Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Kremlin propaganda more aggressive as Russia steps up attacks

by Oleg SukhovOctober 28, 2022 2:48 pm
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Kremlin propaganda more aggressive as Russia steps up attacksRussian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a rally at the Red Square, in Moscow, in support of the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, on Sept. 30, 2022, (Getty Images)

As Russia is escalating its war against Ukraine and using massive missile and drone strikes to destroy infrastructure, Kremlin propaganda is becoming even more bloodthirsty. 

The earlier disappointment of propagandists with repeated Russian defeats on the battlefield has been replaced with a feeling of schadenfreude. They are gloating over the suffering and deaths of Ukrainian civilians caused by Russian attacks.

"Let's hope that it's not a one-off act of revenge, but a new system of waging war," pro-Kremlin war reporter and propagandist Alexander Kots wrote on Telegram after the Oct. 10 missile strike on Kyiv that killed seven civilians.

The initial taboo on using the word "war" has been lifted, and Kremlin mouthpieces are now portraying the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a "holy war" and a repeat of the so-called "Great Patriotic War," a Soviet term invented to glorify the USSR’s conflict with its former ally Nazi Germany during the World War II. 

Russian propagandists are now routinely calling for total war, wiping Ukrainian cities off the map, continuing the destruction of civilian infrastructure, murdering civilians, and even killing Ukrainian children.

Russian propagandists on TV and social media pose as individuals with independent opinions, but act as a coordinated network. The people behind the calls to destroy Ukraine are usually employed by state-owned or pro-Kremlin media. 

Often, they spread similar narratives at the same time, implying that they are coordinated. 

Crimean Bridge 'provocation'

The Oct. 8 attack on the Crimean Bridge, which links Russian-occupied Crimea with Russia via the Kerch Strait, triggered a new wave of aggressive Ukraine-bashing by pro-Kremlin propagandists in Russia.

Russia blames Ukraine for an explosion that damaged the bridge and reportedly killed four people. Ukraine denied involvement.

The Crimean Bridge is used for supplying Russian troops and therefore, some argue, is a legitimate military target. Yet the Kremlin propagandists presented the attack as an "act of terrorism." 

Russian propagandists called for "a severe and massive response" to the attack and argued that Russia should act harsher in Ukraine. Even before the attack, Russian troops had targeted schools and medical facilities in Ukraine, and had executed, tortured, and raped civilians, which had been confirmed by international organizations’ reports.

One of Russia's top propagandists, popular TV host Vladimir Solovyov calls for more attacks on Ukraine on one of his shows. (Courtesy)

"This is more proof that Ukraine is a terrorist state. Let's stop talking about red lines," one of Russia’s top TV propagandists, Vladimir Solovyov, said after the Crimean Bridge explosion. 

He argued that Russia should wear its status as an international pariah as a badge of honor. 

"When will we start waging war (for real)?" he said. "We're already considered evil. Let them consider us evil. It's better for us to be feared, not to be laughed at." 

Attacks on infrastructure

Two days after the bridge explosion, on Oct. 10, Russia launched massive missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure all over Ukraine, including Kyiv. The attacks have continued since then, killing dozens of civilians.

The attacks led to a wave of euphoria among Kremlin propagandists. They unanimously called for continuing the strikes.

"Deep into Ukraine's territory. Until it loses its ability to function," Kots said.

Russian TV propagandist Solovyov called for "bombing Ukraine into the Stone Age," implying all electricity and heating must be destroyed in Ukraine.

"It's great that we struck them deep in their territory, including cities – like Lviv – that thought they were alright," Solovyov said. "But this must be accompanied by successful actions on the ground."

Starshe Eddy, a Russian pro-war Telegram channel with 623,000 subscribers, edited by a journalist going under the name German Kulikovsky, said the attacks were "very beautiful" and called for continuing them "non-stop." It also used the "the winter is coming" line – an allusion to the Game of Thrones series – as a reference to Russia's intentions to cause a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine amid a cold winter. 

"More Geran (Shahed-136) drones and more Kalibr missiles should be fired against Ukraine," Starshe Eddy wrote. "Winter is coming, and I hope we have begun to play total war at full strength." 

