RIA Novosti as a window on Russian propaganda – Analysis – Eurasia Review

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By Manucharian Grigoriy

Some of the Russian state media are known worldwide, such as RT or Sputnik, which continue to resonate throughout the West with their far-right pro-war and pro-Putin propaganda. But some of these news agencies do not cross national borders and instead focus on Russian-speaking consumers. RIA Novosti is one of them, headquartered in Moscow.

In December 2013, shortly after Putin’s controversial re-election, the RIA media group was dismantled. It was later replaced by the Russia Today brand (Россия Сегодня) which absorbed RIA’s assets, some of its employees, and also appropriated its name for a new media resource.

RIA Novosti is now known as the ally of the Russian regime. On February 26, at 8 a.m. Moscow time, he published a pre-written article to mark the end of the special operation in Ukraine. But due to Russian defeats in key areas of the eastern borders, the article was removed from the official site. Nevertheless, it is still available through WBM’s online archive.

Entitled “The Rise of Russia and a New World” (Наступление России и нового мира), he states that “Russia is restoring its historical wholeness, bringing together the Russian world – the Russian people – as a whole, from the Big Russians to the Belarusians and the Little Russians”. He goes on to state that “if we had abandoned this, if we had allowed temporary division to take hold for centuries, then not only would we be betraying the memory of our ancestors, but we would also be cursed by our descendants for allowing the disintegration of the Russian Land. This imperial message is then supplemented by the following: “Vladimir Putin has assumed, without an ounce of exaggeration, a historic responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations.”

This article, published by mistake, demonstrates that Russia planned to conquer Kyiv in two days, more or less. Yet after more than a hundred days of war, thousands of deaths and unprecedented global geopolitical consequences, Ukraine still stands. And Russian propaganda too.

On April 3, after Russian war crimes in Bucha began to unfold, widely covered by Bellingcat, RIA published another now controversial article. Entitled “What should Russia do with Ukraine? », the article pleads for ethnocide and ideological purges. The term “de-Ukrainization” is widely used in connection with the massive repressions of the people of Ukraine who, as “passive Nazis […] are also guilty. The term “denazification” – one of the Russian casus bellorum with the demilitarization of Ukraine – was used there 38 times. The main argument is that “denazification will inevitably become de-Ukrainization”, but also the “inevitable de-Europeanization” of Ukraine.

RIA Novosti’s point of view through these two articles alone confirms that this war is not a war between Russians and Ukrainians, because some Russians are fighting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces and some Ukrainians are fighting in the Russian Armed Forces. It’s not a war of religions either – both are mostly Orthodox.

It is a hybrid information war to dominate spheres of influence and sell a narrative. In 2014, in Crimea, Russia successively propagated and then sold the story of Crimeans cheering on Russian “green men” and happily voting in the Russian membership referendum.

And it worked: the Minsk agreements were not respected but rather redacted, again and again; the criminal prosecution of flight MH17 came to nothing; and, at the same time, between 2015 and 2022, France and Germany have armed Russia with some 273 million euros of military equipment, including bombs, rockets and missiles – all of which are probably used against Ukraine now.

Russian propaganda has certainly been useful to the Kremlin over the past decade. Yet one of the main differences between then and now is the general awareness of its methods.

Describe the Nazi phenomenon

RIA Novosti associates tags with each of its articles. One of them is “nazification”, created at the end of March. To date, it applies to 22 articles.

By automatically extracting and analyzing the most used terms in their titles, the top 10 are as follows:

In the titles, “Ukraine” (ru. Украина) is predominant (used 6 times), “kid” (ru. ребёнок) and “Mariupol” (ru. Мариуполь) are also worth noting (used 3 times), as well as the “tragedy” (ru. трагедия) and “war” (ru. война) (used twice).

Such terms in the titles of articles emphasize the violent events taking place in Ukraine. He then moves on to the younger generation of his victims and to the place where the most tragic events occurred: Mariupol.

This is not the first time that Russian propaganda has spread this narrative. The story of the crucified boy, revealed in July 2014, did the same by placing a child in a violent narrative and attributing it to the Ukrainians.

In the articles themselves, terms like “Nazi,” “Nazism,” or “Nazification” create patterns of preference over time. In the beginning, in March, they were used more than 40 times in several articles, then it went down and up twice. Nonetheless, it never reached the initial level again, losing around 10 quantity points with each drop. By the end of May, Nazi-derived terms were being used at half their March rate, only about 20 times:

By taking three separate articles, one from each time zone, when they dominated the language, this pattern of falling becomes more tangible.

