News / Europe

Russia 'Wags The Dog' With Ukraine Disinformation Campaign

Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, March 5, 2014.
Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, March 5, 2014.
Robert Coalson, RFE/RL
Getting the real story of what is going on in Ukraine is hard enough. And the Russian media seems intent on making it even harder.

With Russian forces controlling Crimea and with Moscow contemplating further military action in Ukraine, Russian media and leading political figures have been shrill in their denunciations of "fascists" in Kyiv and their claims of anti-Semitic incidents, of attacks on ethnic Russians in the eastern reaches of Ukraine, and of floods of beleaguered refugees streaming across the border into Russia.

Much of this information is demonstrably false, however, emerging from unsourced media reports, then making its way into the statements of Russian politicians, and even into Western media reports. Events are echoing the 1997 U.S. film "Wag the Dog," in which spin-doctors use the media to whip up support for a nonexistent war.

"This is how wars get started. As they say, 'truth is the first casualty of war' and we are really seeing that with the way Russia is handling this," said Catherine Fitzpatrick, a writer and translator who has been live-blogging events in Ukraine for Interpretermag.com. "I think they are really irresponsible. They are inciting a lot of hatred and whipping up a lot of panic. People in places like Kharkiv are watching Russian TV. They may be watching also local TV, but they are dependent on Russian TV and a lot it is not checking out."

Fitzpatrick added that everything from reasons cited by Russian lawmakers in authorizing President Vladimir Putin to use force to the justifications for it offered to the United Nations Security Council this week by Russia's U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin, have been based on falsehoods.

"The whole premise for the Federation Council's agreement to give its authorization for the use of force and the whole premise being put forth in the U.N. by Ambassador Churkin is that they have to intervene to save and protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, who they fear are in danger," she said. "But they have based this whole premise on false contentions about attacks."

'Creating provocations'

In his comments at the United Nations, Churkin also cited an alleged attack on the famous Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv that was widely reported in the Russian media. The monastery has said no such attack took place, and Fitzpatrick was "stunned" to hear Churkin citing the debunked report.

Russian media also widely reported that more than 650,000 Ukrainians have crossed out of southeastern Ukraine into Russia since the beginning of the year. However, the U.N.'s High Commissioner on Refugees says it has seen no evidence of unusual migration on the border.

Ukrainian bloggers uncovered the fact that Russian media illustrated their reports with an undated photograph that was actually taken at the Shehyni border crossing  between Ukraine and Poland.

Other stories have a basis in fact, but are unjustifiably spun by Russian media accounts. For instance, on the night of February 27-28, unknown vandals defaced a synagogue in Simferopol.

Russian media blankly reported this as an anti-Semitic attack by the ultranationalist Right Sector group, although Right Sector denied it and the local Jewish community leader Oleksandr Hendin told RFE/RL: "I don't think it was Right Sector. I think someone did this using their logo in order to destabilize Crimea."

Ukraine's chief rabbi, Yakov Dov Bleich, said on March 4 that the main threat to Ukrainian Jews was "provocations" staged by Russia, saying its "the same way the Nazis did when they wanted to go into Austria and [they] created provocations."

Fighting the spin machine

Ukrainian journalist Oleh Shynkarenko, who has written about the efforts of Russia's "propaganda machine" for TheDailyBeast.com, tells RFE/RL that the campaign has two main purposes: "to provoke hatred toward Ukrainians to make Russia go to war with us" and to produce "justification for aggression," such as that presented to the U.N. by Churkin.

Shynkarenko names Russian television journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, a rising star of Russian journalism who in December was named to head the Russian state media conglomerate Rossia Segodnya, as "the most lying" of Russian journalists. Ukraine's Commission on Journalism Ethics has filed a complaint with Moscow about Kiselyov's inflammatory reports.

Serhiy Balbeko is a 25-year-old journalist from Kharkiv who got fed up with the disinformation and created a website called Fake Control to fight back.

"I got the idea to run this project with a few of my friends because we realized the amount of disinformation that was coming from media, from social networks, from news and press and some others," he said.

Fake Control was one of the first sites to debunk the Ukrainian refugees story and has recently debunked Russian media claims that Kyiv intends to jail people with Russian passports and reports that a U.S. aircraft carrier is steaming to the Black Sea to attack Crimea.

