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To someone following Western media summaries of Russian public diplomacy and state-supported media, it appears that they are putting out both obviously false claims and mutually inconsistent ones, e.g.

How can such a messaging strategy make sense?

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  • I am aware of this question, but i am looking more for reasoning in international politics, while this question seems to be more focused on internal politics.
    – user43849
    Jul 16 at 8:36
  • @JJJ while I can see the need to stay neutral to avoid mud slinging, the current phrasing still deviates from the question asked by the OP. The original question allowed for certain answers which the current one does not. For example, should there be evidence that the aim of the veracity of falsehoods is not to tamper the accusations, but to assert the power to do anything, including smear the victims, presenting such evidence would not be a good answer to the question, as it is currently worded. But, if true, it would be an appropriate answer to the original question.
    – wrod
    Jul 17 at 22:56
  • @wrod the original phrasing was a push question, this way it's more likely for the community to reopen the question as has since been done. As for your example, are you referring to a specific answer which has already been posted?
    – JJJ
    Jul 17 at 23:16
  • @JJJ no, I don't think there has been an answer which has made this point. But I don't exclude the possibility that evidence for such an answer can be found.
    – wrod
    Jul 18 at 0:19
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    @wrod Okay, I don't think that warrants rolling back to a version which reads like a push question. I think the goal of editing is to make off-topic questions on-topic (where reasonably possible) and to improve the question in general. If you think there's a different question that can be phrased without making it seem like a push question then it could be asked as a new question. You're welcome to do that, though you might need to mention this question and explain clearly how it differs from this one so is less likely to be closed as a duplicate of this one.
    – JJJ
    Jul 18 at 0:25

5 Answers 5

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I believe that there are several aspects to this. Keep in mind that not everybody is predisposed to disbelieve Russia.

  • Push out multiple conflicting narratives, to make people quit thinking.
    This effective tactic, sometimes known as "bullshitting," can be used nationally and internationally. It involves pushing out so many statements and explanations that the target audience cannot check and (dis)prove all of them. People then stop to believe anything from either side, which is a win for the side which has no convincing truth to tell.
  • Provide talking points to pro-Russian advocates.
    There are very diverse groups of people in the West who support the Russian position. What they have in common is a distrust of their own government and what they call the "mainstream media." Take, for instance, somebody who does not want to believe in climate change because that would mean an end to gas-guzzling SUVs. And someone else who is against NATO because he or she is against the military in general. It is not possible to tap into both pools of resentment with the same messages.
  • For much of the world, it is a regional conflict in Europe.
    For readers in Europe, "regional conflict" used to denote some people in Africa or similar places, killing each other over differences the reader does not understand, and usually something where "the West" should not intervene because it is pointless, anyway. Could you tell the facts, the rights and wrongs about Kivu and Oromia without looking them up? And would you trust that Wikipedia is impartial? Or where would you go?
  • A full stomach is more important than justice.
    At least for the vast majority of people. The Russian invasion disrupted global food supplies. People in Europe grumble, and pay a few cent more. Most of them can do it. There are other regions where it is literally a matter of life and death. Russia wants them to believe that food supplies will be restored most quickly with a Russian victory, and they grasp that straw.
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  • I guess i have never really considered how people from other cultures might percieve the whole thing. Thanks for your view.
    – user43849
    Jul 16 at 12:02
  • 1
    Those points a few others are explored in more detail in rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html Some of that is speculative, but there are some good empirical psychology papers cited in support of some of the points.
    – Fizz
    Jul 16 at 16:05
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    There's actually even en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firehose_of_falsehood
    – Fizz
    Jul 16 at 16:13
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    And this APA blog likens it to the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop
    – Fizz
    Jul 16 at 16:28
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    The problem with this answer - and I didn't ask the question so can't speak exactly to its intent - is that it concentrates on media communications. Not government to government communication. When Putin tells Macron on Feb 20th that the exercise is almost over he's implicitly lying gov-to-gov. Quoting OP: lying to deceive rivals might be viable strategy makes me think the value, if any, of this question is looking at gov-to-gov lies, not things akin to Trump's frequent campaign trail lies. And that aspect is not covered at all here. Jul 16 at 18:34
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It is a specific type of propaganda. The main goal of this kind of propaganda is to convince that the truth is unknowable, the truth is always subjective, you never know what it is, and you, the little guy, will never be able to make sense of it all — so you need to follow a strong leader.