Entitled “Why is the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism considered Nazism in Russia?” This March 23 article has 1,249 total words and 31 mentions of Nazi-related terms (all 40 words).

Such terms are encountered in contexts such as “NSDAP measures for the Naziification of Germany” (мероприятия НСДАП по нацификации Германии), “relationship between Ukrainian nationalism and Nazi Germany” (отношение украинского национализма к гитлеровской Германии), “copied by Ukrainian nationalism from German Nazism” (скопирована украинским национализмом с немецкого нацизма), and “a Jew can be a Ukrainian Nazi-nationalist” (еврей может быть украинским националистом-нацистом).

An attempt is made here to assimilate Ukrainian nationalist ideas to the doctrine of Nazi Germany. This strategy of assimilation is particularly effective: it places a sovereign country like Ukraine in a historical context whose war crimes and atrocities are still present in the European collective consciousness.

Next, a May 18 article, “‘Azov’ Regiment: Laboratory of Fascism,” which is 3,540 words, contains 33 Nazi-related terms (all 107 words).

They appear in phrases like “neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and racists” (неонацисты, антисемиты и расисты), “attracting radicals and neo-Nazis to Azov” (привлекает в “Азов” радикалов и неонацистов), “neo-Nazi with the emblem of the Azov Regiment” (неонацист с эмблемой полка “Азов”), and “disgusting Nazi training” (омерзительным нацистским формированием).

While remaining linked to Nazism, a new connotation is used here, that of neo-Nazism. The definition of this term can be considered less transparent, since it is not tied to clear historical phenomena, as in the previous article. This is an ideological novelty, as if the Ukraine represented the logical evolution of German Nazism.

Finally, published on June 3, “Satanism and the occult have become the ideology of Ukrainian national battalions”. The article is 3,247 words long and contains 20 Nazi-related terms (all 162 words).

The contexts in which they occur are “occultism in Nazi Germany” (оккультизм в нацистской Германии), “neo-Nazi-Satanist movements” (неонацистко-сатанистские движения) and “esoteric Nazism” (эзотерический нацизм).

Ritual occultism emerges in these contexts, but the content of the article continues to emphasize the neo-Nazi notions presented earlier. Each new article and, with it, each new point of view places itself around the semantic core of “Nazi”, then refines its semantic message, first by declaring that Ukrainian nationalism is inspired by Nazi Germany, then by saying that the type of Ukrainian Nazism is new, with the Third Reich still in its foundation, and finally expressing the idea that occultism and Satanism are the first constituents of Ukrainian Nazism.

However, with each new article, the central message of the Nazis fades even further into the background. It demonstrates that, as shown above, the average usage of Nazi-related terms decreases over time, appearing every 40, then every 107, and finally every 162 words. This animated word cloud takes this behavior into consideration, extracting the most important words per article, with Nazi-related terms underlined in red. Over time, they appear smaller and less significant overall.

Fluctuations in Russian propaganda

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”; it is one of the methods of Russian propaganda, called, ironically, the Goebbels method. “The Ukrainians are all Nazis and the Russians are there to save them”; it is a fact repeated in different forms through the comments of RIA Novosti. Russian propaganda works.

RIA Novosti is using Nazi-derived words less and less, indicating they are turning to new narratives. These narratives are nevertheless complementary to the central message – Ukrainians are Nazis – but they are also neo-Nazis and Satanists. Thus, Russian propaganda also lives, it changes, creates comfortable stories, adapts to new contexts.

In the digital age, where information and disinformation accumulate every second to be preserved in all their banality, the human brain relies even more on mental shortcuts to process the news. It goes so far that if the political agenda of the pro-Russian media changes, everything changes: in a fraction of a second, Putin can become the enemy of the people, the West the best ally, etc.

The only effective remedy against fake news and misinformation is not debunking, but pre-bunking, not damage repair, but prevention. Russian propaganda has mastered ways to counter demystification, such as false remedies. Pre-bunking, on the other hand, aims to raise awareness that politically motivated groups might attempt to mislead the public on topics such as the war in Ukraine.

Once in doubt, nothing is taken literally. Consume the news with a grain of salt and stay on top of propaganda strategies. The truth is won by countering them methodically.

This article was published by Geopolitical Monitor.com

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