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.
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.