Kremlin disinformation and Ukraine: The language of propaganda



Ukraine remains a central target of Kremlin disinformation. This is the conclusion of a recent report by Kremlin Watch Monitor, citing the latest Disinformation Review published by the EEAS East STRATCOM Task Force [on twitter @EUvsDisinfo]. These teams track Kremlin propaganda in the media of European countries. The main stories from last week’s digest were the “news” that the European Union and the United States were co-opting international law in “their” war against Russia, and that Russia has nothing to do with the Minsk agreements. Kremlin Watch Monitor also lists the latest efforts at disinformation in Europe and includes an informative infographic to help recognize “hybrid warfare trolls.”

It’s been almost a year since the European Union’s EEAS East STRATCOM Team first began its work monitoring Kremlin propaganda in the media of European countries. Their latest report contains examples of disinformation from both Russian and separatist publications as well as from little-known bloggers. Of the 43 examples of disinformation, more than 30 of them relate to Ukraine.

One such example is a fake letter purported to have been written by the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to the American newspaper The New York Times. Posing as President Poroshenko, two pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov discussed corruption in Ukraine, Kyiv personnel policies, and the Panama Papers offshore scandal with the American journalists. The reporters stopped publication of the fake material after they tried verifying the authenticity of the recording with the press service of the President of Ukraine, who, in turn, accused Russian secret services in staging the fabrication.

Скріншот з сайту

Germany’s Foreign Minister Steinmeier (source:

Another striking example of disinformation is the way the Russian media have distorted the words of the Foreign Minister of Germany.  A Russian publication noted that at the meeting of representatives of the developed countries ‘Group of Seven’ in Japan, Steinmeier expressed a desire to bring Russia back into the international group, allegedly praising “Russia’s constructive role in resolving the crisis in Ukraine and Syria.” In fact, Steinmeier said that Russia must contribute a “political solution” to the Ukraine conflict as a prerequisite for its return into the international group, and the Kremlin must play a permanent “constructive role” in the search for peace in Syria. [Steinmeier maintains that excluding Russia over its actions in Ukraine is a necessary step, but not a goal in itself.]

Among other examples of widespread disinformation are broadcast programs and statements made without any backing evidence. For example, a recent edition of the Russian program “Documentary Project. Russia. A Great Mission” discusses Russophobia and anti-Russian hysteria in the West. However, it doesn’t actually show any evidence of persecution of Russian minorities in the West. Similarly lacking any evidence is a story about the United States supporting the escalation of frozen conflicts along the borders of Russia, and that the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was actually caused by the US Secretary of State.

Euro-Atlantic experts on disinformation

Writer and author at EuromaidanPress Paula Chertok writes about how Russia’s myths about the situation in Ukraine enter the language of the world’s media. Kremlin Watch Monitor’s survey includes this article.

Writer Paula Chertok argues that the media use of the phrase “the Ukrainian crisis” or “Ukraine crisis” for what is in fact a Russian war against Ukraine. Using the phrase “Ukrainian crisis” serves to distract from Russia itself as the responsible party.

Chertok notes that the media should not be talking about a “crisis” but rather a “war” in Ukraine.

“We’ve come to expect the Russian media using the language of “crisis” rather than the language of “war” precisely because it diminishes Russia’s responsibility. State-run Sputnik and RT (Russia Today) have run thousands of articles about the “Ukrainian Crisis,” all of which perpetuate Russian myths about Ukraine. But it’s even more disconcerting to see the same language patterns regularly used in Russia’s propaganda press seep into the seemingly uncaptured Western media. As a result, people casually reading the news are given Russian perspectives on Ukraine, and come away with more Russian perspective and more Russian propaganda myths than they bargained for,” the article says.

As an example, Paula Chertok cites the publication on the BBC website about the ban of Russian films in Ukraine. She says the BBC authors use the word “war” in the context of media, hybrid wars and other wars. However, when it comes to discussing the actual war in Ukraine, the word “war” is not used.

“Ukraine is still living with a war on its border with Russia. Thank goodness the war in Donbas has diminished from this time last year. It nonetheless continues. Casualties and artillery strikes on villages and neighborhoods are reported daily. Given this reality, the BBC’s decision to use the word “war” quite casually for everything BUT the actual war, and choosing euphemisms like “crisis” for the real war, is, to say the least, unfortunate,” the author writes.

Політична карикатура Олексія Кустовського

Political cartoon by Oleksiy Kustovskyi. Translation: “Odesa is a Russian city,” “Russian spring,” “Give us the ‘Odesa People’s Republic'”, “Putinzombieland.” “You don’t know Odesa; separatism won’t work here.”

Paula Chertok also draws attention to the so-called language of “equivalency” in stories about Donbas. She notes that in Western media use of such language imposes on the reader the impression that both Ukraine and Russia are equally to blame for the war, and both are equally to blame for the overall scheme of things. This impression is formed in stories that use phrases such as “each other” and “on both sides.” As Chertok says, when things are presented in the “he said- she said” format, it is impossible to determine who is right. And in this way, the reader becomes a victim of Russian propaganda.

“Repeatedly using the words of equivalence, without proper contextualization with well-established facts, we’re left thinking we’re reading about parties that are equally bad, equally dirty, and equally to blame for the current war “crisis,” the author writes.

Paula Chertok writes that this language of “equivalence” between the two sides reduces the undeniable role of Russia as the aggressor. And when Russia is presented as the aggressor, it is invariably mitigated by the addition of phrases like: “From the point of view of Kyiv”; “Kyiv considers Russia an aggressor state”; “Ukraine believes that Russia is a threat to national security.” By themselves, these phrases are perfectly suitable for journalism, but they also play very well into Russian propaganda.

Kremlin disinformation and Ukraine: The language of propaganda ~~


Infographic: NATO Stratcom



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