Lev Ponomarev. Anti-propaganda: where have you been for 8 years?
Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev created the “Stop the War on Ukraine!” petition on change.org on 24 February 2022 following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. To date, the collective petition has received more than 1,236,000 signatures and has become an important source of information.
Russia has been waging war against the sovereign European state of Ukraine for the 56th day now. And the Russian authorities deny it; the anti-war stance has been declared illegal in the country. At the same time Putin’s propaganda is poisoning people’s feelings and minds. Experience suggests that education and discussion help to make sense of such difficult situations.
Switzerland for All therefore invites thinking people to read the update to Lev Ponomarev’s petition and help gather more votes for this historical testimony.
Where have you been for eight years?
Where were you? We were all living our lives, weren’t we?
But 8 years ago terrible, unjust things did happen, only with far less death and destruction than today. Let’s talk about facts.
Crimea and Donbass were internationally recognised territories of Ukraine. But in 2014, Putin sent Russian troops to Crimea to take control of the peninsula.
For a long time, Russia denied its military intervention. Propaganda spoke of “self-defence”, “polite people”, a “military base in Sevastopol” and “self-determination of the Crimeans”. But some time later, in the film “Crimea. The Road to the Homeland”, Putin stated that he personally commanded the military operation to annex Crimea.
Around the same time, Russia began actively supporting the secession of Ukraine’s eastern territories and the creation of so-called “people’s republics” in them.
There is ample evidence that since 2014 there has been an active anti-Ukrainian propaganda campaign on Russian-language television in Ukraine, fueling animosity between the eastern regions and the rest of Ukraine. Pro-Russian forces became active in the east and pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian activists clashed. The situation continuously escalated, and at some point, pro-Russian units with weapons began to appear there.
Note: Imagine the emergence of armed formations outside government control, for example in Siberia? What would be the reaction of the Russian authorities if someone wanted to hold a referendum on secession of, for example, a piece of the Far East? There is an article in the Russian criminal code – calling for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity – 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code. The people of Crimea, if they suddenly want autonomy back from Russia, will become criminals overnight under Russian law. The peoples of Russia do not really have any right to self-determination – there is only an article in the Criminal Code.
Ukraine has sent its army to the rebellious areas and announced the start of an anti-terrorist operation (ATO). What would you do if you were the Ukrainian authorities faced with armed separatism supported from abroad?
The tense situation, the de facto dual government, and even the start of the ATO is a crisis situation. But it is still not a war. In those territories that remained part of Ukraine after the crisis period, it has been relatively calm and peaceful all these years.
Until February 24, 2022…
Who started the war?
On 5 December 1994, the Budapest Memorandum was signed. Under this treaty, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in favour of Russia, while Russia, the US and the UK in turn pledged to respect and guarantee Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, recognising its borders, including Crimea.
In 2014, by seizing Crimea, Putin blatantly violated international agreements, and this led to the unwinding of the conflict and fuelled separatist sentiment in parts of eastern Ukraine.
To better understand how the war in Donbass started, one should definitely read an interview with one of the key commanders of the armed separatists – a Russian citizen, FSB colonel and former military officer – Igor Girkin-Strelkov.
Here are his direct quotes:
“But the trigger of the war was pulled by me after all.”
“And practically the flywheel of the war, which is still going on, was started by our unit”
In this interview, Strelkov also talks about how the war in eastern Ukraine was fought by “vacationers” – members of the Russian army who went to “spend their holiday” in the offensive on Mariupol:
“The furloughers came 40 days later. There was no way we would have lasted until they arrived.
“But it was mainly holidaymakers who attacked Mariupol”.
Today, in fact, it is no longer disputed that Russia supplied the separatists with weapons and equipment, and supported them with troops at critical moments.
So Russia started a war that has been going on with varying intensity for eight years. But after February 24, it turned into the worst war in Europe since the Second World War in a matter of days.
All this time this war has been fought on the territory of Ukraine. These are the facts!
Our tanks on foreign soil…
Why do you support Ukrainian Nazis?
Let us remember together what Nazism is.
We should not throw around such words, especially in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, which lost millions of people in the war with the Nazis.
Nazism is the ideology of the superiority of one nation over others, and the inferiority of individual races and peoples. Classical Nazism is the doctrine of the Aryan race, the Jewish conspiracy and the Untermensch – the underdogs. In Nazi Germany it was accepted at the state level – at the level of racial laws! And it was accompanied by the practice of mass persecution and industrial extermination of people, from Jews and gypsies to the handicapped and the hopelessly ill. In today’s language the word “Nazism” has come to stand for any ideologies and views that promote the ideas of racial/national superiority, and the denial of rights to “inferior” races and peoples.
There is nothing similar at the state level in Ukraine.
The entire spectrum of nationalist (not Nazi!) parties did not get even 3% of the vote in the 2019 parliamentary elections and have no representatives in the country’s parliament. Totalitarian ideologies and symbols are legally banned in Ukraine.
At the same time in Ukraine – as in Russia – there are indeed those who can be called neo-Nazis. There are bearers of ultra-right views and even entire subcultures in many countries. If we focus media attention on them as much as possible, we can create a picture of neo-Nazism gaining strength for the viewer.
That is exactly what propaganda does. And the picture it creates is a lie.
It is noteworthy that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky comes from a Ukrainian-Jewish family. His relatives include Holocaust victims and his own grandfather is a World War II veteran.
Why is the Russian language oppressed in Ukraine?
Let us turn to history. For centuries, when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and then the USSR, the Ukrainian people were subjected to russification in one form or another. There were closures of Ukrainian schools, bans on Ukrainian books and even persecution of Ukrainian writers. National history for many Ukrainians tells of a struggle for their independence, their language and their culture.
