Denys Bohush, a representative of the Strategic Communications Department on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces gave an exclusive interview to Kyiv Post to explain how it’s possible to detect Russian propaganda, why Russian propagandists invent outright crazy lies and what is behind Russia's nuclear blackmail.
We've been hearing about Budanov's death for weeks, and Putin himself has commented on reports about Zaluzhny who seems to have been resurrected. Why do they make up such fakes?
Well, first of all, they try to meet certain expectations and wishes of their public. Russians want Zaluzhny, Budanov, Zelensky and our other leaders to be gone and for Russia to win. If they have no victories at the front to give them, then they need to come up with something that would provide Russian society with some positive material for them to say: Wow, we are super!
Some resources also claim Ukraine has its own kind of propaganda and Russia has its own propaganda. Can you comment on that?
Here it's very important for us to understand that there is an information war going on, and Russia is very interested in identifying where Ukraine has provided semi-gray sources of information in which there would be both truth and lies. It is important therefore to hold on to official sources in this information war; from the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers.
We have a lot of official platforms on which we share everything we can. There are a lot of social networks that cite official and semi-official [sources] and a lot of bloggers who are not officials but whose ideas actually shape and influence public opinion. So, if we really want to get some accurate information, we need to separate out these official sources and use their information and distinguish it from these others. That is very important.
In Ukraine in 2014, the National Security and Defense Council banned 15 Russian TV channels and 600 Russian news platforms. In just one move we were able to move away from Russian propaganda and minimize its influence. If we hadn’t, public opinion today might be completely different. Just look at those European countries and American states which haven’t banned Russian websites.
Until our international viewers understand that the information space is a battleground of this war, they won't do anything.
You’re right there are a multitude of examples. We understand that Russian TV channels employ very serious propaganda, but you can go to any hotel in many countries where all those Russian propaganda channels keep broadcasting. They broadcast everywhere and only sometimes in some countries [they get banned], like in France where Russia Today was recently banned.
There are countries that have come to understand that there is real propaganda and others where they have not. In America, for example, there are very many Trump followers, especially from the MAGA group, who watch Russia Today and take the [Russian] narratives as truth and then communicate it as facts to Democrats or Americans in general. It is the same in many other countries, and it's a very serious story.
Are there clues or features by which you could immediately identify a piece of news as false?
It depends on who takes [this information]. If you don't read books but only watch TV, then, clearly, your thinking is not critical and you're unable to tell the truth from lies, and if they tell you that things are like this, then you may think it's true.
And if you think critically, then what you hear makes you wonder if there may be something wrong with it. And you start looking at other sources, and then you can combine and compare the two things. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer people who interrogate the news in this way.
Who is, in your opinion, the most effective Russian propagandist?
Well, in my opinion, it's a combined system. That is, all their news reports, all manner of those messages are forged under the guidance of Dmitry Kiselev. He handles this machine, he feeds the stuff into this machine, and then it's disseminated across the world.
Which of the Russian fakes would you call the craziest?
Well, I watch a lot of that stuff, like people eating children, or ISIS working in the Donbas, along with terrorists, or biolaboratories - they hype up this topic. Mosquitos infected with viruses, birds that spread viruses, battle bees and so on.
There are a lot of such things. We just laugh at it all, but the uneducated are convinced we are really using such biotechnologies: Oh, they're flying at us! Last year they were sure that locusts, Ukrainian locusts, destroyed all the crops on the territory of Krasnodar.
They are told about climate weapons. But the biggest scare topic that they spin is nuclear blackmail. That's what the Russian know sells well. They say, "We will use nuclear weapons."
And all the countries of the world that have signed all those documents on nuclear safety or non-proliferation of nuclear weapons have to react because there is a nuclear threat. The Russians come up with this nuclear blackmail every three months until Xi Jinping came [to Moscow] and told Putin personally, "You threaten everyone with nuclear weapons, but we, China don't support it."
After that they kind of slowed down. They have threatened to use nukes time and again, and when they did it for the seventh time it didn't work. And then they came up with a new bugaboo, one that wouldn't offend the Chinese. They announced that they would transfer nuclear weapons to Belarus that's a non-nuclear country. And nobody knows what to do about it, because Belarus is a non-nuclear country. This move violates so many institutional documents on nuclear safety, on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
What to do if a nuclear weapon is somehow launched from Belarus, which would mean a non-nuclear state attacks another state? Such a scenario is not envisioned in any documents or scenarios. Now they are threatening the world with this. But I think that people in the world have already begun to think critically. That's not good, by the way, because when a real nuclear threat emerges, attention to it might not be taken seriously. That's why we need to achieve something in this war in order to stop all these processes.