As reported earlier, Russia’s information war against Ukraine is not limited to the post-Soviet media space. Under the Kremlin’s direct leadership, propaganda resources are making tremendous efforts to tarnish Ukraine in the global arena and compromise the government in Kyiv in the eyes of Ukraine’s Western partners and allies.
The United States, as the most powerful and influential partner for Ukraine’s and the country’s young democracy, constantly faces infowar-type intrusions aiming to block Washington’s assistance to Kyiv and tailor the illusion of futility of U.S.-Ukraine cooperation, allegedly because of the “deep cultural and historical ties” between Ukraine and Russia.
In early 2021, Russia is confronted with major crises in its domestic policy, which prompted the Kremlin to resort to a tougher course of action in the international arena. Also, after Joe Biden was sworn in as President of the United States, Russia began a new phase of informational propaganda pressure on both the U.S. government and public perceptions.
Main messages of anti-Ukrainian propaganda Russia keeps promoting in the U.S.
On January 9, 2021, The National Interest published a piece by pro-Russian publicist and University of Rhode Island Professor Nicolai Petro entitled “Joe Biden and the Challenge of Ukraine”, which was picked up by the pro-Russian part of the Greek diaspora in the U.S.
The Helliniscope platform published a post by analyst Nick Stamatakis with the eloquent title “America is Trapped in Ukraine… While Orthodoxy Lives A Schism America”, where he dwelled upon the topic put forward by Nicolai Petro.
The emphasis the authors place boils down to listing the failures of what they allege is an erroneous policy by government in Kyiv. Among the main mishaps, they claim 1) resurgence of pro-Russian political forces; 2) public discontent with the corrupt government, which is seen as a puppet of foreign actors; 3) continued deep cultural ties with Russia.
Propagandists impose on their target audiences the idea that the United States and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made a mistake when they seriously believed they could sever the millennium-long cultural, historical, and religious ties between the Ukrainian and Russian nations. This, the authors suggest, has put the United States into a trap: they can’t leave Ukraine facing the aggressive Russia on its own, while it is also inconvenient to be helping Kyiv just too much.
Also, pro-Russian publicists point out that, if nationalist forces amplify their presence in Kyiv, opportunities could open up for a full-scale invasion by Russian troops “to protect the rights of the 70% of the Orthodox Ukrainians who are still under the Moscow Patriarchate.”
The latter circumstance, as per Russian propaganda, created a stalemate for both the government in Washington and the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, which “encroached on Moscow’s canonical territories.”
So it’s high time to once again highlight the Kremlin’s manipulation of facts, their efforts to distort historical reality, and spin blatant lies in pursuit of their own geopolitical interests.
“Resurgence” of pro-Russian political actors
In January 2021, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) published the results of their latest national survey, which included electoral moods.
The poll showed that the pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life (OPZZh) enjoys the greatest support among voters with 15.7% of respondents being ready to root for the party on Election Day.
The latest data does indicate that the OPZZh is now in a slight lead, while there are no grounds to claim any significant shifts in people’s political preferences.
Other indicators from the same survey by KIIS make it clear that pro-European parties, to which European Solidarity, Motherland, Strength and Honor, Strike, Groysman’s Ukrainian Strategy, and Voice can be confidently attributed, as well as the ruling Servant of the People (conditionally) and other political forces promoting European integration, enjoy a much wider cumulative support (over 50%) on the part of voters respecting statehood and seeking European integration.
Among Ukraine’s presidential candidates, pro-Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky, Petro Poroshenko, and Yulia Tymoshenko also dominate their rivals from the conditional pro-Russian bloc – Yuriy Boyko and Viktor Medvedchuk.
Another proof of Ukraine’s commitment to European integration came from a survey on the country’s potential accession to major international organizations.
At the end of last year, KIIS said Ukraine’s accession to the European Union saw support of 49% of respondents, while nearly 41% supported the idea to join NATO. Some 27% support Ukraine’s neutral status of non-accession to the EU or the Eurasian Economic Union, while 13.8% support accession to the latter union, de facto controlled by Russia.