According to the last census, Russians make up less than 20% of Ukraine’s population, while Ukrainians make up more than 77%. In 2019, a law came into force in Ukraine enshrining the status of the Ukrainian language as the state language. This law introduced its compulsory teaching in the education system, and announced a gradual transition to Ukrainian in the state and municipal sectors, medical and transport sectors, labelling of goods and services, arts and education, and the media.
The issue of the state language is an internal matter of Ukraine. It is the right of the Ukrainian people to protect and revive their national culture, which has been oppressed for centuries.
There are no bans on the use of the Russian language, as well as the languages of other national minorities, in Ukrainian law.
The Russian language can be spoken freely in any part of Ukraine and taught at school. Odessa, Kharkov and Mariupol, as well as many other cities in eastern Ukraine – have always remained Russian-speaking cities. President Volodymyr Zelenski was born in Russian-speaking Kryvyi Rih, spoke Russian all his life and worked with Russians. He even had to take Ukrainian lessons when he was preparing for the election and the presidency.
But now Russian missiles and bombs are falling on Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine. Mariupol is almost completely destroyed but still not taken by the Russian army. Can more be done to make sure the Russian language is treated badly…?
Why didn’t the world react to the genocide of Russians in Donbass?
Genocide is one of those words that should not be thrown around as it is the gravest crime against humanity.
Genocide is the extermination of individual groups or entire peoples for political, racial, national, ethnic or religious reasons. This notion is enshrined both in the Russian Criminal Code and in UN charter documents.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as of 30 June 2021, 3,375 civilians were killed in hostilities in Donbas. Most likely, this figure is lower than the real level of civilian casualties, due to the difficulty of recording them. But these are people who have died as a result of the war, on both sides of the front.
For the killings to be recognised as genocide, it must be shown that the killings were planned as a deliberate extermination of people belonging to a particular community – national, political and so on. The people who die in bombings and fighting are not victims of genocide. The destruction of enemy soldiers in combat is not genocide!
The war in Donbas has claimed many lives. The sides have repeatedly accused each other of provocations and shelling of residential buildings, of mistreating prisoners of war and disloyal civilians.
But there is no reason to speak of a targeted extermination of the Russian-speaking population.
One should not throw such words around thoughtlessly, devaluing them and insulting the memory of the real victims of the terrible genocides of the past. “The world does not react” because it takes such words very seriously. And propagandists speculate on them precisely to influence your emotions and stifle reason.
It is possible that an international investigation will find that the mass executions and torture of hundreds of civilians in Bucha, Irpen and other Ukrainian towns, briefly occupied by Russian troops, will be recognized as genocide.
Why do they hate us?
And how can you love those who have unleashed a war against you?
Right now, as you read these lines, strikes are being launched against Ukrainian cities, the battle for Donbass is heating up – Russian troops are trying to build on the offensive.
Death, suffering and destruction every day is what Russia has brought to Ukraine, while claiming that Ukraine is a Nazi state and allowing such articles to appear on state news sites that explicitly state that all defenders of Ukraine – soldiers of the AFU, territorial defence and volunteer battalions – must be destroyed and a large part of the Ukrainian people must be re-educated, “achieved by ideological repression (suppression) of Nazi attitudes and rigid censorship: not only in p
There are Russians, Ukrainians and representatives of other nations living in Ukraine. They learn news about the war not from Russian television or the blocked Russian Internet, but first and foremost from those who see the war with their own eyes. For each of them, the Russian soldier proved to be an occupier and a threat to the lives of civilians, including women and children. And with each new house destroyed, with each new victim there will be more hatred, and that hatred will live on for years.
No one during the Great Patriotic War was surprised by the widespread slogan “Daddy, kill the German!” For Ukrainians that war had already become the Patriotic War. And for Russia it became a deep political and moral catastrophe.
Let us try to stop this war together.
P.S. A bit of theory
To fight propaganda, it is important to understand what it is.
Propaganda does not affect the mind in the first place, but the emotions and subconscious.
Propaganda has a vast, well-developed and proven arsenal of manipulative techniques based on knowledge of human psychology. Direct lying is the least effective and dangerous of these techniques. Appealing to fear, to feelings of resentment, to self-esteem, provoking hatred, dehumanising, falsifying and tendentiously selecting evidence, partially distorting the truth, scattering attention, consistently destroying logical connections, playing on complexes, on people’s desire to remain in a comfort zone, to “be like everyone else” – all these work very well.
What does propaganda do to Russians?
It pits them against each other, provoking the widest split in society in decades. Propaganda forces people to become primitive, gradually replaces public discourse with bullying, labeling, dividing into “insiders” and “outsiders”, leading to a loss of reference points, a distortion of the perception of right and wrong, and the eventual lifting of moral limits.
It was astonishing and frightening to see how people became enraged at the news of progress in the peace negotiations. The move to end the war was perceived as a “concession to the enemy” and a “betrayal of trust”. It is difficult to say how many such people there are in Russia, but they undoubtedly exist. The other, much more numerous stratum of our fellow citizens are those who passively approve of the actions of the authorities and justify the war, considering it a forced step.
The peculiarity of propaganda is that a normal person would never approve of war and would never wish death and destruction to other nations. For a normal Russian a Ukrainian cannot be an enemy, and national culture and his view of history cannot be an excuse for war.
The authorities in Russia understand this very well, and normal people are only hindering them now. Therefore – propaganda, repression and censorship.
We can at least try to return as many of our fellow citizens as possible to a state of normality. Patiently, calmly and persistently, going back to the very basics. This is the first step towards saving Russia.
Take care, stay in touch!
No to war!