Combat mosquitoes, a dirty bomb and Zelenskyy’s escape. Top 10 most absurd fakes invented by the Russian propaganda

Having launched armed aggression against Ukraine in 2014, Russia has been heavily relying on disinformation. Russian propaganda machine has turned into a conveyor for production of fakes, its landmark achievement being the story about the “crucified boy.” In the run-up to and during the full-scale invasion, fakers worked even harder, producing lies of varying degrees of absurdity.

The Centre for Strategic Communication has collected the most ridiculous and cynical fakes of 2022.

  1. Biolaboratories producing combat birds and mosquitoes. A remarkable mixture of conspiracy, psychosis and outright racism. The topic of “American biolaboratories” has been used by Russian propaganda since the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the propagandists were claiming the “artificial origin of the coronavirus,” but now, the highlight is the “development” of biological weapons “genetically formulated” against Slavic people. 

These weapons are allegedly delivered by specially trained birds and insects. Russia’s UN rep Vasili Nebenzya tried to intimidate members of this respected organization with “Ukrainian combat mosquitoes.”   

Two questions remain unanswered: why this threatening weapon does not work against Ukrainians (who, according to the propaganda, are either Russians’ “brothers” or even “the same nation”), and whether the Buryats, Tuvans, peoples of the North Caucasus and representatives of dozens of other ethnic groups inhabiting the Russian Federation will be disregarded by the terrifying killer insects. 

  1. Ukrainian dirty bomb. Another subject ramped up by Russian propagandists during the full-scale invasion. While until February 24, the Russians were looking for a “dirty bomb” among Ukrainian “radicals,” now, the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has put the responsibility for its creation on the Ukrainian authorities and the academic community. 

The peak of this absurdity was the big statement of the “DPR” combatant Yuri Gagarin on Russian television about Ukraine’s intentions to use a “surrogate bomb.” Obviously, personal experience of contacts with surrogate alcohol was showing.

In fact, this is nothing more than an attempt to brand Ukraine as a terrorist state. All the while, it is actually Russia that uses terrorist tactics. And the nuclear threat is also initiated by the aggressor state.  The strikes on the Neutron Source nuclear facility in Kharkiv, the seizure of the Chornobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants and the placement of weapons there speak for themselves.

  1. Lukashenko’s “preventive strike.” In an effort to ingratiate himself with Putin, the Belarusian dictator promoted a narrative of war as self-defence rather than attack on Russia’s part. Despite the promise, Lukashenko never showed “from where the attack on Belarus was being prepared” — instead, he became the character of another batch of memes.
  2. Zelenskyy’s escape and declaration of surrender. It was actually not one fake, but an entire series aimed at harming Ukrainians’ morale. The claim that the President had left Ukraine (or at least Kyiv) in the first days of the invasion was made by the speaker of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Volodin, the “political migrant” Ilya Kiva and dozens of anonymous Telegram channels. In March, they tried to scare Ukrainians: by hacking some Ukrainian media, by making a very bad-looking deepfake video with “the President” announcing Ukraine’s surrender, etc. The President debunked this lie personally. 

The next wave of fake news was synchronized with a massive missile strike on October 10: the Russians claimed that Zelenskyy was hiding in a bunker, either in western Ukraine or in Poland.

In fact, since the beginning of the full-scale war, the President of Ukraine crossed the state border for the first time only at the end of December to pay an important visit to the United States.       

  1. Ukrainian Satanists. Russian propaganda has been talking about the prevalence of occult practices among Ukrainian soldiers for over a year, and during a full-scale invasion of the information field, they produced another batch of fakes about the “satanic altars” of Right Sector and Azov. In the fall, it “turned out” that the Satanists had reached even further: to the leadership of NATO, the USA, the EU and, of course, Ukraine. Russians were encouraged to go on a crusade by well-known freak Ivan Okhlobystin and Russia-backed head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, no matter how absurd it looked.    
  1. Bucha massacre is staged. After the liberation of the occupied part of Kyiv oblast, the world saw the truth about the invaders’ atrocities against the civilian population. Russian propagandists responded as usual: coming up with a great multitude of versions to sow doubt and make audiences think that “things are not all black and white.” Fake producers cynically spoke about “actors” who “played the dead,” or claimed that the city residents were killed by Ukrainian or British special services. Similarly, Russian propaganda claimed that the railway station in Kramatorsk and the shopping mall in Kremenchuk were shelled by the Ukrainian army, called mass burials in Izium and numerous testimonies about murders, torture, and other war crimes in Kherson fake.

In fact, Russia had no way to conceal its army’s crimes. And the civilized world responded: it increased military aid to Ukraine, imposed new sanctions, and recognized Russia as a terrorist state. 

  1. The government sells electricity abroad while Ukrainians are suffering power cuts. Emergency and scheduled power outages in Ukrainian cities are connected exclusively with the strikes of Russian missiles and drones. But propagandists are trying to convince Ukrainians that this is the result of another conspiracy. Apparently, the government continues to export electricity, which Ukrainians themselves lack.

In fact, after October 10, exports (sales of electricity to foreign consumers) were stopped. Instead, there is a technological exchange for balancing within a single energy system separated by national borders.  Sending thousands of megawatts to Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, or Hungary, Ukraine receives the same amount or more in the reverse direction.  

  1. Poland plans to capture the western regions of Ukraine. Statements about Ukraine’s “artificial” nature and plans of its Western neighbours “to recover what they lost” is an old narrative of the Russian propaganda, which they ramped up during the full-scale war. For instance, Ilya Kiva published a fake map, passing it off as Polish.

The purpose of such fakes is obvious: to whitewash Russia while depicting European countries as potential aggressors and Ukraine as a failed state. In fact, the war against Ukraine is waged by Russia, and Ukrainian territories were occupied by Russia. Other neighbours do not make any territorial claims against Ukraine, and Poland has been one of Ukraine’s most consistent partners. Warsaw proved its support with large amounts of aid: both military and humanitarian.

9. Ukraine is provoking a food crisis in the world. Occupation of some territories, mining and destruction of fields and agricultural equipment, blocking of seaports had an impact, naturally, on Ukraine’s export of grains. As expected, Russia tried to shift the blame onto Ukraine itself. In fact, the Kremlin is openly blackmailing the world with a global food crisis and famine. Even after agreeing to the “grain agreements” with the UN, the Russians tried to obstruct their implementation.

10. The Ukrainian military are guinea pigs for the United States. Developing a fake about American biolaboratories, Russian propagandists spread fictitious stories about secret experiments on soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who are allegedly getting pumped full of experimental drugs. Anonymous Telegram channels spread rumours like the one that bodies of the dead in Odesa were used for “collection of biological material” with an unknown purpose before secret cremation.

Lies are one of the Kremlin’s favorite weapons. Russian propaganda tries to intimidate, confuse, sow panic, mistrust, spread conspiracy theories, and increase divisions in society. But by believing their own lies, the Putin regime seriously miscalculated. The Kremlin’s powerful military and propaganda machine can and must be defeated. Ukraine has repeatedly proven this and will prove it in the future. 

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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