How the Russian media is reporting the invasion of the neighboring country
“It seems like a parallel universe to what is happening in Ukraine.”
Vitaly Shevchenko He is the chief editor of the BBC Monitoring Russian service, the BBC's media monitoring system, and for more than 20 years has closely followed the narrative of the Kremlin's state media.
Now, while following the coverage of the war in Ukraine with his team, he says that he continues to be surprised by "the purely Orwellian representation" of the conflict that the Russian channels present.
"What the vast majority of the audience has been made to see is that Russia is involved in a small operation in eastern Ukraine and that the Ukrainian government is trying to provoke a larger war," he tells BBC Mundo.
An analysis of publications carried out for BBC Monitoring by Shevchenko and his team indicates that for the Russian media there is no war, invasion or attack.
On the contrary, they point out that Kremlin soldiers are participating in a "special military operation" to "liberate Ukraine from drug addicts and neo-Nazis" who are indiscriminately practicing "genocide".
"There is no evidence of genocide and the president of Ukraine is Jewish and many of his family died during the Holocaust, but these are things that the Russian media does not seem to reflect," says the analyst.
The Kremlin media deny that cities like Kiev or Kharkiv are being bombed or that buildings or civilian infrastructure have been blown up: in their version, says BBC Monitoring, “demilitarizing” the country.
Nor do they say that the civilian population is attacked: "precision attacks" are carried out. They do not recognize that there are civilian deaths, which they consider "an invention of the West." And if there are, they have said, they have died at the hands of the Ukrainian military or “nationalists”.
In the version of the Russian media, according to the analyst, the Ukrainians do not resist the Russians and have not created urban militias to repel them even with Molotov cocktails.
“What they say is that the Ukrainians they are receiving them with flowers and applause, and that Ukrainian soldiers are surrendering en masse“, he points out.
“The line is the same that Putin has presented during the last few days: that there is no war, that any filming of civilian victims or civilian infrastructure attacked by Russia is false, that the Russians did not start an attack but are defending the population. of the Donbas… As I said, it is a parallel reality,” says Shevchenko.
Sergei Goryashko, a BBC journalist in Moscow, says that the Russian media have had to adapt in a few days to a reality that, in some way, has surpassed them.
For months, ever since the Kremlin began gathering troops along Ukraine's borders, they followed the official line that these were just military exercises.
“All the time they were claiming that it was training while the West warned about the imminent invasion. Now that the attack has started they are doing everything they can to justify it,” he says.
According to reports from BBC MonitoringIn recent weeks, Russian state media have published all sorts of articles and videos with false or misleading information about alleged attacks on Russian-speaking populations in the Donbass region, controlled by Kremlin supporters, and about the existence of a “ genocide” against them.
And although they have not offered convincing evidence, they assure that this situation was the one that forced Putin to send his troops because “there was no other alternative”.
"It was a hard and bad decision, but completely unavoidable as there was nothing left that could be done," presenter Anatoly Kuzichev said last week on television.
The Russian media, according to Shevchenko and BBC Monitoring analyses, have not covered the bombing of Ukrainian cities: they limit themselves to saying that the military actions are limited to the east of the country and to military infrastructure.
Although they acknowledge that there are dead Russian soldiers, they have not given figures and deny the numerous videos published by Ukrainian troops that speak of the surrender or capture of Russian soldiers. They say that those who surrender are the enemies who, in addition, appreciate the good Russian treatment.
“Everything was phenomenal. No one was shooting at anyone," said a suspected Ukrainian prisoner of war in a video released this weekend on Russian television.
Last week the state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, ordered that Russian media follow only official government sources for their reports and that they must not use certain words to describe what is happening, including “attack, invasion or war“.
However, Vitaliy Shevchenko points out that this is only working to a certain extent, as the Russian authorities have not been able to completely prevent the population from seeing photos, testimonies and videos from Ukraine.
Goryashko, for his part, says that, in this situation, social networks have become an alternative.
However, since last week, internet monitoring sites have reported that connection speeds to Facebook, Twitter and other networks have been severely limited on Russian territory, making it difficult to upload or download images or videos.
Despite this, dozens of people have taken to the streets in some of Russia's main cities to demonstrate against the war.
According to data from OVD Info, a human rights monitoring group, more than 5,000 people have been arrested in Russia since the invasion began.
