya, and the proof of the hospital having been taken over by the Azov battalion was a picture of a tank parked outside.
- The picture of the tank was taken six miles away from the bombed Mariupol maternity hospital.
- Mariana Vishegirskaya (misnamed by the Russian Embassy in the UK) is a real beauty blogger who has just given birth to her daughter, and has been documenting her pregnancy on Instagram.
- The Mariupol bombing was recorded and documented by independent journalists for the Associated Press.
- The hospital was still in operation as a hospital.
Ukraine was building bio-weapons in U.S.-funded labs.
What the Kremlin said: Russia is targeting military sites where the United States has built labs to fund bio-weapon research in Ukraine.
- The first time this story broke out was onTwitter, which was taken down by Twitter immediately after, though not before people retweeted it.
- Russia has had a decades-long campaign of seeding stories about the United States’ biological weapons use to discredit the United States.
- The only biolabs in Ukraine are government-funded and their primary concern is reducing infectious outbreaks such as COVID-19.
- The United States provides support to these labs under the U.S. Department of Defence’s Biological Threat Reduction Programme.
Russia is in favour of the war.
Caveat: this one is difficult to quantify or dispute correctly because while there has been a notable increase in war protests, there are definitely Russians who support the war. What we should remember is that they are equally victimised by disinformation and skewed numbers as anyone – and that Russian disinformation is powerful.
What the Kremlin said: that they are protecting Russian interests and the Russian people.
- More than 4,300 war protestors have been arrested in Russia.
- Russian state television is quick to maintain the narrative that Russia is suffering because of Ukraine, particularly in Donbas.
- News outlets in Russia that publish news about the war in Ukraine can risk a 15-year jail term.
Russia is not attacking civilians.
What the Kremlin said: Russia is only interested in military targets and not civilian targets, and happy to establish humanitarian corridors in order to allow civilians to safely leave the besieged cities.
- In Chernihiv, Kyiv, and Kharkiv, Human Rights Watch documented several cases of war crimes and laws-of-war violations, including executing civilians.
- Russia created, and then shelled, the humanitarian corridor in Mariupol and Volnovahka while civilians were attempting to escape.
- A torture chamber with five dead civilians was uncovered in Bucha (warning: graphic).
- Russia has bombed theatres, schools, and kindergartens that were used as civilian shelters (warning: graphic).
Ukraine is building nuclear weapons.
What the Kremlin said: Ukraine is building nuclear weapons for use against Russia.
- In accordance with the Budapest Memorandum, in which the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia pledged to protect Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, Ukraine has no nuclear armaments.
- President Zelenskyy did question whether Ukraine was obligated to maintain its non-nuclear status now that Russia has violated the Budapest Treaty, however, nothing has come of that statement.
- Ukraine has no nuclear weapons in its possession.
- Ukraine also never had any way of operating any of the Russian-made Soviet-era nuclear weapons left in its territory.
There is more that’s being said: videogame footage and film stills passed off as scenes from the war, deepfakes of Zelenskyy asking for surrender, hacked Twitter accounts that post pro-Russia rhetoric and muddy the waters.
Russia has had decades to perfect its disinformation practices. It is a master of putting out information that seems real, unless you look deeper.
But the Ukrainian war is a war happening in the time of social media and satellite images and drones, of information as currency, of a world that is constantly aware of what’s happening on the other side of the globe.
And it has become very clear that the Russian disinformation machine cannot stand up to the truth.
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