Lies, Damned Lies, And Whatever Putin’s Saying


I’ve got into a little habit ever since the “Ukraine tensions” became the “Ukraine war”. I call it my morning “brace for it” moment. Upon waking, I’ll take a deep breath, unlock my phone and wait, frozen with anticipation like it’s a doctor reading out my MRI results. Only when the first notification drops am I able to exhale. Not that the news is ever good, and as the fighting rages it’s only getting worse. 

Needless to say, I’m on the side of Ukraine. I mean, how could anyone not be? Unless, of course, you believe it’s not a war but a “special military operation”, spearheaded by Nazi-busting Russian heroes freeing Ukraine from its fascist oppressors. But that’s not right. Isn’t Vlodemyr Zelensky Jewish? Isn’t the Ukrainian far-right in decline? Didn’t one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis publicly denounce Putin’s actions? How does that all add up? 

The answer is it doesn’t. The idea that Ukraine is controlled by genocidal Nazis could only be referencing two groups, and neither of them has the power to oppress a population or commit genocide. The first is Svoboda, a far-right political party with links to WWII Nazi sympathiser Stepan Bandera. Operating as a coalition of several far-right groups in the 2019 parliamentary election, it won just a single seat out of 450 (down from six in 2014 and 37 in 2012), about as close to a minority as you can get. The second is the Azov Battalion, a 900-strong, volunteer-only fringe group in the Ukrainian army with strong connections to neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideologies. These guys are, admittedly, nasty. Like, ‘coat your bullets in pig fat to fire at Muslim Chechans’ nasty. Still, 900 people is a tiny proportion of Ukraine’s 125,000-strong land army. It’s bad but certainly not enough of a threat to warrant a full-scale invasion (oh, sorry, “operation”).

So that’s it. While there is a far-right presence in Ukraine, to call it a serious issue is laughably far from the truth. The pretense behind the invasion which, to date, has forced over a million Ukrainians from their homes and killed thousands must either be based on malicious lies or unhinged Putin paranoia. Frankly, I don’t know which is worse.

It’s no wonder, then, that pro-Russian outlets and social media accounts are quick to levy the same accusations of toxic misinformation onto the rest of the world. They point the finger at supposedly debunked material circulating online: parents sending children off to safety, hero fighter pilots, and Russian tanks steamrolling Ukrainian civilian vehicles. Some of these do genuinely appear false or misleading. For example, the Ghost of Kyiv story and the Russian tank video, but they’re not even nearly in the same league of outrageous as Putin’s lies. 

Yes, some of the material supporting Ukraine is misleading, and a lot of it has propagandistic elements. However, emotionally resonant content like this adorable Ukrainian puppy isn’t capable of harm like fantasies of fascist regimes are. Stories of people like the sunflower seed lady are only going to unite us behind a cause we already support. They’re only going to boost morale and, as this Twitter thread explains, help fight misinformation. By contrast, Russia’s lies have tricked Russian soldiers into willingly shooting, killing, and being killed for…what? The protection of Putin’s ego in the face of NATO enlargement? Recently, reports have come to light that these soldiers are seeing the truth, that they aren’t saviors, and it’s causing their morale to plummet. The Russian people are not on the same side as Putin. They’re being misled by state media. Too bad the independent press can’t report on it, since Russia has snuffed it out like an actual fascist regime.

Of course, we’re in the midst of an information war. Therefore, it’d be naive to think that there’s zero manipulation or persuasion in any of the Russia-Ukraine content we consume. All we can do is keep our heads screwed on, seek the truth and dig for the underlying message behind it all. Unfortunately for Russians, that’s nearly impossible with the clampdown on independent media, the blocking of social networking platforms, and the introduction of up to 15-year punishments for anyone spreading “false” news about Ukraine. The BBC might be trying its best with shortwave radio and guidance for downloading internet censorship circumvention tools. However, relying on that must feel like being guided by a lone, flickering candle in the middle of a dark forest.

So, while my morning “brace for it” moment is pushing my blood pressure up to new heights, I’m grateful that the reality it’s depicting isn’t a complete mirage. It might feed me the odd clip from a video game masquerading as war footage, but I can take solace in the fact that it’s not trying to totally warp my view of the world.

Words by Jamie Davies

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