Zelensky is wining the disinformation war with Russia

Wars are fought on the ground but they are won in the heart.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is using his considerable communications skills to counter the disinformation emanating from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s once powerful propaganda machine.

image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

Putin’s stodgy pseudo-macho style is no match for Zelensky’s emotional tours of the capitals of the West through live video links. Where Putin appears in suits, bloated and a bit crazed, Zelensky favours casual green T-shirts and straight talk. As an actor, Zelensky is natural in front of the camera and knows how to connect with his audience.

To the Canadian parliament he asked them to “imagine if someone is taking siege to Vancouver.”

On the ground, Russian intentions have been obvious. Satellites reveal every Russian move, from the failure to take the capital Kyiv; to the withdrawal and regrouping of troops; to the obvious intent on bombing Mariupol to pieces.

One the misinformation front, the West has been able to “pre-bunk” Russian propaganda.

Intelligence reports warned that that Moscow was planning a “false-flag” operation – staging an attack on Russia and blaming it on Ukraine. Russian intentions were so transparent that when Russia ultimately invaded, we saw the Russian aggression war for what it really was.

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) shared information on Twitter on Russia’s disinformation campaigns in order to protect Canadians who may fall prey to propaganda. Some, unfortunately, have fallen under their mesmerizing sway.

“Since Russia’s brazen and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, we have observed numerous Russia-backed disinformation campaigns online designed to support their actions by creating and spreading false information about both Ukrainians or anti-war protesters in Russia,” CSE wrote on Twitter.

CSE said it had found evidence that Russia was promoting horrible and fake stories saying Ukraine was “harvesting organs of fallen soldiers, women and children” and then hiding the evidence through mobile cremating devices.

“Russia has created and amplified fake stories and narratives falsely claiming that only military targets were being attacked, and that civilian causalities in Ukraine were lower,” CSE wrote.

Russian troops didn’t have the benefit of pre-bunking. When the Russian invasion and slaughter of Ukrainians started they assumed it was going to be a cakewalk, both on the ground and in the propaganda front. Russian soldiers were deluded into thinking that they would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberators.

Some gullible social media users in the West have fallen for the improbable claims. One Kamloops social media user regularly reposts the absurd Russian claims. Some of his posts are so blatantly false that Facebook blocks them.

Zelensky’s communications savvy is evident internationally. He honed his skills in his come-from-behind election victory in 2019 when he effectively employed social media.

In Facebook photos, Zelensky’s team showcases Russian bombings of Ukrainian apartment blocks and hospitals. In Telegram videos, he delivers impassioned speeches about the value of democracy. On Twitter, Zelensky lauds the battlefield triumphs of Ukrainian soldiers.

“He rules the war by making his public statements, he rules the country by his public statement,” said Serhiy Lushchenko, a former member of the Ukrainian parliament and now advisor for the Zelensky’s chief of staff on Russian disinformation.

Russian COVID misinformation part of pre-election strategy

Just as in the last U.S. presidential election, the Russians are stirring up the electorate in advance of November’s presidential election.

image: Dictionary.com

It’s all part Prime Minister Putin’s plan to unhinge the U.S.; to sow as much unrest, division, discontent, misinformation, mayhem, and civil disorder as possible in hopes that the U.S. will fall apart under the weight of the chaos.

The Russians couldn’t hope for a better ally than the Disrupter-in-Chief President Trump.

Before Trump was elected, the notion of a U.S. president cooperating with the Russians seemed so improbable that it would have only occurred in the movies.

Such a movie was The Manchurian Candidate. In the movie, an American sergeant is captured during the Korean War of 1952 and taken to Manchuria where he is brainwashed and unconsciously controlled by the Russians on his return to the U.S.  The sergeant’s mother, a Russian agent, tries to have him installed as president so that that Russians can control the American government.

It would take the wildest conspiracy to suggest that the Russians have brainwashed Trump but his actions are very much aligned with the Russians. Both Trump and the Russians take to social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread division.

I have no doubt that the Russians stir up far-right groups like the Boogaloo Bois, characterized by their Hawaiian shirts and a philosophy that predicts an impending race war called the “boogaloo.” They would be comical if they didn’t carry assault weapons and spew hate.

Then there is the ideologically-twisted antifa movement which is lauded and reviled; lauded because they are anti-fascist but reviled because they are blindly driven by the same violence they abhor in fascists.

The antifa movement has a zombie-like control of otherwise rational people. In New York in late May, two young lawyers were charged in connection with a Molotov cocktail attack on a vandalized police car. They had recently participated in a Zoom solidarity meeting with antifa extremists.

The current pandemic provides an opportunity for the Russians to fuel the spread of conspiracies, hoaxes, myths and fake cures that undermine public-health efforts to control COVID-19.

The apparent Manchurian Candidate Donald Trump recently re-tweeted a video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure. Russian intelligence is behind the spread of disinformation about the drug.

Another one that has Russian fingerprints all over it is the hoax that claims new 5G towers are spreading the virus through microwaves. Yet another is that Microsoft founder Bill Gates plans to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in all seven billion humans on the planet.

Social media amplify these false claims and helps believers find each other. The flood of misinformation has posed a challenge for Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, which find themselves in a game of whack-a-mole. As soon as one fake site is wacked down, another pops up.

It’s no coincidence that the three worst months for hate crime are around election time. Those months also see a rise in violent extremist plots and fatal attacks.

Look for more hate and misinformation to spew forth as the election draws near. We may be able to contain the spread of Cov2 by closing our border with the U.S. but we can’t stop the spread of lies, many originating from Russia.