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Russians Living in an Alternative Reality

Mark Temnycky shows how the greatest victims of Russian disinformation are Russians themselves

Vladimir Putin. Photo: David W Cerney/Reuters

Russians are Living in an Alternative Reality

Mark Temnycky shows how the greatest victims of Russian disinformation are Russians themselves

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches its one-year anniversary, the Russians appear to have learned nothing from the war. Instead, they are living in an alternative reality.

To date, over one hundred thousand Russian soldiers have died in the war. Many Russian soldiers have been wounded, and the Russians have lost numerous high ranking officers. Beyond these casualties, the Russians have lost tens of billions of dollars in military equipment.

The Russian Federation is also nearly cut off from the entire international community. Several Russian banks were removed from the SWIFT international financial messaging system. The Russian Federation was expelled from the Council of Europe, and Russian football was suspended from participating in competitions organized by the Union of European Football Associations and FIFA. Numerous Russian politicians and oligarchs had their assets frozen or seized across the world. Russian commercial flights and Russian ships were banned from several international airports and ports. Finally, over 1,000 companies have curtailed their operations in Russia.

As a result, Russia has lost hundreds of billions of dollars due to these sanctions, and the Russian economy is shrinking.

None of this has fazed the Russian people. Instead, Russia is continuing its unnecessary war in Ukraine without an apparent end.

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Why is Russia Continuing the War?

First, the majority of Russians still support the war. Despite the tremendous losses incurred by the Russian Federation, its citizens have continued to recycle Russian talking points.

For example, most Russians do not believe that Ukraine is a sovereign state. Instead, they believe that Ukraine is a fabrication, and that the Ukrainian language does not exist. The majority of citizens to this day support “Putin’s decision to use military force in Ukraine,” and they want Ukraine to be part of Russia. Despite these attempts, Ukrainian forces have held the Russians at bay, and the Ukrainians are continuing to liberate cities and villages across the country. In addition, the Ukrainian language and its people have existed for centuries, and Ukraine is finally freeing itself from its imperialist neighbor.

Second, Russian-state media has spread propaganda throughout the course of the war.

They have falsely claimed that Ukrainian forces are bombing and killing their own civilians. Russian television anchors have lied to their audiences, stating international reports of Russian atrocities are elaborate hoaxes. In addition, Russian news outlets have refused to report accurately on the war. As the Ukrainians continue to launch successful counteroffensives, and as they have reclaimed thousands of square miles of their territory, the Russians have fabricated stories that NATO forces and the Americans are fighting in Ukraine. To the Russians, it is unfathomable that the Ukrainians are defeating the Russian army.

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But Russian propaganda has failed to change the narrative on Ukraine. International stories, in-person accounts, and satellite imagery have overwhelmingly reported and shown that Ukraine is winning.

Third, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cabinet are doing everything they can to prolong the war. He is desperate not to lose. Having incurred tremendous losses, Putin ordered a partial mobilization of 300,000 conscripts to fight in the war. The addition of these soldiers has done nothing to alter the tide in Russia’s favour.

In an act of desperation, Putin then held illegal referendums in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. In a series of fabricated elections, the Putin falsely claimed that citizens in these regions voted to join Russia. In response, the international community strongly condemned the falsified votes, imposed additional sections on Russia to punish it for this act, and the referendums were treated as a farce.

Nonetheless, Putin and his cronies continue to live in their alternate reality. In a recent statement, Putin said he is ready to negotiation with Ukrainian authorities only once they cede the occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia.

But the Russian president appears to have forgotten that Russia does not maintain a strong hold on any of these regions. For example, Ukrainian forces recently liberated Kherson. One might wonder how Russia can claim Kherson if the city is under Ukrainian control.

The ongoing developments in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its horrific events have caused irreversible damage to the Russian state. The Russians ahve incurred hundreds of thousands of casualties, they have been cut off from the international community, and their economy is plummeting. Despite these events, most of the country continues to support the war. No matter the consequences or the costs, the Russian government and its people will continue this war.

Western officials have attempted to negotiate with the Russians, but the Russians will not budge on their preconceived notions. In other words, the Russian psyche will not change. Therefore, if the Russians have determined that they will not stop their horrific war on their own, then perhaps the international community can help Ukraine put an end to the war. Otherwise, nothing short of a Ukrainian victory will change Russia’s opinion.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He can be found on Twitter@MTemnycky

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