Lies, damn lies and propaganda wars: Russia’s ‘other’ campaign

A coalition of 33 other countries have denounced Russia’s ‘continued onslaught of disinformation’ around its invasion of Ukraine

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Canada and a coalition of 33 other countries have denounced Russia’s “continued onslaught of disinformation” around its invasion of Ukraine, a day after the Russian embassy in Canada issued a statement accusing Western countries of Nazi-like propaganda.


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“We are witnessing an unprecedented wave of lies, fake news, distorted and fabricated facts aimed at discrediting our actions. Goebbels-style Western propaganda was predictable,” the Russian embassy said.

The statement comes as Russia has cracked down on the small amount of independent news outlets that remain in the country, with both the liberal Echo Moskvy radio station and the online TV channel Rain closing this week.

Russia has also restricted or blocked access to Facebook and Twitter. The Russian authorities have threatened to fine or block 10 Russian independent outlets, accusing them of publishing false information about the war, including referring to the conflict in Ukraine as “an attack,” “invasion,” or “declaration of war.”


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Western countries have taken aim at Russian-backed outlets RT and Sputik. Both have been officially banned in the European Union, and YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have all blocked RT and Sputnik from sharing content on the platforms. In Canada, major TV service providers have said they would drop RT from their TV offerings, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would ask the CRTC to review RT’s “presence on Canadian airwaves.”

On Monday, he said on Twitter that “we cannot allow falsehoods, propaganda, and disinformation about Russia’s war to continue spreading in Canada.”

The Freedom Online Coalition of countries, currently chaired by Canada, said in a statement Wednesday that Russia’s “coordinated disinformation campaign has conjured false and misleading narratives intended to corrupt the information environment.”


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The statement, endorsed by countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, called for “the cessation of the conducting and sponsoring of disinformation campaigns.”

It called for “the end of Internet shutdowns and the blocking or filtering of services,” and for Russia to “refrain from content restrictions on the Internet that violate international human rights laws.” The coalition also called for social media platforms to “keep taking every step possible to counter state-sponsored disinformation, including that propagated by Russia Today and Sputnik channels online,” while respecting freedom of expression.

A statement by the Russian embassy in Canada issued Tuesday evening insisted that Russia is undertaking a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.” It said the Russian army is not occupying Ukrainian territory, and is taking “all measures to preserve the lives and safety of civilians.” Instead, it put the responsibility for the deaths of civilians on the Ukrainian side.


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“The Armed Forces of Ukraine, nationalist and neo-Nazi groups use civilian infrastructure and population as human shields,” the Russian embassy said. “The Ukrainian authorities and its Western patrons are committing monstrous and inhuman provocations in order to put all the blame on Russia.”

Heidi Tworek, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, said the statement “mostly repeats” what Russian President Vladimir Putin “has already said, which historians and others have wholly debunked.” She added that at the UN General Assembly, 141 countries voted Wednesday to condemn the invasion.


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“Only five countries voted against. This is not just the West,” she said.

Katharina Niemeyer, a professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal, said the examples of the two statements are an indication of a “communications war.”

“Disinformation has always been part of wars. It has always been a powerful tool,” she said.

She said the vocabulary around the Nazi regime that Russia is using for Ukraine “is really an abuse of history, when people know what happened during the Holocaust.”

Niemeyer said that “when you see these two statements, they show that for the Russian government, there’s only one truth. Nothing else is accepted.”

Human rights organizations are among those who have criticized Russia’s media crackdown. Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williamson said in a statement Monday that for “the past decade, Russian authorities have used a web of vague laws and flimsy pretexts to intimidate and harass independent and dissenting voices.”

“Now they are bluntly imposing censorship combined with a false narrative that they demand everyone must parrot.”

-with additional reporting from the Daily Telegraph, Bloomberg



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