When applying this type of propaganda, the listener is flooded with lots of information without showing much care not to contradict themselves, leave alone to use any kind of facts or logical argumentation. "The rocket has hit the Ukrainian military installation and not a civil infrastructure. The rocket was actually launched by their own forces. The attack actually has been staged." What do they think I am supposed to conclude by summarizing such an information from several sources? They do not care about facts or logic of any kind and do not pretend to care.

This type of propaganda is explained by Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born ex-reality TV producer (source).

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  • The linked article trying to spin this as some unique Russian phenomenon, whereas Ukrainian war propaganda (and, likely, any war propaganda) works in exactly the same fashion. In fact, after 2014 "Russians has shelled themself yet again" and "HVAC explosion" has become dark humour local memes already.
    – alamar
    Jul 16 at 21:38
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    Ukraina also has some propaganda, every state at war does. "Русский военный корабль, иди на хуй" or say Ghost of Kyiv. But it is still not the same and the question is about Russian propaganda.
    – Stančikas
    Jul 16 at 21:51
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it does require to have some degree of credibility - so that the other side would at least consider that what you are saying is true.

Apart from that it's not only about the other side but also about the own side, the other side has free media (compared to Russia) and this free media will need to repeat the Russian claims however invented they may seem in order to portray all sides fairly (otherwise they would be seen as biased). So they cannot shut off the Russian side completely (while Russia effectively shut off any other side, so lying on their own side is relatively risk free). In that case it's just the best to not bother with sticking to facts and only the facts all the time but rather just say what you want people to hear.

To summarize: Russia shut off all other voices internally but the West did not and that's why lying has value for the Russian side. Those who find the Russian version of the truth not very credible probably already oppose them, so hardly anything can get worse there but for all others Russia needs to keep their support and lying or spinning the news in the most favorable way will guarantee that. It's a war and the truth is the first victim, right?

Maybe Russians official news agencies even believe what they are broadcasting, although there is probably no way to know that. In any case, it's very much the same mechanism like in many other times and circumstances (say Cold War, Nazi-Germany, ..).

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  • I would really appreciate the Moskva sinking follow up from you.
    – alamar
    Jul 16 at 22:46
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    @alamar I typically try to avoid discussing single examples, they may or may not have their own critical points while at the same time not being very useful for drawing general conclusions but in this case it seems rather easy. Russia said that the Moskva sunk in stormy sea, the West said there was no storm, Moska sunk in calm sea. Unless it is all a big misunderstanding, one of them is definitely lying. And we can find out by looking at the weather. The weather is typically well recorded and rather unbiased. However, in this case there are only model calculations available....
    – Trilarion
    Jul 17 at 21:06
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    @alamar ..model calculations for the night April 13-14 say wind speeds of 30-40 km/h for that region, far from being a storm. If this is true, Moskva sunk in calm not in stormy sea and Russia would have lied in this case. There is also a photo and short video available of a burning ship which likely is the Moskva in calm sea.
    – Trilarion
    Jul 17 at 21:11
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    The map that you have linked shows slightly higher winds in the area in late hours of April 13th, up to 50 km/h, which would still qualify as "strong breeze" and not storm. Thank you for looking that up.
    – alamar
    Jul 17 at 21:38
-3

I am yet to find a super-power/great-power/colonial-power who doesn't lie or didn't lie.

Take, for example, the USA's Iraq invasion and the subsequent hanging of Saddam. Bush administration vehemently propagandized that Saddam had WMD (a term that I personally never heard before that incident). Colin Powel showed a bottle of white stuff (god knows what was inside!) in the UNSC. Ultimately, all were bluff and just an excuse to bomb, destroy, and colonize (remember Paul Bremer?) Iraq.

Take, for example, the UK. I don't even need to tell you a different storyline as they were always an accomplice of the US endeavors.

Take, for example, France. The only reason they are in Africa is because of plundering natural resources. They are in Mali for copper, Libya for oil, etc. However, they talk about human rights, freedom of expression, etc.

Take, for example, China. What are they doing in the South China sea?

Therefore, isolating Russia would be some kind of hypocrisy from the questioner.

