Enemies and traitors: The role of Ukraine in the Soviet Union dissolution

Inga Zaksauskiene
Dr., Assistant Professor
Faculty of History, University of Vilnius

Communication analysis of the information disseminated in the context of the USSR dissolution 30th anniversary revealed major tools and narratives adopted for information campaigns by pro-Kremlin media. Implementing its long-time tradition to manipulate information Russian regime used the anniversary of the Soviet Union collapse to once again inject historical narratives demonizing the role of the former Soviet republic Ukraine in the final dissolution of the Union. Opensource monitoring tool developed by DebunkEU.org enabled a massive analysis of the Russian language media textual and audio-visual content automatically collected in the digital landscape during the period of August 2021 and January 2022. The retrieved information content was automatically attributed to quantitative DebunkReach® parameters (a combined number of the size of the readership of the domain, social interactions and backlinks) and was then reviewed manually by analysts Agnė Eidimtaitė and Magdalena Wilczyńska in order to identify qualitative parameters of the information such as sentiment, narratives and messages. The results of information analysis demonstrated that Russian media particular techniques applied more often than others while undermining historical facts related with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pro-Kremlin media used hyperbolization in presenting harmful content in exaggerated manner or providing two deliberately exacerbated opposite sides. The two other prevailing techniques adopted in Russian media selection (presenting selected, specific information out of context, intentionally omitting important aspects of the situation) and association (entailing using quotes/confirmations/endorsements of well-known figures, among other methods). These disinformation techniques applied by Kremlin media helped to program the narratives avoiding overwriting of history. In example, articles undermining referendum in the Baltic states blamed national governments holding illegal pols based on the Soviet law. However, media on purpose omit information regarding existing national constitutions and judgements of national supreme courts in the Baltic states.

The analysis shows that Russian media presented the collapse of the USSR as the result of foreign powers and elites’ actions, ignoring the objective facts regarding de facto economic, political and social situation in the country. In analysed potentially harmful pro-Kremlin media content several false claims on responsibility of many countries and governments were detected. Media presented the United States, Ukraine and the Baltic States as the major traitors and enemies of the dissolving Soviet Union. Almost all post-Soviet states in the context of the USSR dissolution are presented are traitors of idea of Union in pro-Kremlin media. Although Ukraine attracted more focus in the media coverage of 1991 events in the USSR than others.

The first widespread narrative disseminated in Russian media focuses to accusations of the Soviet elites of Ukrainian background for the collapse of the Soviet Union (e.g. “Soviet authorities started the deconstruction process before USSR collapse” keeping in mind Khrushchev’s generous gift of Crimea to Ukraine). The second narrative focuses on the consequences of the collapse of the USSR, putting the blame on the post-Soviet states and the wide range of social and economic tragedy their exit from the USSR caused. Only in the case of Ukraine the pro-Kremlin media applied and circulated a specific historical narrative focusing on independence movement in the post II WW years. Under this message Ukraine’s independence movement entitled as fascists movement that followed (and still follows) Bandera’s “Nazi” ideology. Historical narratives in pro-Kremlin media aimed to present Ukraine as a failing state that was not able to survive without Russia and was wrongly convinced that it could exist as independent state. Another common narrative detected in Russian media undermined Ukraine as a sovereign state. Media messages attempted any problems appearing in modern Ukraine – political, energy or economical – to portray in the context of Soviet Union dissolution. Ukraine is presented as a weak state lead by irrational and incompetent politicians.

Worth to mention that similarly to the case of Ukraine, the Baltic States in pro-Kremlin media messages were also blamed for the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the most prevailing narratives and sub-narratives focused on the situation in the Baltic countries after the dissolution of the USSR. Major part of articles focused on presenting the Baltic States as socially and economically failing countries (i.e., deteriorating energy safety after the collapse, social inequalities, rising fascism movements also mentioned). Several articles claimed the collapse of the USSR led to the great tragedy, discrimination of Russian minority in Baltic states, people became much more unhappy, diminished global peace and stability.

The analysis of pro-Kremlin media message in the context of the anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union demonstrates how inaccurate versions of history can be used by regime to justify current geopolitical stances in a highly damaging way.

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