Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 12.02.2021
The Russian Federation tries out its hybrid warfare against Ukraine before deploying it against the United States. Disinformation attacks are honed against Ukrainians first because they’re a tougher target, inured to centuries of Russian imperialist aggression. Americans are a secondary target, more vulnerable because they have less experience of the depravity of Chekist violence.
This is the way it was with the Russian response to two great democratic events in the life of Ukraine and the USA: the EuroMaidan revolution and the 2020 Presidential election. Kremlin information warfare mounted a massive disinformation campaign against these seminal moments. In Ukraine, Putin at war said that “Maidan was a coup!” In the USA, the campaign was “Stop the steal!”
Disinformation lies at the heart of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity and on America’s 2020 election.
The Revolution of Dignity of 2013-14 was a genuine expression of the will of the Ukrainian people. But Russian information warfare outlets falsely called Maidan (as it was also know) a “coup.” Putin launched a massive disinformation campaign using the slogan “Maidan was a coup!” to justify his invasion of Ukraine. The early months of the invasion by the Muscovites were characterized by organized mobs seizing Ukrainian public buildings. The false front for these mobs were that they were made up of “anti-Maidan” protesters.
The 2020 Presidential election was a genuine expression of the will of the American people. Calling the 2020 U.S. election “stolen” is false. But “Stop the steal!” became a Russian-backed disinformation effort to instigate the 6 January 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C.. The false front placed on the mob organized to attack the Capitol was that it was a defence of the “real winner” of the election, Trump.
“Maidan was a coup!” and “Stop the steal!” are not only Big Lies but stupid ones. They make no sense and are unsupported by facts, evidence or argument. Even though they were built on the weakest of foundations these active measures of Russian disinformation sustained the appalling violence against Ukrainian and American democracy that followed. The falsehood of Maidan as a “coup” diverted attention from the fact that the 20 February 2014 invasion of Ukraine was planned for a long time by the Russian Federation. The falsehood that the U.S. election as “stolen” was a pretext for the 6 January 2021 insurrection that was planned if Trump lost.
Extraordinary participation characterized EuroMaidan. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians lived in a city-within-a-city in the centre of Kyiv for three cold months from November 2013 to February 2014. Over several weekends they were joined by over a million people for protest rallies. Every city of Ukraine saw protests against the Yanukovych kleptocracy, including cities in Crimea and Donbas. The Revolution of Dignity was a genuine, spontaneous and massive expression of the will of the Ukrainian people. In no respect was it a coup.
Yanukovych chose to withdraw from the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. He chose to attack peaceful protesters. Yanukovych got his Party of Regions to pass illegal “dictatorship laws.” He ordered snipers to kill Ukrainians and then he fled Kyiv. Yanukovych abandoned his post as President by his own actions. There was no coup.
The initial phase of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine included busloads of Russians brought across the border to Ukrainian cities. Simferopol, Donetsk, Luhansk, Odesa, Kharkiv, Dnipro and other cities were hit. Organized, violent mobs attacked public buildings, directed by Russian security service agents and special forces soldiers. Russian information warfare blasted the message that these people were “anti-Maidan” demonstrators.
The turn out in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election was greater than any before. Joe Biden won the popular vote and the Electoral College overwhelmingly. There were no voting irregularities that would have altered the result in any way. Election officials, experts, observers, the courts and journalists who aren’t compromised all assessed the election to be free and fair. Joe Biden won and Trump lost, fair and square.
Trump was asked if he would guarantee a peaceful transfer of power in the United States. He refused to do so. At no point did he concede the election to Joe Biden or acknowledge that the election was free and fair. He told officials in the state of Georgia to find votes for him. He told the insurrectionists that the rules don’t apply to them and they should fight. It was Trump and his Russian handlers who tried to steal the election but they failed.
The January 6th insurrection included busloads of Americans brought in to attack the Capitol. Organized online, the mobs were directed by agents provocateurs and fascist paramilitaries like the Proud Boys. They were helped from the inside, including the political leadership of the Pentagon and the FBI. Disinformation outlets like Fox News and lesser-known Internet portals presented the insurrectionists as “Stop the Steal!” demonstrators and they suppressed the truth of events.
Putin doesn’t understand democracy. He is little more than a sabotage and disruption agent from the KGB. Putin doesn’t believe people as a whole have real power. He cannot conceive that human beings can genuinely aspire to a better life and of their own free will act collectively to achieve it. Putin believes that power lies only in domination and submission. Because he fears and hates democracy, Putin does everything he can to delegitimize it.
Unfortunately, the big and stupid lie works. Appeasers of aggressor Russia latch onto the “Maidan was a coup!” lie and talk about Russian soldiers invading Ukraine as if they were “pro-Russian separatists.” Anti-democracy forces in the United States stand behind the “Stop the steal!” lie to justify their insurrection.
A lie is not just another point of view to the truth. It is a fundamental attack on the notion of truth altogether. We cannot give oxygen to the Big Lie in the name of balance. To win the war the Russian Federation started we must destroy their most potent weapon: disinformation.
The Revolution of Dignity of the Ukrainian people was not a coup. The U.S. election was not stolen. They were genuine, legitimate and thoroughly humane expressions of democracy.
Photo: Dr. Michael MacKay observing the 2014 presidential election in Ukraine