Olesya Yakhno: Methods of Russian propaganda


Olesya Yakhno is a Ukrainian politologist, who is known for her analysis and research on Russia’s newest propaganda methods. Having a doctor’s degree in political science, she has experienced first hand the workings of Russia’s media, by participating in various Russian TV shows, and later on earning harsh criticism from pro-Russian idea supporters on the internet. Before coming to Riga, where on May 7th, she will participate in the international experts’ discussion “May 9 – History, Politics, Propaganda? Why Is History Also the Present Time?” which will be held in Latvian War Museum, she agreed to share her discoveries about Russian propaganda nowadays, by naming some of the key methods which are being used in hybrid-war right now.

Methods of Russian propaganda:

1. The method of using opponent’s weak spots. Russia waged its «hybrid wars» against Georgia in 2008 and against Ukraine in 2014-2015 using the reflective propaganda model. This model implies an accurate account of the opponent’s target audience and forecasting of its behavior. Ukraine’s target audience is the Russian-speaking population of Crimea and Donbas, the Ukrainian authorities, and the international community. Russia’s objectives are disorientation of the opponent, information advantage and inducing the opponent to adopt solutions to the advantage of the Russian leadership. Russian propaganda in Ukraine is, to a large extent, based on erasing the Ukrainian identity, fostering confrontation between various groups of the Ukrainian society, misuse of similar mentality shared by residents of Ukraine’s eastern regions and of Russia against the backdrop of misunderstanding of modern Russia’s realities on the part of the former. With regards to Georgia, the Kremlin took careful studies into Mikhail Saakashvili’s personality eventually realizing how to take advantage of his impetuosity. The Kremlin realized how to step up pressure on Mr.Saakashvili and foresaw his course of action when this pressure became unbearable.

2. The method of information manipulation. Emphasis on the interpretation of facts, not on the facts themselves. A situation, whether actual or bogus, is presented in the negative, that is, negative consequences are emphasized at each step of any process. A single fact is presented as a regular pattern. In practice, this is achieved through access to a larger volume of information, impeding opponent’s access to true information, flooding opponent’s information flows with bogus, but seemingly reliable reports.

3. Methods of psychological influence. Information warfare is a way of exerting influence over the consciousness and the human psyche. Understanding opponent’s values allows verbal and non-verbal communication with the opponent’s mind aimed at altering his behavior, not the mutual relationship. Use of such methods as demonization and dehumanization of one’s opponent, polarization of positions, and exaggeration of conflicting opinions is advised. Russia is using both vertical and horizontal propaganda. Vertical propaganda is a classical form of propaganda, in which information flows move from top to bottom. Horizontal propaganda is used in groups. In both cases, the overall mood affecting the audience is of prime importance. Mostly, it has to do with introducing propaganda clichés through creating social contexts. At the same time, the target audience is persuaded into thinking that it’s making its own free choice. This propaganda is implemented via movies, education, and social services. Such a product or an activity pattern is rarely perceived as propaganda. However, by the degree of influence on the person concerned, it equals to propaganda, and is actively used as a method of rapid assimilation of social patterns, psychological standardization, conscription, etc.

4. Method of drawing historical parallels. Currently, Russia actively uses historical and religious dates and symbols in the imposition of clichés. This is aimed at both boosting up social strata of the Russian Federation and at creating/deepening splits between the neighboring countries on the basis of language, choice of historical figures, and so on. The degree of hostilities and of information campaign rises on the eve of national holidays, especially religious ones, so as to accuse the opponent or tarnish his image.

5. The method of incitement to violence. All kinds of propaganda have the peculiar ability of blocking rational thinking and of a transition to emotional perception of events. This can be achieved through utmost visualization of violence. At first, the society is inoculated with tolerance for hatred and aggression, followed by addiction to these manifestations. Russia’s information warfare campaign in its aggression against Ukraine is just as powerful as the one taken by the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988, both highlighting active use of propaganda of violence by the media.