What's New(s)

What's New(s) - Russia’s disinformation, and misleading data - 25/03/22

 What's New(s) - Russia’s disinformation, and misleading data - 25/03/22

What´s New(s)? La revue de presse anglophone – Erik Ruiz Martín & Nadine Vermeulen

Last week we had a look at the topics European media highlighted in the horrific invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Putin’s media discourses about the war are still toughening… This week we’ll try to take a look what media publish on the aggressor’s side.

What latest news do Russian media publish about the war?

Well as you said, this week we’ll try to take a look at what’s been published by Russian media, being very limited in our knowledge of the Russian language and access to the media landscape - two weeks ago we already highlighted that English speaking Russian media are now no longer accessible in Europe. Some European think tanks and platforms have however been analysing Russian media publications since the start of the war. The website EU versus disinfo for example, publishes weekly updates on disinformation provided by the Kremlin. It started with the invasion the 24th of February, when the media echoed the words of Putin who claimed the ‘limited military operation’ would only ensure the ‘defence of the Donbass’ and would involve ‘no occupation’. A term that was not new within the public and media discourse was the word Nazi, widely shared by Russian officials and media for years. What’s new about the use of the word however, estimates EU vs disinfo, is the fact that it is now used for the whole of Europe – compared to only a few countries – and that it is now one of the most dominant words in Putin’s discourse. Not all Russian journalists though continue to go with the flow of the Kremlin. According to the Moscow Times, over 150 journalists have left the country since February amid further crackdown on free press. Nationalist Russian outlet Zavtra sees the exodus of ‘cockroach’ journalists as a purification of Russian journalism.

European media also underlined that Putin’s language on what he calls ‘country traitors’ has radicalized extremely over the past week. What language does he use to condemn the ones condemning the war? 

Indeed Erik, at the end of last week Putin held a speech on national TV against what he called ‘scum and traitors’: Russians who, are not patriot enough and think and live according to Western standards. “Russian people will be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths.”, were his words. According to Western experts, the remarkable threatening words he used point to even further repression of those trying to criticize the regime. “Russians have woken up in a different country,'' concluded the Guardian. One which is seeking not only external but also internal enemies to blame for the country’s economic crisis, isolation and hardship. The Independent even goes as far as comparing Putin’s rhetoric to that of Stalin, “it is a prelude to ugly repression” predicts the newspaper. 

Ten moving on to one of the main events where Putin took part this week was the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, why was that event headlined in the news? 

According to the BBC, the Kremlin confirmed the attendance of two hundred thousand people, despite the stadium's official capacity of eighty-one thousand. For the Guardian, the massive attendance at the event is evidence that those critical of the Kremlin's stance are in the minority. A state-owned pollster reported that Putin's approval ratings was at 79 percent, though the reliability of polling in Russia is difficult to assess. However, respected independent polling agency Lavada Center put Putin's approval rating at 71 percent last month. There was one issue that caught the attention of the international press. As Reuters reports, the speech, which was being broadcasted on Russia's main television channels, was abruptly cut off, something the Kremlin has highlighted as a technical problem.

And talking about misleading data, what is happening with the number of Russian soldiers that passed away during the war?

The Russian newspaper close to the Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda published that almost ten thousand Russian soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the offensive in Ukraine. A few minutes after publishing the information, the Russian newspaper deleted the article and republished it without including the reference to the casualties. Editor-in-chief Vladimir Sungorkin told the BBC that they had been hacked and that the newspaper would later publish an explanation of what had happened. Andrew Roth stresses in the Guardian how difficult it is to find reliable information about the death toll among Russian soldiers, and affirms that with little official information, journalists have had to sift through local funeral announcements or search out morgue directors for clues as to the real death toll, while officials have accused anyone covering the topic of disinformation. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted one employee of the Homel regional clinical hospital in Belarus, who said that more than two thousand soldiers’ corpses had been shipped from the Belarusian region back to Russia.