Russian Propaganda on Killing POWs from Azov in Olenivka

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Preparing the information field on the eve of the tragedy 

In the week preceding the tragedy in Olenivka, Russian propagandists began to actively write about Azov soldiers in their telegram channels. The key narrative: they allegedly began to confess to their crimes. 

Thus, propagandist Rudenko posted the first interview with an Azov soldier on Monday, July 25, 2022. Let us remind you, the tragedy occurred on the night of July 28 to 29, 2022.

The next day, July 26, the propagandist posts a video with the same prisoner, exacerbating the situation: “He is telling how they killed civilians in Mariupol.” This post is picked up and distributed by the entire Kremlin propaganda network on Telegram. 

Rudenko’s account became the main platform through which the script line of propaganda was spread — “the Azov soldiers began to confess, for which they were killed.” There are videos with “confessions” of prisoners on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday.

On Thursday, July 28, Rudenko publishes a video in which another Azov soldier speaks on camera about the task of collecting video materials with the dead Russians, which allegedly came from the Presidential Office, possibly from Arestovych. 

This “fact” will become a bridge for propaganda, which it will use to connect the story with the Presidential Office and Zelenskyy. Rudenko comments on this video as if deliberately introducing ambiguity: “This is the bomb planted under Zelenskyy’s ass.”

The next day, immediately after the murder of the prisoners, there was a ready-made interpretation of the events — “Zelenskyy’s order.”

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Interestingly, before this week’s marathon of posts with confessions, Rudenko did not mention Azov soldiers for 20 days. The increase in the activity of the occupiers’ telegram channels was most likely due to the preparation of the information field before the terrorist attack. 

Another manifestation of the sudden “azovomania” in the Russian-fascist telegram channels on the eve of the terrorist attack was the screening of the film “Nazi Punishers” on Wednesday, July 27, 2022. It shows how propagandist Kim interviews several prisoners, finds pagans among them, and presents the defenders of Ukraine as Nazi sectarians who killed civilians.

After the execution of the Ukrainian military in Olenivka, she again wrote a post with “righteous anger.”

In the video she posts, which was shot on the eve of the crime, Kim focuses on the barracks with the Azov POWs:“The whole barracks, completely, is filled with Azovites, right?”

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The following point attests to the quality of the film about Azov. When Kim shows a page from a book called A Collection of Internal Rules of the AZOV Regiment, it says in Ukrainian: “physical activity,” which the propagandist translates as  “physical punishment.”

To give a complete picture, it should be added that as early as June 5, the pro-Kremlin telegram channel NEZYGAR began to prepare the information ground: “The second goal is a prisoner of war camp in the village of Olenivka, where Nazis from Azovstal and servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are kept. The British want to present the MLRS strike as an attempt by the Russian Armed Forces to conceal ‘the execution and torture of prisoners, and then hype on the topic of Bucha’.”

Russian propaganda is now trying to use this post as evidence that proves the guilt of Ukraine and the West.

“You didn’t expect such an extraction, did you?”

The day after the tragedy in the barracks, the same propagandist Rudenko, who was preparing the whole story before the terrorist act in Olenivka, came to shoot the wounded in the hospital.

His first question to the survivors is: “Did you expect such an extraction as promised by the Ukrainian command?” To the Ukrainian answering “no,” the propagandist asks: “What did they promise you at all?” Another question: “Do you know how many of yours died? 53 people.” So, the propagandist had the task to prepare a statement for Ukrainians in the first interview: “Zelenskyy and the authorities betrayed the Azov soldiers.” 

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The propagandist tells another wounded soldier that it was an American HIMARS missile. He then asks: “You didn’t expect such an extraction, did you?”

In the text to the video, he “consolidates the success” of the accusations against Zelenskyy: “Those who survived understand this, they did not expect their government to be so evil. The shelling occurred at night, the barracks where the prisoners were held was hit with Himars MLRS. 53 people were killed and more than 100 were injured.”

Later, the statement was spread on Russian TV that the Azov POWs told about Arestovych from the Presidential Office and that was the reason for their murder.

The same storyline — the Ukrainian authorities destroy those who dare to speak — was spread by other telegram channels. 

MedvedevVesti argued that the strike had two objectives. Firstly, not to allow prisoners to talk about Ukraine’s war crimes. Secondly, to blame Russia for the strike to ideologically prepare the Ukrainian counteroffensive. 

