The Soviets were notorious for their use of propaganda. Lenin coopted a great many “useful idiots” such as the New York Times bureau chief Walter Duranty to spread Soviet propaganda. American liberals sang the “Internationale” and demonstrated for Cuba when I was a kid. This time they are using the American right to spread their message. Can this be a surprise?
The relentless propaganda broadcast by all Ukrainian media in support of the Yanukovych regime up until February was ultimately unpersuasive: the internet told the truth. The new government has no time to put together a PR shop capable of getting any message out. The propaganda war is totally one-sided. A few anti-Yanukovych publications such as the Kyiv Post survived. They are vilified as partisan, but they have established credibility over more than a decade in operation. And, they are all there is.
How can you identify Russian propaganda? It is professionally done, and the average reader cannot check the facts. There are some commonsense controls that anybody can apply.
1. Does it make historical sense? Ukraine was controlled by Putin ally Yanukovych until February. Yanukovych is a native Russian speaker whose Ukrainian is embarrassingly bad. If there had been any fascists, anti-Russian language activists, one would be sure that he would have rooted them out.
2. Does it make geographic sense? Look at a linguistic map of Ukraine, available online, and you will find that at least half the country speaks Russian. More than half the books published here are in Russian. Russian speakers are not persecuted. They are not even a minority.
3. Listen to the tone of the propaganda. Russians are arrogant, condescending to Ukrainians, treating them as uninformed pumpkins. This has been the Russians stance to toward Ukraine for centuries. Only by regarding them as sub-humans could they have justified staving millions to death.
4. Examine the bloggers’ posts on the Internet. See if they have been in cyberspace for any length of time, and see if they post on other subjects.
5. Look for hypocrisy. Russia is busing in uneducated thugs from Russia and Transdniester to foment trouble. One has to look no further back than the demonstrations in Maidan to witness Yanukovych busing in thugs called titushki. Yet, Russia constantly blames the thuggery on the Ukrainians.
6. Look for motives. Why would Ukrainians want to stir up trouble? They are attempting to put together a nation. It would be extremely stupid to offend the Russian speakers. Russia’s motive, on the other hand, is transparent: conquest.
7. Do they change the subject? Do they respond with how awful the CIA is when you accuse them of spreading propaganda? The issue is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has nothing to do with the US.
The strength of Russian propaganda is in its slick preparation, relentless repetition and emotional appeal. Subject it to analysis, and it falls apart.