In addition, 41% of Ukrainians believe that the country should aspire to NATO membership; 37.1% said that Ukraine should be a neutral or non-aligned state, while 13% were in favor of membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, along with Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
In other words, only nearly 13% of Ukrainians are in favor of any type of alliance with the Russian Federation, while almost half of the population is in favor of partnering up with a civilized community. Another third of respondents are in favor of seeking an independent path.
Thus, the claim of “resurgent” pro-Russian forces and Ukrainians craving to restore ties with Russia has been exposed as a myth.
But what exactly is the “millennium-long” cultural, religious, and historical unity of the Ukrainian and Russian nations?
When the Kremlin generously pours out statements and manipulative messages about “fraternal peoples,” their common history, religion, and culture, Moscow slyly hushes down a long history of crimes Russians have committed against Ukrainians.
Let’s recall the key events.
1093 – Kyiv chronicle “Vremennyk” wrote: “Our northern neighbor, the Suzdal land, is a much more dangerous enemy than the Polovtsians.”
1169 – Vladimir-Suzdal Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky captured and plundered Kyiv. The chronicler wrote: “The people of Suzdal destroyed Kyiv so terribly that the Tatars no longer had anything left to destroy in 1240.” This was the first war of the future Muscovy against Kyiv.
16th century – The emergence in Moscow of the theories “Moscow as a Third Rome” and “Moscow as a New Kyiv”, which formed the basis of imperial claims to Ukrainian lands.
From the 16th to the end of the 18th century, Muscovy destroyed all large and medium-sized Ukrainian manufactories through various bans, excessive taxes, transfer of capacities to Muscovy, and often by outright looting and arson.
1627 – By decree of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich of Moscow and his father, Patriarch Filaret, it was ordered to collect books printed in Ukrainian and burn them, and strictly forbidden to further buy Ukrainian books.
January 8, 1654 – Pereyaslav Treaty with Muscovy. The acceptance of the Moscow tsar’s “protection”. Rus-Ukraine and Muscovy pledged mutual support in confrontation with a common enemy.
1654-1708 – Constant violation of the Pereyaslav agreements by Muscovy in order to eliminate the autonomy of the Hetmanate. Bribery and setting up commanders against each other, and Cossacks – against their superiors.
1655 – The Moscow Army, while moving to Lviv, burns down villages and cities along the way, reaching as far as 50-60 kilometers away from their main route. “The liberating brothers have come.”
1667 – Moscow forbids Ukraine to sell its goods to countries other than Muscovy, while also imposing a heavy customs duty on Ukrainian produce.
1689 – The Kyiv Lavra is banned from publishing any books without patriarchal authorization.
1685 – The autonomous Ukrainian church is abolished and control of the Moscow patriarch is established both over Ukraine’s religion as well as education and culture. The tsarist government urges the Hetman to ensure that the Orthodox Church in Ukraine defy the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople.
1693 – Letter of the Moscow Patriarch to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra on the prohibition of any books printed in Ukrainian.
1708 – Mass destruction of Ukrainian villages and towns by Muscovites way before Hetman Ivan Mazepa sides with Swedish King Charles XII.
1708 – Capture and destruction of the Hetmanate capital Baturyn by Moscow troops, who slaughtered all inhabitants and refugees (15,000 people), mostly women and children. Local churches were looted and then burned to the ground.
1709 – Decree of Peter I banning the printing of books in Ukrainian, and ordering censors to ensure that books released in Church Slavonic be identical to the Russian editions.
1713 – Muscovy, by order of Peter the Bloody appropriates our name Rus – Rusia – Russia.
1716 – Moscow forbids Ukrainians to go on shopping tours in Europe.
1720 – Decree of Peter I banning the release in Malorossiya of any books other than church-related.
1729 – Order of Peter I on rewriting in Ukraine all state decrees and orders in Russian.
1753 – Tsar’s decree banning teaching in Ukrainian at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
1755, 1766, 1775, 1786 – Prohibition by the St. Petersburg Synod to print books in Ukrainian.
1759 – The Synod issues an order to remove Ukrainian primers from schools.
1763 – Decree of Catherine II banning Ukrainian as language of command at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
1764 – Catherine II liquidates the Ukrainian Hetmanship, along with the Ukrainian educational and cultural facilities, removing from power the Ukrainian-speaking officials.
