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Cacophonous chorus of conniving voices

Once again, it has been a busy week for the Kremlin’s information manipulation purveyors. From planes crashing in Russia’s backyard to some EU countries displaying democratic behaviour such as freedom of expression and the right to assembly, incomprehensible in the Kremlin, there were indeed many angles the Kremlin’s disinformation apparatus sought to exploit for its own devious goals. Let’s have a closer look at how they sought to alter the public perception of some of the events that unfolded this week.

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s the Kremlin’s firehose of falsehoods!

On 24 January a Russian IL-76 military transport plane crashed near the Ukrainian border in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast. While calls for an objective international investigation go unheeded by Russia, there is little veritable information about what happened to the plane and what it was transporting that day. Of course, for the Kremlin’s mouthpieces, facts and evidence have never been a prerequisite for expounding their deceitful claims.

Almost immediately after the IL-76 crash was reported, pro-Kremlin channels started spreading claims that the cargo plane was carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) headed for a pre-arranged prisoner swap with Ukraine. These as-of-yet unproven claims were quickly used to vilify Ukraine and accuse it of terrorism. Then, the plane crash was used to ‘prove’ a particularly nasty narrative spawned in the festering dungeons that spawn the Kremlin’s lies – that the Ukrainian government does not care about its people and is willing to sacrifice them as collateral damage. This is nothing new. In fact, we’ve documented hundreds of pro-Kremlin attempts to pit the Ukrainian people against the ‘Kyiv regime’.

Time to confuse

Now, after the initial groundwork of distraction, vilification and accusations was laid, it was time for the Kremlin to really open up the firehose of falsehoods. The Kremlin’s disinformation always seeks to confuse, and for that, spreading numerous, sometimes conflicting narratives works like a charm. Enter the claims that the IL-76 crash is a provocation by the Ukrainian military, much like the downing of Malaysian civilian airliner MH17 in 2014.

And the more time passed, the more far-fetched the Kremlin’s stories became, including wild stories that the UN is preparing a ‘Bucha-style justification’ to demonise Russia or that NATO troops attacked Russia and shot down the plane. And if it wasn’t NATO, it was definitely the US, Germany or the UK. Perhaps the most outlandish claim of all – that Ukraine shot down the IL-76 to stop Ukrainian POWs from telling the world how well Russia treated them.

Spin the cycle of lies

The Kremlin disinformation machine’s approach to the IL-76 incident is almost a perfect textbook example of disinformation manipulation. First, deny any culpability and fill the initial information vacuum with plausible but misleading claims. Then rely on unwitting amplifiers to lend legitimacy to the narrative, project your own wrongdoing outwards, and blame the adversary. Finally, pack the information space with a cacophony of voices to confuse perception and obscure the truth.

How do we know what’s happened? Quite simple. This is hardly the first time we’ve seen the Kremlin’s disinformation spreaders spin this manipulative cycle of lies. Most notably, this was the case with pro-Kremlin coverage of the downing of MH17, spanning years. The comparisons to MH17 are particularly cynical, when Russia’s responsibility for killing all 298 innocent people on board that flight has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Other examples include the finger pointing and outpouring of falsehoods about the Nord Stream pipelines’ sabotage, the destruction of the Khakovka dam or the shelling of a prison camp in Olenivka.

What will the tractors bring?

The other major topic in the Kremlin’s disinformation cross-hairs this week is European farmer protests taking place across Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and other places. The Kremlin’s pundits seemed to rejoice about this essential expression of democratic freedoms enshrined in the common values that tie the European community together. They predict the division and economic downfall of the EU, entirely missing the point that in democratic societies, such civic action – the freedom to protest – is rather a sign of strength, not weakness. So, the Kremlin feels compelled to ridicule such expression as ‘tractor wars’.

Still, the Kremlin considered the topic ripe enough to push two main disinformation narratives. First and foremost, its disinfo peddlers try to exacerbate the perception of divisions between the people, and what the Kremlin erroneously calls the ‘Brussels elites’. Some pro-Kremlin outlets also hoped for an eruption of violence and prophesised that the ongoing protests will spell the end for the EU, which is set to begin with the ‘siege of Paris’.

The collapse of the Union is a classic. At fairly frequent intervals, Kremlin mouthpieces have predicted the downfall of the European project. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Moscow predicted a coming collapse due to the EU’s alleged inability to take health measures. That proved wrong. During winter 2022-23, the collapse was supposed to have come due to soaring energy prices, inflation and a general economic meltdown.

It’s because of Ukraine, stupid!

Invariably, for the Kremlin’s disinformation producers, all roads lead back to Ukraine. And, so it is with the farmer protests in Europe. Who’s to blame, you ask? The Kremlin has a resounding answer – it’s the greedy Zelenskyy! According to the notorious Russian propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov, the European Commission is in cahoots with Ukraine to flood the EU market with cheap goods, to mitigate the allegedly self-inflicted damage of EU sanctions against Russia. And, of course, this disinformation narrative was readily amplified by Russian diplomatic accounts.


Article and pictures first time published on the EUvsDisinfo web page. Prepared for publication by volunteers from the Res Publica - The Center for Civil Resistance.


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