The Russian Firehose of Falsehood
Updated: Jul 1, 2022
It's been already four months since Russia began the invasion of Ukraine, with, as a result, the development of Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 7.7 million Ukrainians have fled the country, and a third of the population has been displaced.
Putin's war is posing extended challenges not only to Ukraine but across the planet in various areas. It has led to a humanitarian crisis, it is causing a fuel and energy crisis in Europe, and is a huge challenge for global security.
As we live in a globalized world, the consequences will affect every country, with a new international financial crisis being triggered and the threat of a nuclear war being more pertinent than ever.
Russia has been developing remarkable propaganda since the beginning of the century, especially after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. The contemporary propaganda model can be defined as "the firehose of falsehood" or "firehosing" because of its particular features: high numbers of channels and messages and diffusion of partial truths or outright fictions. Russian propaganda has at least two other distinctive features. It is also rapid, continuous, repetitive, and lacks sometimes consistency.
The Russian government used at first this technique during its offensive against Georgia in 2008. Nowadays, it is used to justify Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine. This model has inspired other governments and political movements around the globe and especially inspired former U.S. President Donald Trump in his massive fake news and hate propaganda to divide American society.
Kremlin's techniques managed to get people to believe, spread disinformation, and disbelieve transparent conventional reporting. All broadcast television in Russia is owned or controlled by the state, with the two main state channels, Channel One and Russia One, covering almost the same stories.
The topics are divided into four broad categories: economic, revelatory, sentimental, and ironic, making in that way their audiences' hearts flutter. Some stories focus on Russian doctors providing medical treatment to children injured in Ukraine. Others blame Zelensky or Joe Biden by informing their audiences that childish fears against Russia drive them.
Fake news that has been spread are: Poland wants to expand into Western Ukraine; Russian action in Ukraine aimed at helping civilians; NATO's policy of unleashing conflicts leads to huge losses and humanitarian catastrophes. In addition, NATO is one of the preferred targets of Russian propaganda that is spreading rumours that the Alliance will be the cause of the (future) World War III. Another preferred disinformation topic is NATO's enlargement as a "reason" for attacking Ukraine.
Pro-Kremlin media also disseminate disinformation on food security by blaming the looming food crises, which are caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They say the West is to blame because of the sanctions against Moscow. In fact, international sanctions imposed on Russia target the Kremlin's ability to finance its military aggression – the leading cause of the looming food crisis.
UNWFP, the World Food Programme, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, is warning about a global hunger crisis and the imminent threat of famine in some countries due to the war - as Ukraine is considered one of the world's top agricultural producers and exporters.
Moskow is stealing food storage and farm equipment, destroying transport facilities in Ukraine, and blocking the Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea to prevent the export of Ukrainian grain.
The actions mentioned above are directly destabilizing global food markets, while at the same time, Kremlin's "firehosing" aims to minimize the global support for Ukraine and blame the West for the increase in food and fuel prices due to the international sanctions that are imposed on them.
In reality, the imposed sanctions prevent Putin's governance from financing its military aggression, which is the main reason for the looming food crisis. It is essential to note that the sanctions exempt exportation and transactions related to food and agricultural products.
Another critical element that we see in the Russian propaganda machine is the Nazi connection. According to the East StratCom Task Force (ESCTF) of the European External Action Service, Moscow is painting its adversaries with the "Nazi brush". This has become one of the defining elements of the pro-Kremlin disinformation about Russia's unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine.
It goes hand-in-hand with increasingly aggressive rhetoric, often amounting to hate speech, to dehumanize and vilify the innocent victims of Russia's aggression. The Kremlin's cycle of death and lies continues with near-total impunity to justify the unjustifiable.
On 27 June, the planet learned of another atrocity committed by Russia's invading forces in Ukraine. A missile strike on a shopping center in Kremenchuk killed at least 20 people, with dozens more missing in the rubble of the destroyed building. The pro-Kremlin disinformation apparatus quickly deployed the same tactic we have seen repeatedly, from bombing a maternity hospital in Mariupol to covering up Russia's war crimes in Bucha.
First we have the silence and denial, refusing to admit the attack had occurred. Then we have the cries of an alleged Ukrainian provocation, reminiscent of the debunked pro-Kremlin claims about Bucha. Then, once more evidence was gathered and the culpability could no longer be denied, it was time to blame the victims, with false claims of Russia hitting a secret Western ammunition and weapons depot. And to top it off with a good measure of distraction, the Russian state-controlled disinformation outlets deployed their favoured tactic of "whataboutism", making false claims that NATO was planning to establish bases in Luhansk.
All in all, information transparency and morale are crucial nowadays, and we should be more prepared for the Kremlin's attempt to manipulate audiences by ejecting hate and blame and trying to spread anxiety and panic.