Shortly after Russia’s massive May 16 missile attack on Kyiv, bot farms began spewing information that Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, had been seriously wounded in the attack. Few people believed the rumors, but social media has a way of amplifying ridiculous claims.
The rumors were dispelled at the Kyiv Post office on May 22, with a visit from retired US Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, who had seen Zaluzhny the day before and confirmed that the Ukrainian commander was in “remarkably good spirits.”
Yesterday, May 25, Zaluzhny put to lie the rumormongers with a quick video appearance. He even trolled back with a photo of himself wearing an F-16 T-shirt.
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery #Zaluzhny took a photo at his workplace— KyivPost (@KyivPost) May 25, 2023
He denied a Russian propaganda fake that he was allegedly wounded in early May as a result of a rocket attack on a command post near #Kherson
📷: Ukrainska Pravda pic.twitter.com/pAZnO8G3Es
Was the missile attack at all successful?
In reality, the missile attack failed miserably. The Ukrainian government reported that local air defense forces shot down six “aero-ballistic” missiles, nine cruise missiles, three ballistic missiles, six strike drones, and three observation drones in what was, purportedly, the most complex and multi-directional Kremlin attack on a Ukrainian city since Vladimir Putin kicked off a now largely failed campaign to bombard Ukraine’s civilian population into submission back in October.
The Russians claimed to have destroyed a Patriot missile system in that attack, but the Pentagon confirmed that the system was only damaged, and within three days of the attack was repaired and fully operational.
On May 24, week after the failed attacked in which $120 million-worth of high-tech Russian weapons got shot down, one of the most notorious pro-Kremlin trolls on Twitter collected more than 400,000 views with patent lie: “The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian forces was gravely wounded in a Russian strike.”
Early this morning the said troll, KimDotcom, felt obliged to recant via Twitter:
Update: Zaluzhny appears in good health in a new video. Russian, Ukrainian and Western channels are disinformation minefields. The info war is part of any war. My commitment to you is that I update my tweets in the rare cases when I get something wrong. https://t.co/ntNCFIXaI6 https://t.co/UF2UVGcPez— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 26, 2023
So, why do they lie?
As any psychologist will tell you, there are lots of reasons why people lie. But whole nations? Systematically? Pathologically?
The question has been addressed by historians and political scientists alike.
The maximalist explanation
Russia needs to lie in order to sustain its origin myth – which is a blatant lie.
Putin and many Russian historians claim that the Russian Empire originated in Kyiv, with Kyivan Rus’; that Ukrainians don’t really exist, but are rather a deviant form of Russians who have been tarnished by Western influence.
If Ukrainians don’t exist as a separate nation and people, if any claim to separate existence can be dismissed as an attack on your own origin myth, then you have the right – as Putin and his cohorts insist – to destroy them.
And the truth behind the lie is simple: all this “de-nazification” and “de-militarization” business is just an attempt to rationalize the perceived need to destroy a people whose very existence reveal the shaky ground on which Russia’s origin myth is based.
Even Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group, has ridiculed Russia’s claims of “de-nazification” and “de-militarization.”
The epistemological gambit
Basically, we don’t know what truth is. It’s all relative, so any claim to absolute objective truth is absurd.
This is more or less the thesis of “political technologist” Vladislav Surkov, who was an advisor to Putin and in charge of Ukraine policy for a while after the 2014 invasion of Crimean and the Donbas.
Since there is no objective truth, then you can more or less highlight which relative facet of reality you wish. And if you’re a Machiavellian type – as Surkov certainly is – then you can lie intentionally in order to muddy the waters and sow doubt where necessary.
Doesn’t that sound diabolically cynical?
It doesn’t just sound that way. It is.
Prominent historian Timothy Snyder has gone out of his way to draw attention to the danger of exactly this type of truth manipulation.
“I believe that Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine on the basis of a systematically false understanding of what Russia is and what Ukraine is,” he said in a recent interview.
When Snyder plunges deeper into the philosophical underpinnings of Russia’s need to lie, he reveals an intricately elaborated sense of mission that Russia has developed.
The historian refers to the ideology behind the mission as “Russian-Christian Fascism.” Essentially, those proponents of this ideology understand the world to be fallen, full of “cracks and gaps and differences” that prevent it from being whole.
“So, the things that you apprehend in your daily life as facts,” Snyder explains, “from the point of view of Russian-Christian fascism, that’s what’s wrong with the world. There aren’t really facts, there really should just be some invisible unity and truth… which has been lost…” And it is Russia’s mission to restore this lost unity.
“Now if you think this way, there are some very interesting implications, and a lot of Russian propaganda will make more sense,” Snyder continues.
“One implication is: There are no facts, there is no truth in the conventional sense. The only truth is the deeper truth: Whatever it is I say that helps Russia restore itself, that’s true. There are also no values. There is nothing which is good, except the restoration of Russia and its mission to bring the entire world together.”
Snyder may very well be the most perceptive public intellectual regarding the history and future implications of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. And he repeatedly emphasizes that this war will have ramifications not only in a geopolitical sense, but also in terms of philosophy and anthropology.
What is real? What does it mean to be human? The truth is that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is in a larger sense an attempt to undermine these very questions.
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