The Centre for Strategic Communication identified 5 major turns of Russian propaganda in the ten months of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Stage 1. “Special operation for denazification or Kyiv in 3 days”
February 24 – March 15
From the very beginning, the Kremlin hoped to quickly defeat and impose capitulation on Ukraine. In this, an important role, besides the Russian army, was assigned to the numerous friends of Russia, who were expected to be found in Ukraine: treacherous elites (for the money that was being allocated for years to cultivate the fifth column, but… were stolen). As well as to the Russian-speaking population, which, according to the plan, should have supported Russia free of charge. In fact, Ukraine was sincerely considered infirm and unviable by Moscow because it was “not real, but invented by Lenin.”
On the second day of the invasion, Putin explicitly urged the Ukrainian army to start an armed rebellion: “Take power in your hands! It seems that it is easier to come to an agreement with you than with this group of drug addicts and neo-Nazis, which rooted in Kyiv and took all the Ukrainian people hostage.”
Russian propaganda explained to the Russians that:
- the invincible Russian army is clearly fulfilling its tasks, civilians are in no danger;
- the Ukrainian army has sided with the Russian one, and together they are destroying some nationalists;
- the great and terrible Kadyrov makes the enemies tremble at the sound of his name;
- answering the question “where were you for 8 years when Donbas was bombed?” — the opponents shyly avert their eyes.
“Russia is restoring its historical completeness, bringing together the ‘Russian world‘, the Russian people together — in its totality of Great Russians, Belarusians, and Little Russians,” reads the material that should have been published, but was hastily removed because the blitzkrieg stalled.
Ukrainians, thanks to heroic resistance, prevented fascist Z-dreams from happening.
Stage 2. “Nationalists took civilians hostage, so there are victims”
March 16 – May 9
At that stage, Putin’s regime realized that Ukraine was stronger and did not intend to give up immediately. It didn’t work out to destroy it spontaneously, but it will, when using the obvious advantage in force. Even if we have to raze the housing blocks with their residents to the ground. The war will write it all off.
- everything goes according to the plan, it’s just that not everyone has access to this secret plan;
- it is not the Russians who commit crimes against civilians, but the Ukrainian army.
- nationalists and the Armed Forces of Ukraine hide in cities and use civilians as “human shields”;
- the best Ukrainian troops will be surrounded and destroyed in Donbas, the rest will run away and capitulate;
- Russia is liberating Donbas, fulfilling its allied responsibilities, and saving people from genocide.
Stage 3. “The West is our enemy”
May 10 – September 12
On May 9, when Russia pompously celebrates Victory Day and everyone is intimidated with “we can repeat,” it was time to draw interim conclusions. They turned out to be disappointing for the Kremlin. Though everything went “according to the plan,” this mysterious plan no longer looked so brilliant. The problems had to be urgently explained by new difficult circumstances. The glimmer of doubt in the victory manifested itself in the determination of the nuclear power to resort to its last argument.
“In case of loss — which is impossible — there will be a final loss of imperial principles and traditions, the transformation with great losses into an ordinary regional state. The worst-case scenario is civil war and nuclear conflict with the West, with the mutual destruction of Western and Eastern European civilizations. Therefore, today’s confrontation with the West is a total hybrid war that we cannot lose.” From the programme article by Andrei Ilnitsky and Andrei Shkolnikov.
- everything is not easy because the Ukrainian army was trained by the West, it helps Ukraine with weapons;
- in fact, it is already Russia’s war with NATO; Poles and Negroes are fighting on the Ukrainian side;
- Russia was left with no choice, the West imposed this war on it, and Putin’s strike on 24 February was a preventive one;
- Russia cannot be defeated because at the very least it can always deliver a nuclear strike.
Stage 4. “The Holy People’s War”
September 13 – December 1
Autumn brought the Ukrainian Defence Forces brilliant victories in the east and south, the authority of the Russian armed forces fell to the indicators of the First Chechen campaign. In Russia, the search for those responsible for the failures (army men), the appointment of new heroes (Wagner members), and the implementation of new strategies of war (bombing of civilian infrastructure) began. Mobilization had to be declared; it was called “partial” for reassurance. To have at least some political achievements, the Kremlin resorted to the annexation of four Ukrainian regions.
- we have to gather all forces because this is a sacred war that purifies even the convicts;
- after the annexation of four regions to Russia, now, the war is being waged on its territory and beyond, which means it is a fair, defensive war;
- the Russian generals concealed the problems from the people, but now the problems will be eliminated;
- in Russia, there are professionals from Wagner and “General Armageddon” Surovikin, who are able to turn the tide;
- without warmth and light in winter, Ukrainians will not be able to withstand and will force their leadership to agree to Russian conditions.
Stage 5. “Fighting Satan”
From December 2
At the end of a failed year on its side, the Putin regime tries to unleash an even higher level of psychosis, reaching the extreme forms of exaltation. Propaganda intimidates the Russians with the prospect of defeat and prepares them for new losses.
- Russia cannot lose because then The Hague awaits us all;
- this is a religious war for faith, holy Rus, against Satan;
- Ukraine mercilessly destroys Donetsk and its inhabitants by shelling;
- but not all Russians have yet realized that the war is about everyone.
Moscow returns to the nuclear blackmail of the world. The new-year gift was a “nuclear lullaby” for the patriots from the MP of the State Duma Denis Maidanov, in which he sings about the “Sormatushka” missile, aimed at the United States. “Why do we need such a world if Russia is not in it?” Putin’s words are quoted in the video. “No victory, only betrayal” — this is how the song ends.
During 2022, Russian military propaganda passed a thorny path from “nobly rescuing Ukrainians from the Nazis” to “burning the whole world to hell in a nuclear apocalypse.”
One can only guess how exactly these extremes are combined in Putin’s plan of “special operation” (which Russian troops strictly adhere to).
However, if this plan really works, as Moscow assures, it is a plan of suiciders, not winners.
Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security