Starshe Eddy also interpreted the missile attacks as a sign that Russia had "finally overcome the defeat at Izium and Kupiansk" in Kharkiv Oblast in September.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the country's security council and a former Russian president, commented on the attacks by saying, "Ukraine's political regime should be fully dismantled." 

Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov went even further, explicitly calling for destroying Ukrainian cities. 

"We respond weakly," he said on Oct. 24. "If a shell falls in our territory, we should wipe their cities off the map to make them understand that they shouldn't even think of shooting at us."

‘Holy war’ rhetoric

Another notable change in the propaganda rhetoric about the war concerns the word itself.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, it called its war a "special military operation." The word "war" regarding the invasion was soon banned by law.

However, Kremlin propagandists have recently begun to ignore the ban and routinely use the word "war."

They increasingly portray the war against Ukraine as a "holy war" and an existential struggle against the "evil" West. 

"For me, it's a holy war of our fatherland," Solovyov said on Oct. 25. "One can't just sit it out, it concerns everyone in their respective field. It's a war for what we believe in." 


Meanwhile, Kadyrov portrayed the war against Ukraine as a sort of "jihad," saying that Russia is protecting religion and family values. 

"This is a war between satanism on one hand and Christians and Muslims on the other hand," he said on Oct. 24. 

He scolded Chechens for failing to fight against Ukraine en masse and said he was ashamed of them. Kadyrov added that 300,000 to 400,000 people from the Chechen region's 1.6 million population should be sent to the front line. 

Krasovsky case

Russian propaganda reached its peak in a recent outburst by Anton Krasovsky, who was in charge of Russian-language content at the Kremlin-run Russia Today television.

Krasovsky triggered a scandal by calling on Oct. 20 to murder Ukrainian children who oppose Russian aggression.

"If someone says that Russians occupied Ukraine, they should be thrown into a river with a rapid current," he said. 

Anton Krasovsky, who was in charge of Russian-language content at the Kremlin-run Russia Today television, called for murdering Ukrainian children during his TV show. (Courtesy)

Krasovsky went on to call for Ukrainian children to be “locked in wooden houses and burned.” 

The statements caused an international outcry forcing even some top-level Kremlin propagandists to oppose those comments. 

Margarita Simonyan, RT's chief editor, said that the propaganda network had "suspended cooperation" with Krasovsky and called his statement "wild and disgusting." 

Russia's Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into the statement, and Krasovsky had to apologize. 

However, the sincerity of other propagandists' reactions is dubious since Krasovsky's latest statement is in line with what he said in the past.

In 2021, Krasovsky called for jailing people protesting against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and drowning them in St. Petersburg's Moika River. 

In January, he said that Ukrainians who support joining NATO and the Ukrainian Constitution should be burned on Khreschatyk Street, the main street in Kyiv. 

On Oct. 10, 2022, Krasovsky reacted to a massive missile attack on Ukrainian cities by saying he was happy and dancing in pajamas with "Russian army" printed on it. 


Note from the author:

Hello! My name is Oleg Sukhov, the guy who wrote this piece for you.

I was born in Russia and moved to Ukraine in 2014 because I couldn't stand the suffocating atmosphere of that totalitarian country. I used to think it might be possible to transform Russia into a liberal Western-oriented country. Now it's clear that it's a lost cause. But at least I can atone for the crimes of my homeland by exposing its barbaric aggression against Ukraine and providing objective and independent coverage of what is going on there. I'm also trying to contribute to Ukraine's transformation into a full-fledged Western liberal democracy strong enough to defeat Russia. 

Our publication needs help from every one of you — support Ukrainian wartime journalism, become a patron of the Kyiv Independent.

Oleg Sukhov
Oleg Sukhov
Political reporter

Oleg Sukhov is a political reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He is a former editor and reporter at the Moscow Times. He has a master's degree in history from the Moscow State University. He moved to Ukraine in 2014 due to the crackdown on independent media in Russia and covered war, corruption, reforms and law enforcement for the Kyiv Post.

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