We Americans and Europeans are used to thinking of terrorism as something involving fertilizer bombs or improvised weapons, and of terrorists as fringe extremists who operate conspiratorially in irregular gangs. When we speak of state-sponsored terrorism, we are usually talking about clandestine groups that are supported, covertly, by a recognized state, in the way that Iran supports Hezbollah. But Russia’s war in Ukraine blurs the distinction among all of these things—terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, war crimes—for nothing about the bombing of Serhiivka, or Kremenchuk, or Kharkiv, is surreptitious, conspiratorial, or fringe.
Instead Russia, a legitimate, recognized world power—a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council—is directing constant, repetitive, visible terrorist violence against civilians, many of whom are nowhere near the fighting. The attacks are not errors or accidents. The planes carrying bombs can be tracked on radar screens. Occasionally, Moscow issues denials—the shopping-mall bombing was, like many others, described by Russian state media as “faked”—but no apologies. The Russian army will not punish the murderers. On the contrary, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has already awarded medals to the brigade that committed so many atrocities in the town of Bucha.
For many decades, everyone had been asking if Germans in 1939 really didn’t understand what was going on. We’ve wondered how an entire nation, all of those regular people, decided to go along with total insanity. It occurred to me that today, we’re in a position to answer this question.
My friend Alisa, a sociologist whose name has been changed, and I started walking around Moscow and asking random people how they felt about the war in Ukraine. We thought that what was going on was so insane, everyone must have questions about it. Half of the people we asked refused to talk to us. The other half were usually open to fairly in-depth conversations. Later, I talked to people in the Kaluga and Kostroma regions. We conducted over 50 interviews in total. They are not intended to be representative. We just wanted to get some sense of what was going through people’s heads. To enter into the darkness and feel around for something human.
An extensive investigation by Amnesty International has concluded that Russian military forces committed a war crime when they struck the Mariupol drama theatre in Ukraine in March, killing at least [a] dozen people and likely many more.
In a new report, ‘Children’: The Attack on the Donetsk Regional Academic Drama Theatre in Mariupol, Ukraine, the organization documents how the Russian military likely deliberately targeted the theatre despite knowing hundreds of civilians were sheltering there on 16 March, making the attack a clear war crime.
For over a decade, Russian society has been bombarded with hardcore, revanchist propaganda. The West did not take note.
The surveys, carried out by the Levada Centre three times so far, at the end of March, of April and at the beginning of June, should be read by all of those wanting to believe that a single madman is dragging his country into a war they didn’t ask for and do not support. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that this is the case. Even if we assume that people would be wary of expressing open disapproval of the war, the overriding impression is that the population are happy to blame anybody but Russia for an act of aggression not seen since the Second World War.
Judging by the results of the survey, 77% of respondents support “the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine”, with 47% saying that they definitely support them (the others – that they basically support them). This is a few points lower than in March, but higher than at the end of April. These may be normal fluctuations, however it was in April that the Russian atrocities committed in Bucha and other Kyiv oblast cities first received widespread coverage, eliciting international outrage. Levada found support to be greatest among the older respondents, lowest among the younger, however even among the 18-24-year-olds, there is still 70% (decided or general) support.
For the moment, both Russia and the West appear to believe that their counterpart is doomed and that time is on their side. Putin dreams about the West suffering from political upheaval, whereas the West dreams about Putin being removed, overthrown, or dropping dead from one of many diseases he is regularly rumored to be suffering. No one is right. At the end of the day, a deal between Russia and Ukraine is only possible as an extension of an agreement between Russia and the West or as a result of the collapse of Putin’s regime. And that gives you an idea of how long the war could last: years, at best.
Russia's three-day blitz invasion of Ukraine has now been going on for fifty days. Lest I become trapped in some sort of Western-perspective-only media bubble, I have been making a conscious effort to also read pro-Russian takes on the situation. Frustratingly though, the only thing I feel I have learned from this is that listening to anything the pro-Russian side says is completely pointless.
From the horse's mouth
When the invasion began, I started following the Twitter accounts and web sites of various official institutions of the Russian state. I also started collecting a list of Twitter accounts whose tweets were often boosted by these Russian institutions. What I found surprised me.
First, let's consider official communication from the Russian regime.
Now, I am more familiar with statements from European, and especially Swedish, government institutions. These are usually pretty fact-based and dry, often even boring. Recent communication from Russian institutions is, well, different.
And by "different" I mean "completely bonkers".
