Russia’s Immortal Regiment fighting in hybrid war against Ukraine

Immortal regiment

The Immortal Regiment march in occupied Crimea (2017). Source: crimea.mk.ru 

Hybrid War

Article by: Zarina Zabrisky

Editor’s Note

The Immortal Regiment movement was born as a grass-root initiative but very soon it became one of the Kremlin propaganda tools. During the full-scale Russian war aganst Ukraine, the Immortal Regiment marches, to be held on 9 May around the globe, will serve for justification of the war against Ukraine and praising the aggressor.

Every year since 2013, on 9 May, celebrated as the Victory Day in Russia, thousands of people in over 100 countries around the world join the Kremlin-run hybrid war action The Immortal Regiment. They march with the portraits of their relatives who fought during World War II, Soviet war heroes, as well as with Soviet flags, portraits of Lenin, Stalin, and other communist leaders.

This year, in Russia, the relatives of those killed in the war with Ukraine will join the procession and carry the portraits of the military personnel responsible for the Bucha, Irpen, and Mariupol massacresThe Immortal Regiment marches will take place in the occupied territories in Ukraine as well. In this way, the Kremlin reinforces the myth of “the denazification” of Ukraine pushing its subliminal message into the collective mind.

The 9 May day serves as the basis for the militarization of collective mind, with its endless slogans ‘We can do it once again’, ‘Seize Berlin–get German women.’ And crazy experts are constantly screaming on TV, ‘We will take Washington next’ (a statement by a talk show host Vladimir Soloviev),says Igor Yakovenko, former Secretary-General of the Union of Journalists of Russia. “It is a politicization of history. Historical documents are used as bombs in information war.”

The Immortal Regiment started in 2012 as a grassroots local initiative of the Russian people to honor their family members fallen in World War II. However, as soon as the year 2015, the movement has been hijacked by the Kremlin to carry out its propaganda operation in over 100 countries.

Hijacking grassroots movements at home and abroad is one of the Kremlin favorite strategies in its hybrid war. The Immortal Regiment is supported by the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Education. In the US, the Immortal Regiment is run by organizations, established and funded by the Russian government, namely the Russian Youth of America and Russian Community  Council of the USA (KSORS), whose partners include the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rossotrudnichestvo – a Russian federal government agency under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, – Russkiy Mir, and other state agencies.

The Russian state-run mass media incite militaristic sentiment to shift the political narrative both at home and abroad. It’s a hybrid war: the ideas, language, and memories are all used as weapons. The Immortal Regiment version of the World War II misrepresents history by silencing shameful events of the Soviet history, such as the mass rape of German women by the Red Army soldiers, execution of POWs, and confinement of POWs returning to the USSR in labor camps, which were as horrible as the Nazi concentration camps.

immortal regiment perm

The Immortal Regiment march in Perm (2017). Source: perm.rbc.ru.

In Russia, well-trained propagandists use mass events, theatrical performances, and symbols to manipulate and exploit the personal tragedies suffered by the USSR population in World War II, the loss of 26 million lives, and the anti-Nazi sentiment. They promote the ideas of Russian supremacy and loyalty of the Russian population to Putin, and justify the atrocities in Ukraine.

They use brainwashing methods such as laundering history and flipping narratives, to claim that Putin’s regime is “the direct successor of all Russia’s glorious victories, chief among them the defeat of Nazism in the Great Patriotic War of 1941–1945, and thereby makes itself immune to criticism,” wrote Moscow Carnegie Center expert Andrei Kolesnikov. Russians are indoctrinated with the concepts of “Sacrifice for the Motherland,” “Russia is above all,” “West is our enemy.”

Around the world, the Kremlin uses compassion for the victims of war to provoke sympathy for the Russian army and whitewash the war crimes of the Putin regime by associating it with the Soviet Army. Thousands of invitations are emailed out to the Russophone citizens of the US, UK, EU, and around the world. Troll factories and social media channels masquerading as independent media outlets target the international community with messages “Putin is my friend,” “Russia is our friend,” and “Russians fight the Nazis.”

Narratives are flipped to serve the Kremlin’s interests: Vladimir Medinsky, a former culture minister now in charge of the negotiations with Ukraine, openly called the collaboration between Stalin and Hitler in 1939, culminating in the Molotov– Ribbentrop pact, to be a “great achievement of Soviet diplomacy.”

Nikonov Molotos

Russian State Duma deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov, a grandson of the Stalin foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, marching with the portrait of his granddad (2020). Source: newizv.ru

The Kremlin also weaponizes Russians living abroad and immigrants from the former USSR. Russophone people are targeted by TV channels funded by the Kremlin and used as a Trojan horse to promote Russian militarism and nationalism within the Russian diaspora.

In 2019, in the US, about 8,000 people took part in the Immortal Regiment marches in twenty cities, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami. Over 700 people, some of them in Russian military uniform, gathered in front of the White House and were greeted by the Russian Ambassador to the United States. (In 2020–2021, the Immortal Regiment had to switch to an online format due to COVID-19.)

In 2022, amidst the full-scale aggression of the Russian army in Ukraine, the Immortal Regiment movement becomes an important hybrid war tool for the Kremlin. It attempts to distort history and undermine political reality for the benefit of the aggressor, and in this way makes itself a part of the whole Russian war operation.

The marches will not be happening in the US, UK, and Ireland (the organizers falsely claimed that the marches had been “banned“). Still, in 40 other countries around the world, the Russian Immortal Regiment will march – in favor of Putin and his war against Ukraine.

Zarina ZabriskyZarina Zabrisky is an award-winning American author of five books published internationally, including the novel “We, Monsters” and three short story collections, and journalist. She is a regular contributor to Byline Times, and contributed to Indivisible Movement, Crossing Genres, Digital Left, and elsewhere.

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