The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor recently posted a commentary by Kseniya Kirillova on how Russia is escalating its propaganda, particularly in the information domain, as tensions increase due to the military buildup against Ukraine.
The increase in influence messaging has traditionally been viewed as a disturbing potential indicator of escalation and seems to follow similar patterns from past Russian provocations (previously in Ukraine, as well as Georgia and Estonia). As noted by Kirillova,
“the Kremlin has long been creating mini-ideologies “for export” aimed at specific social groups abroad, most often those who hold the most radical views. Separate ideologies are created for members of the radical right in the United States (Svoboda, August 15, 2017), inhabitants of occupied Donbas (Radio Svoboda, December 23, 2020), and even for different groups in the Russian diaspora around the world (Svoboda, November 20, 2017)”
that are tailored to provide justification or provoke increasing confusion/chaos – either of which can be used by Russia to keep open (or increase) their strategic options should a target of opportunity present itself. She notes “in recent months, propagandists upended that narrative to claim that all of the above-listed values actually do exist—but are solely embodied in Russia. As the editor-in-chief of the television channel RT, Margarita Simonyan, stated at the end of December, “We are not just a democracy, we are the last true democracy left in this world” (YouTube, December 24, 2021).”
While the competing and sometimes contradictory and internally inconsistent narratives are not new (in fact, that is also part of the Russian playbook), “the ratio of “aggressive” and “justifying” content has changed significantly” and is something worth monitoring in the long run to see how the situation actually turns out. As a research area, it might be interesting to look retrospectively over the period of this tension to map the changing rhetoric compared to the actual situation/strategic decision-making to see if the type/frequency of the propaganda provides any kind of useful indications and warnings. Doing a similar deconstruction of recent past events would provide some additional data points that could be compared to the current situation (even before it fully resolves) to give some anticipatory indication of future courses of action.