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  • For those who might not remember the extent of the lying in re Iraq: motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/leadup-iraq-war-timeline Yeah, the OP's abandoned Q could be interpreted this way as comparing countries or events. But there are other interpretations which were suggested by the (then) middle para, see the rewrite, which not exclusively focuses on that.
    – Fizz
    Jul 17 at 8:06
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    @Fizz As that article makes clear (in its own rather confused way), the lead up to the invasion of Iraq was characterised by overstating evidence, ignoring inconvenient evidence, reckless appeals to emotion etc., but the lying that took place was qualitatively quite different from what is being discussed here re Russia. Jul 17 at 9:40
  • @CharlieEvans: one could also say Russia is overstating how many [neo-]Nazis there are in Ukraine, how many people in the Donbass have died prior to 2022, how many Ukrainians would rather have a Russian passport, how the combination of deaths and a language law constitutes genocide, how NATO has been arming Ukraine preventing peace [along Mink lines], etc. Compare with: Saddam is importing tubes which we're pretty sure will be used for nukes, he has mobile chem labs, is buying drones that can strike America, supports Al-Qaeda, is buying yellow cake, etc.
    – Fizz
    Jul 18 at 3:50
  • @CharlieEvans, ... but the lying that took place was qualitatively quite different from ... --- Interesting to see how people would manufacture novel reasonings to try to wash up their sins. That was not a lie; that was the reenactment of lamb and the wolf fairy tale.
    – user366312
    Jul 18 at 4:20
  • And yeah Saddam had actually killed a lot of Kurds and Iranians with chemical weapons, but that was never invoked as the official reason to go to war against him, although it was arguably proof on antecedents.
    – Fizz
    Jul 18 at 5:13
-6

As Paul Graham argued in his famous essay What You Can't Say, heresies are things which are not obviously false so they might as well be true.

What would people perceive as lies and be triggered by that? I argue that happens when you face a rival discourse which uses the same facts set but lays them out differently, and contrary to your own beliefs.

For example, take the reactions to the statement that "Russia has liberated Lisichansk". I think it would look like a blatant lie to a Western reader. But why? It's apparent that Russian flag is currently flying other that city. It's also quite easy to prove there are likely some people, an unknown number of them, out of the city's 100,000 population, who feel liberated by the fact that fighting has mostly ceased and they are now on the Russian side of the war zone.

But, you would say, isn't Ukraine a sovereign country who ought to be legitimately controlling this city? Aren't Ukrainians as a whole supposed to be relentlessly resisting and being loyal to their state? And by the way, isn't it spelled Lysychans'k?

The fact set is exactly the same as if the news piece came from a familiar Western source and used "fell and now occupied by Russia" instead. But the discourse (which is really neither true or false) is different. And the facts are cherry-picked from that set in a different, offensive way.

Other than that, people seem to be really offended by existence of adversarial war propaganda. They don't mind allied war propaganda and would excuse it for wishful thinking if it boosts the morale on "your" side (bonus points if it manages to hurt the morale of "them"), but of course they see propaganda from the other side as abomination and magnify any real or imaginary falsehoods encountered there.

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  • 3
    Not sure this covers all or most of Russian lies. Like the flagship Moskwa sunk because of bad weather or massacres in Budcha were done by Ukrainians themselves. Sometimes it's facts set in a different light and sometimes just completely invented. There are lies and blatant lies.
    – Trilarion
    Jul 16 at 21:28
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    To quote the wikipedia on Moskva "The Russian Ministry of Defence said a fire caused a munitions explosion, and the ship sank in stormy seas while being towed to port". It seems to be a fact that Moskva has sunk because of bad weather after all, you just don't like the way Russian media potray it (perhaps by trying to downplay the explosions and their cause, leading to unseaworthiness?), which reinforces my message.
    – alamar
    Jul 16 at 21:34
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    No as far as I know there also wasn't any stormy sea (unless we debate when something can be called stormy).
    – Trilarion
    Jul 16 at 21:54
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    This is exactly that I am saying in my answer: the goal is to show there is no truth. Is it Russia invading Ukraine or Ukraine is invading Russia? Fully opinion based!
    – Stančikas
    Jul 16 at 21:57
  • @Trilarion Wikipedia does not seem to list any alternative opinions on why the actual sinking occurred. I wonder if you could clarify if you have any other sources. I don't think anybody argues that it sank on the spot.
    – alamar
    Jul 16 at 21:59

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