Russian Propaganda and the international Peace Movement
The freedom movement in Ukraine has received a lot of international attention during the Euromaidan events, but just very limited international support. Instead, it fell victim to an international defamation wave. This can partly be explained by failures of the movement, as some protesters turned violent and the movement failed to denounce itself from right wing elements. But more importantly the international peace movement, especially in Europe, must realize that it has been targeted by a massive propaganda campaign as part of Russia's hybrid warfare. Instincts from the cold war as a distrust of official media and empathy toward the Kremlin's interests, have been a fertile ground for the seeds of hate and desolidarisation with Ukrainian democracy and human rights activists.
When I entered the West-German Peace Movement in the 1980s we were called “useful idiots of the Soviet union”. Obviously this wasn't true and the “communist-nurtured” peace movement soon also raised the question of disarmament in the East and strengthened the East German peace movement, which became the civil rights movement to topple the communist regime in 1989. Nevertheless in the nineties I was shocked to realize the massive scope of Stasi agentsi within the movement and the financial dependence of many West German organizations from the former German Democratic Republic.
Nowadays, I feel manipulated again. Since the escalation of events at the Maidan (central square) in Ukraine a massive propaganda campaign to defame the Ukrainian pro-democracy movement as fascist, violent, foreign paid and gay-friendly1 has influenced the world and wide parts of “my” peace movement. All four arguments have small cores of truth inside, but are widely exaggerated. This is most obvious for the supposed “fascist junta”. Actually, the problem of organized right wing extremism in Ukraine is far below the level of most other European countries, and hate crimes had been rare exceptions. In fact, the propaganda lies and myths about the fascist Maidan movement were so massive that the anti-fascist research community - which had been warning about even the tiniest sign of fascism in Ukraine for years - came out with an open letter to stop the mindless usage of “fascism” stereotypes in Ukraine reporting.ii
But why have blatant lies been so effective in discouraging solidarity with the Ukrainian pro-democracy movement, even after Russian soldiers annexed Crimea and openly fought in the Donbass region? What had made the German peace movement so receptive, that lies and crudest propaganda went viral?
Firstly, we have been targeted. In February 2013 the Russian Head of General Staff Valery Gerasimov explained that within the concept of hybrid war, a protesting opposition is a natural ally.iii Within this opposition, which in Europe may be roughly divided into former communist/leftist groups and far right Anti-EU-parties, only a few groups are directly sponsored, like France's National Front of Marine Le Pen, which for the upcoming elections receive 40 Million Euro loans from Russian banks, or the “Eurasian Observatory of Democracy and Elections” (EODE) run by Belgian fascist Luc Micheliv. But these are not just paid henchman. Putin's support in Europe is based on a broad mix of shared values and enemy perceptions. Right wing extremists see themselves in a conservative alliance with Putin's Russia against the anti-national “decadent and gay-friendly” European Union (Gayropa), while leftist join the antifascist fight. And all together unite against the United States of America, whose secret hand is suspected behind every conflict. This propaganda mix works as it is targeted like in Public Relation and Advertising messages, tailored to please the target groups, selling contradictory products to different customers.
Secondly, the “geopolitical grand game” in which the Russian propaganda disguises its aggression against Ukraine appeals to behavioral patterns and instincts from the Cold War and our opposition to NATO wars. In the geopolitical game, all conflicts are only battlegrounds of the superpowers, and other countries or local movements are just proxies like figures on a chess board. Therefore, solidarity with Ukraine is unthinkable as it is just a territory, not an actor. Then we feel no outrage over on an empire attacking its smaller neighbor, but instead pity the aggressor for being surrounded by US bases and “provoked” by the European Unions expansion.
Thirdly, to discredit genuine movements and to claim legitimacy for its hybrid warfare, seemingly similar tactics have been used on the "Russian side"."Already during the Euromaidan protest, the regime of Yanukovich staged an “Anti-Maidan”, copying the protester's activities, with their own protests, tent camps etc. Just months after the protesters had formed the “Maidan defense force” (“armed” with shields, sticks & Molotov cocktails) and occupied administration buildings, Russian armed small battle units occupied the Crimean Parliament and later the security forces in Slavyansk giving out guns to their local allies “to form an Army”.v In a similar way, democratic procedures are staged, like referendums or elections in Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk, even including (obscure) international election monitors. Last but not least, Russia claims the right to repeat every perversion of international law the West has made in the past, like the war in Kosovo, the intervention in Libya and the separation of the Kosovo. In fact, Russia misinterprets all popular uprisings of the past decades as as result of western (CIA) intermingling. In the case of Ukraine a quote from Victoria Nuland, the USA assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs has been presented as the smoking gun that the US invested 5 billions USD in the Ukrainian upheaval, totally ignoring that this sum includes all aid since 1991, most of which has been given directly to Ukrainian government agencies and for humanitarian, social, ecological and economical issuesvi.
Fourth: to be effective, these stagings, contradictions and repeated blatant lies don't have to convince, but just to confuse the broader public to prevent any effective solidarity or counteraction. While people were still debating to what extent Russian soldiers were in Crimea, the Peninsula was already annexed. And whilst, for example, I spent three months on research on fascism in Ukraine,vii the propaganda proxies had hammered the “Fascist Nazi Junta” into the public mind.
Disinformation, including even the wildest theories and “proofs” around the shooting down of the Malaysian flight MH17viii, will always find someone who wants to believe in it. While they force everybody else to write nitty-gritty fool-proof analyses, which are published months later, when the wave of outrage has ebbed away long ago. This effect is further amplified by the habit of many people to think that the truth between two opposing viewpoints is somewhere in the middle. While this has some value to counter the exaggerations of parties, it encourages blatant lying. Much of the media are unable to research the truth and just quote both opinions: even the biggest lies are repeated. Picking the middle way will then inevitably lead us to believe a (smaller) lie, or not to believe anything at all.
Therefore, solidarity can not keep equidistance, or neutrality. Be it democracy, human rights or peace activists in Syria, Ukraine or anywhere else, they will be most likely be defamed as paid agents and henchman, as useful idiots in the grand game, hooligans and fascists. And the less we know about the local conflict and believe the propaganda, we will just be useful idiots ourselves.
1The Anti-EU Politics is very much driven by the stereotype of homosexuality, e.g. if Ukraine enters the European Union, gays will be allowed to marry etc. If right-wing fighters are questioned as to why they fight on the Ukrainian side, they feel the urge to explain that they are not gay and that there are no homosexuals in their brigade.
2 “Stasi”: Ministry for state Security of the former GDR.
8 Preliminary results (in German): http://www.soziale-verteidigung.de/news/meldungen/hintergrund-nie-wieder-krieg-gegen-den-faschismus/