By XHABIR DERALLA
At the very beginning of the full Russian invasion against Ukraine, a large number of internet portals and some traditional media outlets in North Macedonia became a target of the propaganda under the Kremlin’s dictate. Some of them fell for the propaganda tricks, but many of them “arbitrarily” and “single-handedly” engaged in an open pro-Russian propaganda.
With the intense propaganda to which the Macedonian public was exposed to in this critical period, the impact of the long-lasting Russian influence in all key areas became visible. Hence, under the influence of the Russian propaganda that some media and other entities and public figures were spreading, part of the public in North Macedonia welcomed the news about the military invasion on Ukraine with admiration and approval.
The Russian propaganda denies the war crimes in Ukraine
The first sign of hesitation in regards to the uncontrolled spreading of disinformation and Russian propaganda is noted after the discovery of the horrific war crimes. Hundreds of dead bodies of civilians were found in settlements near Kyiv where Russian occupiers had been for a month, and were suppressed in the offensive by the Ukrainian defenders in the beginning of April.
Then, part of the media and active social media users, appalled by the extent and brutality of the crimes against civilians in Ukraine, withdrew and stopped their “cheering” for the Russian military aggression. Nevertheless, the Russian propaganda, after the first wave of public condemnation for the crimes passed, continued with its action, or it can be said, with an even more intense force.
After the war crimes were discovered, a more intensified, not totally unsuccessful, attempt was noted to manipulate the public with disinformation and false claims that it was about staged scenes. Disinformation that the war crimes really hadn’t taken place were intensely placed, and that the Ukrainian and Western propaganda is only trying to denigrate the Russian army. The propaganda went so far as to shamelessly claim that the victims were not caused by the Russians, but by the Ukrainians themselves!
The Russian propaganda in the media and on the social networks is strongly supported by right-wing political parties that are not always so open, as is the Levica party. Still, the pro-Russian position of right-wing political parties, though not declared publically (they usually don’t have a position), can be identified through the media that are under their control or through the actions of the party troll factories on the social networks.
Admiration and gloating for the suffering of civilians
CIVIL’s monitoring notes that, in parallel to the disinformation that falsely claims that “war crimes had not taken place”, Russian and pro-Russian propagandists on the social networks and in part of the media outlets, are expressing admiration and gloating for the suffering of civilians. They, by using explicit speech and hate speech, approve crimes such as torture and mass executions of entire families, raping of women, children, and even babies. So, on the one side – denial, and on the other – admiration and gloating by denying at the same time. Illogical, but functions.
Some propagandists not only don’t deny the crimes, but also approve and glorify them, but with all their strength try to deny that Russian soldiers and paramilitary formations are stealing. Their value system allows them to enjoy and glorify the destruction and horrific tortures, killings and rapes, but not that they also steal household appliances, personal items, clothes, money and jewelry from the homes and of the dead bodies of Ukrainian civilians.
Main propaganda narratives: “special military operation” for “liberation” and “denazification” of Ukraine
The Russian propaganda is insistently trying to rationalize the invasion as a “special military operation” for “liberation” and “denazification’, as well as for “preventing genocide against the Russians in Ukraine” and “defending Russia from NATO”. As opposed to that, the greater part of the world public is disqualifying these claims as completely not true and absurd. What Russia did in 2014 and the full military aggression that started on February 24, 2022, were an unprovoked act of aggression against a sovereign, peaceful, democratic and independent state, completely contrary to international law.
And the claims of the propaganda doctrine from the Kremlin that war crimes have not been committed in Ukraine are also refuted. The photo and video evidence from the ground and the thousands of shocking testimonies of victims of the Russian terror in Ukraine, along with reports from the media, relevant international civil institutions and organizations and military-intelligence sources, speak quite clearly of what is really happening on the ground. Investigations for war crimes are already in progress, and increasingly more arguments point to the fact that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine.
Denying the Ukrainian nation, language and identity
Moscow uses particularly rude and belittling vocabulary in terms of Ukraine. “Ukraine doesn’t exist”, “Lenin granted Ukraine independence”, “Ukrainian language, culture and identity do not exist” – are some of Kremlin’s narratives in an intense, multiple-year propaganda war.
In Ukraine itself, at one time Putin managed to install and strengthen powerful pro-Russian structures at all levels and in all areas, starting from the economy, media and civil society, up to the army, police and political establishment.
Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, wasn’t working for the Ukrainian interests. To the moment when his government was overthrown, Yanukovych worked on fulfilling the Russian economic, political and security interests. He worked on weakening the democratic institutions, and turned Ukraine into a logistic and industrial service of Russia.
The Ukrainian “colorful” spoil Putin’s calculations
In all variants, Putin needed Ukraine for its geostrategic position and all its available resources. With Yanukovych heading the country, he had no need to worry about his “bright criminal future”.
But the Ukrainian “colorful” spoiled his calculations (Maidan Revolution, 2014). And while Brussels was admiring the creative protestors and was searching for “neutral” and “objective” assessments of the democratic transition in Ukraine, “little green men emerged” in parts of the country’s industrial east and strategically important Crimean Peninsula in the south and occupied somewhat more than seven percent of the territory of sovereign and independent Ukraine.
The “maskirovka” put into function long before the invasion in 2014
Putin’s propaganda machinery is multilayered, sophisticated and long-lasting. The methodology of running a propaganda is rooted in the infamous military-propaganda doctrine known as the “maskirovka”, which developed during the time of the first leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Ilich Lenin.
The hybrid war against Europe and Ukraine had intensified for at least five years before the first military invasion of Russia against Ukraine (2014). Europe chose to be “blind” to the horrible threat, as well as more than 80 years ago ahead of the raid of the then expansionist and militant regimes in Germany and Italy.
Fierce propaganda and hybrid attacks against the West
The Russian propaganda and hybrid attacks in the past decade have been fierce. It was aimed at long-lasting undermining of the trust in the institutions and order in the countries of the West. Among else, the propaganda had the goal to hide the systematic violation of human rights and freedoms in Russia. One of the ways of achieving the goal was with relativization (they are all the same), with which responsibility for the difficult situation in which Putin’s dictatorship threw the Russian citizens into was avoided or completely denied.
In parallel, we see glorification of the “strong hand” regimes and belittling of the democratic processes in Europe and the world. This was accompanied by deep corruption at the highest levels, penetration in the economy and creating European dependence on Russian energy resources.
A “special war” is also being conducted on Balkan soil
In 2016, NATO revealed that hybrid attacks had been launched against some member states of the Alliance and announced the decision to activate Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. It led to establishing counter – hybrid support teams in 2018.
The “special war” (Yugoslav expression), that is, the hybrid war only intensified in 2014. The impact of the hybrid threats that came from Russia are strongly felt in the Western Balkans region, including North Macedonia. Some of the right-wing political groups in the country welcomed this threat readily and put themselves in the service of the Russian propaganda that still lasts until today.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska