Lying Low: The Rise of Disinformation - Putin Style
And so the war in Ukraine continues. Putin the aggressor, considered to be increasingly unhinged through his long isolation due to Covid and his choice to rid himself of any advisers who disagree with him, pushes forward with his grand plan. He intends to reestablish the Soviet Union by whatever means necessary, using manipulation, disinformation, gaslighting, and outright lying, along with the blunt instruments of military arsenal used against the citizens of Ukraine.
Having looked innocently into the camera for weeks, face deadpan, innocuous phrases multiplying, he finally struck, revealing himself to be the lying bully he has always been. And despite all evidence to the contrary, he continues to spout bizarre and implausible rhetoric, citing Russia's crusading role to rescue Ukraine from a drug addicted and Nazi government. This, despite there being no indicator of drugs within the Ukraine government and the fact that President Zelensky and his Vice-President are Jewish people who lost relatives in the holocaust. His weapons of choice, as ever, are fabrications of the most extreme and (really) unbelievable kind... and yet, still, there are those who believe him, specifically his own followers who buy into whatever they've committed to believe in order to support their leader. This, unfortunately, is a trait of all who believe the end justifies the means. Into this mix come Trump's Secretary of State, the disreputable Pompeo, and the Fox purveyor of poisonous spin, Tucker Carlson, now being played on Russia's airwaves in his support of Putin.
Russian TV is full of propaganda that their armies are freeing Ukraine. Many everyday Russians, so used to living in the cognitive dissonance of dezinformatsiya - lies, deceit and hypocrisy, swallow the deception whole. Others have gathered their courage and taken to the streets to protest, suffering severe retribution as a result. Some media outlets in Russia, notably the BBC and other Western stations, are closing due to concern for the safety of their staff. The use of certain words is now outlawed and the reporting of any news of Russian aggression may result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years. These actions, coupled with sycophantic advisers, Putin having rid himself of any staff who do not agree with him, give the insanity of his actions increasing power.
Theories about Putin's health abound. Some, citing his puffy face and stiff movements as evidence of certain medications, suspect he has cancer or Parkinson's disease. Such medications may explain his increasingly erratic conduct, one of which is the 4 metre long table where he now holds meetings with world leaders, yet the truth undergirding all those possibilities is that he is merely ramping up the amorality that has aided his ascendance to power over the decades.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely - which translates to mean what you can get away with, you do more of.
A Twitter thread by journalist Carole Cadwallader cites the Great Information War of dezinformatsiya as beginning in 2014 when Putin launched his forays into the looming US elections. Soviet Russia has operated in disinformation as a normal part of politics, as have many other governments, but new technology made it possible for Russia to interfere via social media in the 2016 presidential elections. She says: We now know Russia began another offensive in Feb 2014. Against the West. Specifically, but not exclusively, America. How do we know this? Because the FBI conducted a forensic, multi-year investigation. That almost no-one paid any attention to.
The Mueller Report proved conclusively that Russia attacked the 2016 US elections through multiple routes. Other investigations by journalists and academics show that Russia's forays into the politics of other nations is not confined to USA. Indications are clear that the UK also suffered politically, not least being the disinformation around Brexit.
Cadwallader goes on to cite the various ways in which Ukraine has been used significantly throughout the season of dezinformatsiya, establishing with clarity that Putin has been playing the long game, one which has been ignored almost entirely by Western governments. The turning point arrived when it became clear that President Volodymyr Zelensky was not willing to play that game. Turns out the West underrated the value of Ukraine and its huge natural resources.
Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whose unprepossessing entrance to the world stage as he began the onerous task of leading a post-communist nation, appeared mild in comparison to the leader he has now shown himself to be. His early interactions on the world stage as the disgraced and disgraceful Trump attempted to use him as a pawn in his own political machinations gave no indication of the man of courage he has shown himself to be since his nation came under siege. Putin was fooled into thinking the invasion would be a walkover.
“I always react painfully to lies. This is the main feature that my parents gave me.” Volodymyr Zelensky
Zelensky is the polar opposite of Putin. Fun-loving, likeable, emotionally intelligent, with the kind of gut-courage that will do what is right, whether or not the war is won, he originally studied to be a lawyer. He credits his parents - engineer mother and mathematician father - with the values which the world is now seeing in vivid colour. “I always react painfully to lies,” he said in a 2018 interview shortly before running for the office of President of Ukraine. “This is the main feature that my parents gave me.” The bravery and sagacity with which he has operated since the Russian army invaded, stands in stark contrast to the posturing of many professional international political leaders. It is apparent that it is due to his determined courage that NATO and so many world leaders have done an about-face on their calculated lack of action and chosen to get involved even to the degree they have so far.
And yet, this war has been in the making for more than eight years. This interview with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman https://www.vice.com/en/article/n7n9dq/alexander-vindman-russia-ukraine-invasion is eye opening, to say the least. He says: Putin is masterful at preying on hopes and fears. Which is, of course, what he is doing now and the eyes of the world, watching the destruction caused by his sabre rattling in Ukraine, are afraid of the future.
We watch with bated breath, praying for the Ukrainians and their leader, wondering about the brokenness which enables people to speak such lies and get away with it, which brings us back to the beginning.
What we can get away with is what we do more of.
A preacher, writer, leadership consultant and mentor, Bev is passionate about justice, about the Church and its leaders, and has a special concern for women in leadership. A church and network leader for four decades, entrepreneurial founder of several international initiatives, and a mother and grandmother, Bev's life experience, coupled with her willingness to look at life from different points of view, have supported and encouraged many leaders across the globe. You can contact her on this page to book her to speak at conferences or leadership mentoring or consultation.
Photo credit of soldier holding baby: Eyevine
Reuters photo: President Emmanuel Macron meeting with Putin