We are increasingly seeing that former Azov soldiers, marines, and territorial defenders tell us what war crimes they committed. How the AFU killed civilians for shouting “Glory to Ukraine” in a wrong way. Well, why does Kyiv need all this? Therefore, attacks on the colonies where Ukrainian prisoners are held will continue. The Armed Forces of Ukraine will kill their own people. As useless witnesses. This will be blamed (or has already been blamed) on Russia. Saying the Russians tortured our people, but then they blew their people up. … I think in the coming days we will see something else… The offensive, which Kyiv cannot avoid any more, will become a meat grinder for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The ground is being prepared. Justification of future losses.”

Even Zakharova got involved, who, in addition to the already mentioned accusations, also added some “hate” about Olena Zelenska’s photo shoot for Vogue.

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Trading in fear

At the same time, there was a video showing the torture of a Ukrainian prisoner, which became widespread the same day after the murder in Olenivka. This alleged coincidence actually indicates a single planned PSYOP of the enemy. 

The Russians wanted not only to kill the Azov prisoners, but also to emotionally link the torture to this massacre to try to humiliate the Ukrainian military and Azov, which has become one of the symbols of Ukraine’s defence.

And to prove, perhaps, first of all, to themselves that they are the only ones who can cause fear. After all, after five months of the “special operation,” in which “everything goes according to plan,” with more than forty thousand losses, one needs to boost morale with such atrocities.

The Russian leadership needs to maintain the readiness of its subordinates to fight. To do this, you need to raise the stakes of the game by introducing the characters of the “Azov Satanists” into it. 

Among other things, the public, warmed up by propaganda, would simply not accept a positive solution with the captured Ukrainians, especially so that they all return home as heroes after the exchange, like Taira

Moreover, in general, Russian propaganda stated that the video with the torture of a POW was a Ukrainian fake.

However, as always, the Russians promoted several parallel narratives aimed at different audiences, the one that the Azov people deserved to die being among them. Once again, this confirms that the Russians had a motive to kill them. 

On July 10, 2022, the Russian-fascist propagandist Starikov wrote in his telegram: “The public wants a trial of the Nazis. Thus, the first trial has already been conducted and the verdict has been passed. Two members of the Azov battalion were sentenced to death. Both killed someone, including prisoners. Both were having active accounts on social networks and, in fact, they earned the maximum punishment.”

The next morning after the Russian terrorist attack in Olenivka (at 10:00 a.m. on July 29, 2022), the Russian Embassy in the UK tweeted“Azov militants deserve execution, but death not by firing squad but by hanging, because they’re not real soldiers. They deserve a humiliating death. A married couple from Mariupol tell how they were shelled by Ukrainian forces from Azovstal.”

Even if we imagine the situation that Ukraine did this, destroyed important witnesses, the Russian Embassy would not have written about this post instantly in the morning. The Kremlin leadership would take a pause for at least a few days to think about how to comment on the fact that the “insidious Ukrainians” destroyed its plans. 

After the real terrorists called Azov soldiers terrorists, namely, after the relevant decision of the Supreme Court of Russia on August 2, another link appeared that indicated a holistic information campaign that accompanied the terrorist attack in Olenivka. 

Starikov dwelt on this and threatened the Russians defending Azov soldiers with a prison term. 

Screenshot from Starikov’s post

On the same day, Russian media actively disseminated an official message of Georgiy Volkov from the Public Supervisory Commission of Moscow that “the captured Azov militant reported that cannibalism was a widespread practice in the regiment.”

It looks as if one of the secret supporters of democracy, who are forced to work among Russian propagandists, decided to bring the storyline to the point of absurdity to ridicule and neutralize it. But most likely, Russian propagandists simply continue creating a scarecrow for non-picky Russians. They also responded in this way to the statement of Mykhailo Podolyak about the video with torture that “Russia is a country of cannibals.”

Thus, we can conclude that the Russian fascist propaganda began a powerful information campaign in advance to accompany the massacre of Azov soldiers.

The cult of anti-Ukrainianism cherished by the Kremlin propaganda, which is professed by millions of Russian citizens, requires bloody sacrifices. Having Azov prisoners in their hands — the main object of demonization of recent years — the occupiers simply could not resist the temptation of a mass murder, contrary to international law and all the agreements consecrated by the UN and the Red Cross.

Russian propaganda thus solves the so-called “Mariupol problem.” In the 21st century, a large, mostly Russian-speaking city was destroyed by the occupiers in front of the whole world, killing more than 20,000 civilians. So there was an urgent need to somehow explain this, at least for Russians. The solution is found in shifting all responsibility to Azov. Thus, by dehumanization, criminalization, and brutal punishment against the Azov soldiers, Russia opens the Overton window, pushing the boundaries of the genocide of Ukrainians, allowed for rationalization and legalization.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security
Media version of the text can be found on 
the OBOZREVATEL website

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