State media bombard Russians with alternative versions of the truth

As images of hundreds of dead civilians in occupied Ukrainian cities sparked global outrage, Antifake – a new show on Russia’s most-watched state TV channel that claims to “discriminate lies from truth” – told a different story.

“These images are cynically portrayed as atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces,” Alexander Smol, the show’s host, said at the start of Tuesday’s show.

The show’s panel rejected footage of civilians lying dead in the streets Bucha, a city near Kyiv, after the withdrawal of Russian troops last week as staged. “FAKE” was emblazoned in red on the screen. The channel then cut to scenes allegedly showing Russian forces distributing aid to local people.

State media in Russia have gone into overdrive to dismiss claims their armed forces have committed war crimes across Ukraine since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion in February.

His top TV presenters told Russian viewers there was “no evidence of casualties” in Bucha. They accused Ukraine of colluding with Western media to stage “provocations” by hiring “poorly trained actors” to play victims or “physically cynically collecting corpses” to take to the streets for the cameras throw.

The bombastic news programs devoted to Russia’s version of the war have supplanted the regular daytime and prime-time entertainment programs that have aired almost 24 hours a day since the invasion began. Any information that contradicts the government’s view has been effectively banned.

But while the Kremlin denies that Russian forces committed war crimes, its account increasingly seeks to justify the violence. State television commentators portray Ukraine as gripped by a collective insanity, portraying anyone hostile to Russia’s “liberators” as “Nazis” and justifying their efforts to “cleanse” the country of Moscow’s enemies.

Ukrainian officials and human rights groups claim that Russian forces have targeted local activists, war veterans, intellectuals, journalists and even school teachers. “It was planned – [Russia] understands [that such people] are the force that built Ukrainian identity and that is why they target them,” said Greg Yudin, head of the department of political philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “This narrative will be used to guide operations on the ground.”

Moscow’s attempt to slander Ukraine as Nazi-ruled dates back to Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan revolution, when Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president, was swept from power. The Kremlin used what it called a “nationalist coup” in Kyiv to justify its shortly thereafter annexation of Crimea and its support of Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region.

The claims have little to do with the reality of life in Ukraine, where Jewish President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who lost several relatives in the Holocaust, won a landslide election victory in 2019. However, they play on strong feelings in Russia related to the 27 million Soviet casualties of World War II.

Accordingly, Putin has sought to garner support for the invasion by calling for Ukraine’s “denazification” and calling the war in Donbass, in which more than 14,000 people died before Russia’s full-blown invasion, a “genocide” against Russian speakers.

“Putin said we are one people. Now it turns out that a split was inevitable and the Ukrainians will be very hostile to the Russians for many years to come. . . That means they are all Nazis [in the Kremlin’s eyes]said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“So this nation is the enemy, despite this hostile ideology [that Ukrainians] supposed to have is completely made up.”

Some pro-Kremlin commentators in Russia have taken the call for Ukraine’s “denazification” to mean that the country should effectively be destroyed. “As history has shown, Ukraine is not viable as a nation-state, and attempts to ‘build’ one logically lead to Nazism,” wrote expert Timothy Sergeitsev in a column for state-run Ria Novosti news agency on Sunday.

He called for the dissolution of Ukraine as a state, the “liquidation” of its elite, adding that “the social swamp that supports it actively and passively must endure the rigors of war and process the experience as a historic lesson and atonement.”

Timofei Sergeitsev, a Russian media pundit, has called for Ukraine to cease to exist and for its elite to be “liquidated” © Vladimir Gerdo/TASS/Alamy

Although the “denazification” narrative has so far failed to generate a popular outburst of support akin to the euphoria that followed the annexation of Crimea, it seems to be resonating with many Russians.

As many as 81 percent of people in a poll released last week by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent polling firm, said they support the “actions of the Russian armed forces,” though sociologists have been skeptical of any measures to raise public sentiment have pushed in Russia. where every contradiction is suppressed.

“There are clearly sizable sections of Russian society that, if they don’t want to actively see the destruction of Ukraine, are at least willing to accept that outcome because the state has told them it has to be done,” said Eugene Finkel, associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, which studies genocide.

The sentiment has arisen in connection with Russia’s effective ban on all independent sources of information about the war. Independent media outlets have shut down, while ordinary Russians face up to 15 years in prison for new crimes such as “discrediting the Russian armed forces” on social media.

“Many people who are against the war say nothing or share anything critical. And that creates the illusion that everyone supports Putin and is behind the war,” said Anton Shirikov, a specialist in Russian state media at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Zelensky has vowed to continue peace talks after the alleged Bucha massacre and said he remains open to meeting Putin if it could help end the war.

But Moscow dropped its call for the “denazification” of Ukraine from a draft Armistice document Last month, some senior Russian officials began repeating the extermination rhetoric championed by Sergeitsev.

On Tuesday, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wrote on the messaging app Telegram that Ukrainian nationality “[that has] fed anti-Russian poison and outright lies about his identity, it’s all a big fake [that] has never existed in history”. He vowed Russia would “change the damn consciousness of Ukrainians,” as Putin ordered.

Despite all the allegations of Russian atrocities and the cynicism behind Moscow’s denial, the intensity of the rhetoric surrounding Bucha showed that Russia’s elite likely believed the narrative themselves, Yudin said.

“There is no difference between what these people say in propaganda and what people around Putin think,” he said. State media bombard Russians with alternative versions of the truth

Adam Bradshaw

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