Nostalgia, lies and conspiracy theories
Every single claim that I have observed from these official Russian sources has been either (a) a pretentious reference to a glorious past ("on this day in Russian history", etc.), (b) a crazy conspiracy theory ("the West has always tried to destroy Russia", "the CIA operates factories for chemical weapons in Ukraine", "the Ukrainian government wants to kill all Russian-speaking people in the country", etc.), or (c) an obvious lie ("the West has no freedom of expression", "Russia does have freedom of expression", "it was never Russia's intention to capture Kyiv", "Russia does not target civilians", etc.).
Category a, the sappy national-pride factoid, is, of course, fine. All countries do it. And Russia does have a lot of history worth remembering, some of which Russians certainly deserve to feel proud of. But a feelgood tidbit about the first Russian-made airplane or an anecdote from the life of Shostakovich isn't going to help me understand the beef Russia has with Ukraine, so let's set those aside for now.
Categories b and c were what surprised me. The claims made here are so divorced from observable reality that, surely, no one who has access to a news source other than Russian state television could possibly believe them, right?
This brings us to those other Twitter accounts I mentioned.
Angry kooks and sock puppets
These accounts, of which at least some claim to be based in the West, say all the same things as above, and worse, and where "Russia official" sounds aggressive and aggrieved, these accounts sound as though they're positively foaming at the mouth. Everything that has ever gone wrong in the history of the world is the fault of the West, and especially Nato, and especially the US. I also soon started noticing a pattern in the other things they talked about, for sometimes they mused on subjects not directly related to the war in Ukraine.
For twenty years or so, as a sort of weird hobby, I've been trying to find and follow as many conspiracy theory web sites as possible. You know, 9/11 was done by the US government/the Illuminati/aliens, covid vaccines/5G/fluorinated drinking water will turn us into zombies, "they" don't want you to know about homeopathy/the gold standard/aliens, that kind of thing. Over the course of these fifty days, the "often retweeted by Russia" group has started to look more and more like the "probably sleeps wearing a tinfoil hat" group, in terms of the topics they like to weigh in on.
It makes no sense
I'm giving up. Just like, it seems to me, the entire Russian state apparatus has given up on even trying to meaningfully argue their position, instead relying entirely on lies and not even caring that their lies often contradict each other. Not to mention the "Russia can do no wrong" kooks and sock puppets. I made an honest attempt to listen to their side, but nothing I heard made any sense, and the angry and hateful tone they always use is very off-putting and doesn't seem healthy.
I am not a Russophobe. I understand a little bit of Russian after a brief stint studying the language at the university. I love Russian food, I used to visit the Russian film festival here in Stockholm, and I have travelled the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok. But the current Russian regime is — how can I put this politely? — crazy. And henceforth I will assume that anything and everything they say is a lie.
For example, the mere fact that Russia claims that its cruiser Moskva's demise was due to an accident makes me pretty confident that it was not, so it was probably indeed sunk by Ukraine. Or possibly by the Illuminati or the aliens.
In conclusion, I feel it's safe to say that anyone who wishes to actually understand the situation can safely ignore anything the Russian regime says. It contributes nothing.
Edit, Apr. 19: Fixed typo. Added sub-headings.
“In just one month, TikTok went from being considered a serious threat to Putin’s national support for the war to becoming another possible conduit for state propaganda,” said Giulia Giorgi, a researcher at Tracking Exposed, which has been studying the platform’s policies and actions in Russia since the invasion began in February. “Our findings show clearly how TikTok’s actions influenced that trajectory.”
Ukraina delar historiska rötter med Ryssland. Men landet har aldrig varit så mycket ukrainskt och så lite ryskt som 2022.
Meduza reconstructs the Russian occupation of Bucha -- and debunks Kremlin lies about crimes against civilians
https://meduza.io/en/feature/2022/04/08/massacre-in-bucha, posted Apr '22 by peter in propaganda russia ukraine war
It's clear that the Kremlin's propagandists are trying to use the exact same playbook they used after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in the Donbas in 2014. Immediately after the incident it wants to obscure, the Russian government puts forth a series of "alternative" explanations that contradict even one another ("Nobody actually died"; "Ukrainians themselves killed the civilians"). The goal is simple: to sow doubt and portray the truth as just one of a number of possible explanations. Manipulating public opinion using this method is easier in Russia than in the West, because in Russia, the Kremlin controls all of the major media outlets.