From “combat mosquitoes” to mobilization: Center for Countering Disinformation explains how Russian propaganda has “evolved”

The Center for Countering Disinformation revealed how Russians conduct information-psychological operations to deceive Ukrainians and strike a chord. Among the current topics are mobilization and war.

“Combat mosquitoes” and the “fictitious Ukrainian coronavirus” — these were fake stories spread by Russia about half a year ago, which were taken seriously by few. Nowadays, Russia’s information campaigns are increasingly aimed at striking a nerve.

Focus (media outlet) requested Alina Bondarchuk, the head of the Disinformation Collection and Monitoring Department at the Center for Countering Disinformation of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, to explain what kind of fake stories Russia is spreading in order to exert psychological pressure on Ukrainians.

Spreading old videos

Information-psychological operations are disinformation campaigns aimed at emotionally involving individuals in a gripping situation. According to Alina Bondarchuk, current Russian information-psychological campaigns revolve around current topics: mobilization, war, wounded soldiers, volunteers, and combat medics. As one example of such an operation, there are attempts to sow discord between the eastern and western parts of Ukraine.

“Through TikTok with hashtags like ‘Lviv fortress’ and ‘Uzhhorod fortress,’ content is being spread in which the main arguments sound like this: while people in the east are suffering and dying, people in the west don’t even know what war and shelling are. It’s a misguided attempt to sow division in the country, because in Lviv itself, everyone knows what war is, and Russians themselves ‘remind’ us by shelling,” Bondarchuk tells Focus.

Additionally, Russians are currently employing information-psychological operations with the theme of mobilization and Ukrainians’ alleged reluctance to go to the frontlines. To illustrate these fabricated claims, Russia is disseminating old video clips in which someone is seen assaulting another person. For instance, a law enforcement officer (before the reform of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Ukraine in 2014) is shown fighting with an intoxicated individual on the road. The whole scene is presented as “citizens not wanting to go and die, while the police are forcing and coercing them, immediately taking them to the frontlines.”

See also: Foreign voices of Russian propaganda: who and how justifies Putin in the world

“If they film new videos in such a context, they avoid showing people’s faces and use blurred backgrounds without specific indicators of a certain location (forest, road in a field, near a car without license plates, etc.), making it harder for us to verify such recordings. Verification takes 3-4 days. And Russian propaganda exploits this because ‘a lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes’,” Alina Bondarchuk adds.

A new portion of lies

An expert speculates that the next wave of Russian fakes will revolve around the topic of enlisting women into the military. This procedure in Ukraine has been postponed until December 2023. It’s likely that Russians will attempt to replace the term “enlistment” with “mobilization” and spin the narrative that there is a shortage of men in Ukraine, and therefore women will be sent to fight. At the Center for Countering Disinformation, they anticipate a series of fakes regarding the prohibition of women who haven’t registered from traveling abroad, as well as other punitive measures concerning them.

There are also fakes aimed at the Russian domestic audience. For instance, manipulated images of Volodymyr Zelenskyy or Olga Kharlan with captions that don’t align with reality. However, Russians perceive this and draw the conclusion that everything in Ukraine is going poorly, without verifying the accuracy of the information in the process.

“Information-psychological operations designed for Russians include information that supposedly Ukrainians don’t want to fight for Zelenskyy or Biden, and would rather participate in international endeavors, but are being coerced into warfare and more. They are constantly bombarded and deceived, with each instance introducing a new dose of falsehood,” the expert concludes.

As a reminder, according to a representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Andrii Yusov, all the claims about a prolonged war between Ukraine and Russia resemble more of a Russian information-psychological operation aimed at an external audience. Different messages are being spread within Russia.

Originally posted by Serafyma Taran on Focus. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Narratives of Russia’s propaganda and disinformation in its fight against Ukraine and the democratic world

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