Balbeko says his group doesn't use any special techniques to unmask the false reports. They merely examine photographs closely, use search engines to access publicly available information, and make phone calls. He sees what is going on as more than just unprofessional or jingoistic journalism.

"I really feel there is some sort of campaign to show what is going on in Ukraine is an absolutely different way," he said.

Blogger Fitzpatrick says that the Russian media-spin machine has met with considerable resistance from sites like Fake Control and StopFake.org.

"We've gotten to the point where they can orchestrate these planted rumors, but citizen journalists have gotten pretty savvy, so there is a kind of counternarrative where people, they film the buses with the Russian license plates, they film the troops that have the Russian arms that only Russian units have, and the story begins to unravel," she said. "And, I don't know, maybe that's part of what is making the Kremlin propaganda mills work overtime and get even more bizarre. Because they are facing a pretty sturdy citizens' journalist corps."

Flood of disinformation

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in comments to Interfax on March 5, said that photographs of military vehicles in Crimea with Russian license plates were "complete crap" and a provocation. He repeated the official Russian position that Moscow does not know where the armed troops in Crimea have come from, even as Ukrainian journalists posted a video interview with a soldier who admitted he was in the Russian military and cited media reports as the reason for his presence in Ukraine.

Journalist: "Why don't you have any insignias? Where are you from?"
Soldier: "Because that's the kind of uniforms we have, without insignias."
Journalist: "Are you Ukrainian or Russian?"
Soldier: "I'm a Russian soldier."
Journalist: "A Russian soldier."
Soldier: "Yes."
Second journalist: "What are Russian soldiers doing on Ukrainian territory?"
Soldier: "Because ... don't you watch television?"


Some Ukrainians have countered the propaganda with humor, such as a widely circulated graphic showing a Russian-speaking woman who appeared in at least five different Russian media reports with various, differing identification tags and a humorous video in which activists unsuccessfully hunt for fascist ultranationalists on the streets of Odesa.

The Kyiv Post on March 5 published a list of the "Top 10 Kremlin myths and lies used to justify Russian invasion of Ukraine's Crimea."

But such efforts may not be enough to counter the effects of the Russian media reports, Fitzpatrick said. Once a story is out there, it is often impossible to reign back in. A pointed exchange on March 3 between CNN correspondents Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour illustrates this point. Amanpour took Blitzer to task for citing without qualification Ambassador Churkin's claims that "fascists and anti-Semites" were to blame for Ukraine's unrest.

Russian sociologist Lev Gudkov, director of the independent Levada Center, said is a fundamental purpose of propaganda.

"In propaganda it is very important to consider the effect of squeezing out alternative versions of events, all alternative information," Gudkov said. "As a result, even people who don't believe or who doubt the official information are not in a position to work with other points of view. And this is the foundation of propaganda."

RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Yelena Fanailova contributed to this report from Moscow and Tom Balmforth contributed from Simferopol.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: jacob stephen from: italy
March 06, 2014 7:43 AM
What voice of america is also doing the same thing by making ukrainian nationalists are saints and russians are bad through the lens of american propaganda.


by: Huang Jun from: China
March 06, 2014 3:13 AM
Hey VOA, do you think you are more trust worthy than Russia Today? Completely not! You are always hiding facts which you think are unfavourable for the US and its allies. We view your articles not because we believe in you but to learn the way you spead lies.

In Response

by: Anonymous
March 06, 2014 10:46 AM
How do you know we can get correct information in China? Arbitrary judge. No investigation, no right to say casually. My opinion is Politics is dirty. Nobody is clean.

In Response

by: Anonymous from: CHN
March 06, 2014 8:51 AM
I JUST DON‘T AGREE WITH YOU .I'M FROM CHN TOO, AND LOTS OF PEOPLE IN CHN DON’T BELIEVE THEIR OFFICIAL MEDIA,SUCH AS CCTV.THERE IS NO NEWS FREEDOM,WHICH IS DIFFERENT FROM THE US.BELIEVE OR NOT BELIEVE,YOU HAVE OTHER CHOICES.RT IS CONTROLED BY PUTIN , EVERYONE KNOWS IT.

In Response

by: Mattias from: Sweden
March 06, 2014 7:21 AM
Hi Huang! I understand that you are not satisfied with this site.
How do you get correct information? That must be difficult since you live in China.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid