5 Examples Of Russian Wartime Propaganda – And What Might Just Unravel It

Disinformation has the potential to be one of the most harmful weapons in Putin's arsenal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been leading a powerful propaganda campaign about the war he waged against Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been leading a powerful propaganda campaign about the war he waged against Ukraine
ALEXEY NIKOLSKY via Getty Images

Russia has rolled out its most powerful disinformation tactics in honour of the Ukrainian war which paint the Kremlin’s aggression in a completely different light.

While there are quiet hopes that Vladimir Putin’s attempts at deception just might fail this time around, the campaign to create a new narrative around the invasion is certainly sophisticated.

Here are the top five methods the Kremlin uses to try and persuade its own citizens that attacking Ukraine is the right thing to do.

1. Shutting down any media which call the war ‘a war’

A week after Russia first invaded, the Kremlin started shutting down organisations which did not toe the party line.

According to the BBC’s Jenny Hill, the radio station Echo Moscow was taken off air on Tuesday and its websites blocked because it described the war as a war.

The Kremlin has refused to use the word “war” or “invasion” – it claims troops are on a “special military operation”. Putin has also insisted that Ukrainians are actually “threatened and brainwashed”, and therefore need to be saved from “denazification” by Russian forces.

He has shut down any outlets which stray from his description of the invasion and targeted TV towers in Ukraine as well in its bid to suppress the spread of information.

The Russian parliament has also suggested imprisoning anyone who spread “fake news” about the war for up to 15 years.

The independent TV network Dozhd TV was shut down too – it was known as Russia’s last independent news network.

Journalists who worked for the organisation even fled the country the day after the Kremlin blocked it.

The editor-in-chief of the network said: “After the blocking of Dozhd’s website, Dozhd’s social media accounts, and the threat against some employees, it is obvious that the personal safety of some of us is at risk.”

Also known as TV Rain, the network’s YouTube channel is still accessible outside of Russia but it does not load for anyone within the country.

A BBC interview with Oleksandra, a woman in Ukraine whose parents live in Russia, explained just how influential the propaganda had become.

She said: “It really scared me when my mum exactly quoted Russian TV. They are just brainwashing people. And people trust them.

“My parents understand that some military action is happening here. But they say: ‘Russians came to liberate you. They won’t ruin anything, they won’t touch you. They’re only targeting military bases’.”

2. Teaching propaganda at schools

The school curriculum has also been altered to reflect Putin’s desire to call the war a “special operation” and to paint the invasion as an act of necessity.

A statement from the Russian ministry said that children would learn “how to distinguish the truth from lies in the huge stream of information, photos and videos that are flooding the internet today”.

They were given a virtual lesson on “why the liberation mission in Ukraine is a necessity”, according to the Ministry of Enlightenment, which is responsible for education.

People watching were taught about “the dangers Nato represents to our country” and “why Russia stood up for the protection of civilians of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic’s”.

3. Suppressing the public’s freedom of speech

Thousands of anti-war protesters have been arrested in the last week, with riot police coming down hard on even pensioners or children who have peacefully demonstrated against the war.

4. Parading the invasion as a victory already

Russian forces had the state-media ready to go with victory statements – some of which were actually published before being quickly withdrawn – at the very start of the invasion.

On one website, Ria Novosti news agency, it claimed: “Russia is restoring its historical fullness, gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together - in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians.”

It added: “Vladimir Putin has assumed, without a drop of exaggeration, a historic responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations.”

The Kremlin has ignored the destruction of major Ukrainian cities in its reports about the invasion as well.

While it has revealed 498 Russian soldiers have died in the conflict, No.10 has emphasised that it believes the real number is much higher.

Putin has persistently told the Russian people it is all going to plan in his speeches too, even though it’s thought his troops are days behind schedule.

5. Accuse the enemy of propaganda instead

In a bewildering exchange between the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson and Sky News’ international affairs editor, the UK was accused of lying over its footage of Ukraine being bombed.

Asked if Russia was lying about its civilian casualties, Maria Zakharova replied: “It is surprising you are asking this question, you are the representative of a country that for so many years, for decades, has been waging a bloodshed war in countries that don’t have a common bond with you.

“About who is lying, it is the British government who is lying.”

The Kremlin-controlled TV channel NTV has also claimed that the West has produced “a million fakes” about Moscow’s “special operation” to create a different narrative.

The same tactic was adopted on the state-controlled channel Rossiya 1, where the war correspondent Yevgeny Poddubny said: “Motivation among troops in through the roof. Many haven’t been home for eight long years.”

Russian soldiers have actually been caught on camera crying and claiming they were tricked into going to war.

The same channel also claimed that the resistance in Ukraine was down to “Ukrainian nationalists” who “use civilians as a human shield”.

How the propaganda machine could be derailed...

Satellite imagery is now more widely available than it was during Russia’s previous wars.

This means people from all over the world can see the movements of Moscow’s troops long before Putin announces it, making it harder for deceptive leaders like the Russian president to control what the public know.

Open-source information has already been used to derail claims from the Kremlin, such as when Moscow alleged it was withdrawing from the Ukrainian border last month – satellite images told a different story.

Experts are now sharing Twitter threads on the information available too, meaning the global public can have access to the near real-time content.

Even regular civilians in Russia were using social media to share information about what was going on for them in the run-up to the invasion on TikTok.

Social media is one area that Russia has failed to conquer in its propaganda campaign.

Although the hashtags #IStandWithPutin and #IStandWithRussia did start trending this week, they were quickly denounced by the public as manufactured by “bots”.

Now social media use has been restricted across Russia, so the photos of the shelling in Ukraine cannot be seen.

However, the dark web may now be used instead.

The BBC has just launched its website on the dark web in a bid to overcome censorship attempts, after Russia blocked access to the global news site on Thursday.

This news came the day after BBC revealed that the Russian language news site reached a record of 10.7 million people in the last week, compared to 3.1 million previously.

...but, this strategy isn’t full-proof

While social media can be used positively to Ukraine’s advantage and to predict what Putin might do next, Russia can utilise online platforms to gather information too.

Earlier this week, there were concerns about the sharing of images of Russians who had surrendered, as that could endanger their safety.

Similarly, worries about unintentionally passing information to Russian sources by posting it online, for instance, showing what the Ukrainian troops were doing or how refugees were going to escape, have been present online in the last week.

A specialist in open-source intelligence, Melissa Hanham, told BuzzFeed News: “Now we are moving into an era of ‘Should I do this, could I do more harm than good?’”


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