“However, I would say that more than half of the population still believes the narrative that is presented by the state media at this time. It remains to be seen how long it will last and what implications it may bring if this conflict spreads and the Russians begin to realize that not everything is as they are being told,” says Goryashko.
Victories and lessons
The parallel description of what is happening in Ukraine has reached the point that on Saturday, the state agency RIA Novosti, the country's main agency, published an article announcing an alleged victory over Ukraine that would give rise to "a new world order". ”.
The text, which was later deleted, thanked Putin for assuming "without a drop of exaggeration, a historical responsibility in deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations" and assured that it was "Russia's return to its space history and its place in the world.
“Western global domination can be considered totally and finally finished,” he stated.
But the way the invasion of Ukraine is being portrayed differently doesn't end with the media.
According to a manual given to Russian schools and seen by the BBC, children will be taught that the invasion of Ukraine was necessary because of "Russophobia" and "threats of nuclear war."
"Unfortunately, there are forces that organically hate Russia, that are now doing everything they can to unleash a war, to make sure that in three or four years you will be dragged to their killer teeth," the manual says.
The text that schoolchildren must learn ensures that "Russia would face not only a war, but a war of extermination and enslavement" and "the use of nuclear weapons."
The manual also recommends watching Putin's speeches and checking any political information only on the official websites of Russian government agencies.
control of the media
To understand how this point has been reached, Shevchenko recalls that it is necessary to explain how the media system works in Russia.
“When Putin came to power, the country he inherited from Boris Yeltsin had quite a vibrant, independent, incisive and daring media scene. But Putin began to control them in such a way that he made sure that the most important media were firmly under the control of the government, ”he says.
"Right now, television, which is the source of information for most Russians, is totally controlled by the state," he adds.
Goryashko says that smaller newspapers tend to have more freedom, but their audience is limited and many have been appointed "foreign agents", as is the case with Novaya Gazetawhose editor, Dmitri Muratov, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021.
“At the moment, the mainstream media, at least the most far-reaching, are totally pro-Kremlin, although it has to be said that Russians, especially the younger ones, have access to social media. Although there are various restrictions, if they know how to use VPNs, they will be able to receive information without censorship,” he comments.
Pablo de Orellana, an expert on Russia and an academic of international relations and war conflicts at King's College in London, assures that Putin has not only sought to control the image that is transmitted of his country within Russia's borders.
"For years, Putin has invested millions and millions of dollars in creating propaganda channels that take his message beyond Russia," he tells BBC Mundo.
This is the case of RT or Sputnik, two media outlets that are widely distributed in several countries around the world, including those in Latin America.
"What many people don't know is that they are basically the outer face of the Kremlin, part of its propaganda mechanism," says de Orellana.
Several television regulators in several European countries have announced that, as part of the invasion sanctions, they will ban the broadcast of some Russian channels, and social networks such as Facebook and YouTube announced that they will ban these companies from advertising on their platforms and They closed their channels in Europe.
The Kremlin announced last week that it would slow down Facebook in the country after the social network took down some misleading videos posted by these outlets.
For experts, this situation shows that the current conflict, like so many others, is also a war of information and propaganda.
And the Ukrainians have not been left behind either.
Since the conflict began, the Kiev government has also released information that has been difficult to verify or has later turned out to be false or misleading.
This is the case of alleged downings of Russian planes that have not been verified so far, attacks of dubious origin or even the existence of urban legends such as the "ghost of Kiev", an alleged pilot behind several downings of enemy aircraft.
Last Friday, the Ukrainian government declared dead a group of coastguards on the so-called Snake Island, who later on Monday reported that they were still alive, having been captured by Russian troops.
“I think the two governments are trying to present their side and for this reason, what each one says must be taken with tweezers. In the fog of war, these things are very difficult to corroborate,” says Shevchenko.
However, for the media analyst, the information policies of the two governments seem to have different objectives.
“What we see from the Ukrainian side is that the government is looking to boost the morale of its troops and population. They want to keep Ukrainians inspired and in high spirits. However, I don't think they are making any media management efforts like Russia”, he considers.
In his opinion, "the Russian media strategy is obviously designed to justify the war in such an extreme way, that I don't think it is even close to what the Ukrainians are doing."
“It is the Russians who are using false claims that there are neo-Nazis or genocide in Ukraine to justify an unprovoked attack on a neighboring country. So as far as the main propaganda behavior is concerned, I think it is the Russians who deserve full condemnation. And that is what we are seeing now that much of the international community is doing,” he concludes.
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