Why are we fighting for Bakhmut? How Russian propaganda is trying to demoralize Ukrainians

Why are we fighting for Bakhmut? How Russian propaganda is trying to demoralize Ukrainians

Information attacks are an integral part of modern warfare. The enemy systemically attempts to hamper motivation of both the military and civilian population.

Information attacks and psychological operations are aimed at destabilizing society, demoralizing people, and pushing the military-political leadership to erroneous decisions.

Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar warned of the intensification of Russian psyops amid the ongoing fierce battles for Bakhmut. The enemy is trying to exploit this topic to undermine public confidence in the military command, provoke internal conflicts, and influence the morale and psychological condition of Ukrainian soldiers, and decision-making by military commanders.

The Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security recorded several information waves spun this spring aimed at sowing panic in Ukrainian society and depreciating the heroic defense of Bakhmut, the town where the Ukrainian forces have been holding their ground for the past eight months.

On March 11, through a network of anonymous accounts on Facebook, an advertisement targeting Ukrainians was launched with the key message “The battle for Bakhmut is already lost.”

At the same time, there came allegations that the West had already cut its support for Ukraine because of massive government-level corruption. The attack was aimed at creating a sense of hopelessness among Ukrainians, pushing them to stop resisting the invaders.

Most of the accounts that posted such messages had been created in early March, and some listed the Mexican peso as payment currency for advertising services. Evidence of community rule violations was provided by Meta. The social network administration deactivated this ad campaign and blocked the accounts that had been spreading it.

In mid-March, there was an increase in the activity of Russian bots on TikTok circulating videos of the Ukrainian military. To provide the necessary emotional coloring, depressing background music and captions with manipulative messages accompanied the clips. With the help of these doctored videos, the Russians are promoting the following messages:

  • Bakhmut is hell soldiers must get out of ASAP;
  • The Ukrainian Army is suffering considerable losses;
  • Commanders leave soldiers at poorly selected positions;
  • Soldiers have no trust in their command and authorities, despising them, and being unwilling to fight; and
  • Russians are using ‘super-powerful’ weapons, from which there is no protection.

There is a number of channels specializing in the distribution of such videos. In particular, the @realno.tresh channel on March 15-30 posted 19 videos created by the same template. The most popular of them sealed 1.7 million views.

Channel @info_triger, which previously posted flash mobs of Asian teenagers, reoriented to the Ukrainian audience, having already posted 14 videos since March 14.

Russian propagandists do not cease trying to foment artificial conflicts in Ukrainian society, in particular, trying to turn the military against civilians. On March 29-30, the network of pro-Kremlin Telegram channels distributed the so-called “video from the center of Kyiv” with the caption “Why do we need all this? Why are we fighting for Bakhmut or Kherson?” The author of the video did express outrage at the behavior of a group of youngsters. But the said quote was never voiced.

On March 29-30, Russian media and a network of pro-Kremlin Telegram channels and social media groups actively circulated a distorted quote by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about Bakhmut, taken from an interview with the Associated Press. The head of state said that, had the AFU left Bakhmut, it would have been “a more political rather than a tactical defeat” for Ukraine. And Putin then would have tried to “sell” his victory to the West, China, Russia, and Iran. 

In these words, the propagandists “saw” Zelensky’s confidence in Ukraine’s defeat and readiness for compromises with the Kremlin. This was presented to the Russian audience as evidence of Ukraine’s and its leadership’s weakness, and to the Ukrainian audience — as yet another poor move by the leader.

With the help of such manipulations and blatant lies, Russians are trying to exert pressure on the weak points of Ukrainian society, appealing to its emotional side and trying to suppress critical thinking. The enemy’s ultimate goal is to reduce Ukraine’s ability to resist aggression by undermining the unity and demoralizing citizens.

Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security

Photo: Kostiantyn Liberov

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