1780 – 1783 – The first enslavement of Ukrainian peasants in the Muscovy-occupied lands of Rus’-Ukraine (for comparison: in 1771 the Tatars abolished slavery in Crimea; in 1780 serfdom was canceled in the Austrian Empire).
1780 – The burning of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’s unique 150-year-old book collection, one of the richest in Rus’-Ukraine.
1783 – Enslavement of peasants of Ukraine’s Left Bank regions.
1800 – Order of Pavel I banning the construction of churches in Ukraine in the spirit of the Cossack Baroque, allowing the Moscow synodal style only.
1811 – The Kyiv-Mohyla Academy gets shut down.
July 18, 1863 – Circular of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Rosa P. Valuev, banning book printing in Ukrainian across the Russian Empire (“The Valuev Circular”).
1881 – Prohibition of church sermons in Ukrainian.
1914p. – Decree of Nikolai II on the abolition of Ukrainian press. Prohibition of the use of the Ukrainian language, print of books, newspapers and magazines in Ukrainian language across Galicia and Bukovina – territories occupied by the Russian army.
January 29, 1918 – The Battle of Kruty between the 4,000-strong Bolshevik army led by M. Muravyov and a group of 300 patriotic Kyiv students (all of whom perished in the battle).
1921-1923 – Famine in the steppe regions of Ukraine, caused by the policy of “military communism” and food distribution policies in rural areas, which killed up to 1.5 million peasants.
September 1929 – Arrest of prominent Ukrainian scholars, culture figures, and UAOC clerics on charges of allegedly being part of a made-up Union for the Liberation of Ukraine (SVU) and the Union of Ukrainian Youth (SUM).
January 28-29, 1930 – The Extraordinary Church Council in Kyiv liquidates the UAOC and the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council (UOCC). Metropolitan M. Boretsky and other church leaders are arrested.
1932 – Spring 1933 – The Bolshevik regime sets up an artificial famine in Ukraine, killing 8 million Ukrainian peasants. Russians are massively resettled to what’s left of Ukrainian villages.
1933 – The pogrom of Ukrainians in the Kuban.
1933, November 22 – Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (of the Bolsheviks) in Ukraine on the termination of Ukrainianization.
1934-1941 – Destruction of architectural and cultural monuments in various cities of Ukraine, arrest and execution of 80% of the Ukrainian intelligentsia.
1938 – Stalin’s decree “On the compulsory study of the Russian language in the national republics of the USSR.”
1945 – Imprisonment of Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops along with Metropolitan Yosyp the Blind.
March 8-10, 1946 – Liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church and its subordination to the Russian Orthodox Church.
March 1946 – Closed-doors trial in Kyiv of the Greek Catholic Church hierarchs led by Metropolitan Yosyp the Blind.
Summer of 1971 – Looting of graves of Ukrainian Sich soldiers at the Yaniv Cemetery in Lviv.
April 1990 – Resolution of the Supreme Council of the USSR on making Russian an official language across the USSR.
This is a short list of landmark crimes of the Moscow state against the Ukrainian nation. And the list is not exhaustive. However, burdening readers with too many historical facts is not the purpose of this piece.
These events could be referred to as genocide, terror, occupation, but by no means a “millennium-long cultural, religious, and historical unity.”
Origin of “70% of Orthodox Ukrainians”, whose rights Kremlin craves to “protect”
No less interesting is manipulation of figures by Russian propagandists who seek to paint a distorted picture of confessional preferences among Ukrainians.
The Razumkov Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies has published an analytical study “Peculiarities of Religious and Church-Religious Identification of Ukraine Citizens: Trends in 2000-2020.”
The research shows that about 30% of Orthodox Ukrainians say they belong to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was formed as a result of the unification of the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Church, and individual dioceses of the UOC-Moscow Patriarchate.
Russian propagandists hastened to declare the remaining 70% of Orthodox Ukrainians believers as those identifying as part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
The actual situation on the ground, however, by no means backs the Kremlin’s claims.
The Razumkov Center says more than 21% of believers identify with the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine (UOC-MP).
At the same time, 43% of respondents refer to themselves as non-affiliated Orthodox believers. The assumption that these 43% of Orthodox need any protection of their religious rights in Ukraine, and that this rather large group would be happy with Moscow’s interference in the country’s internal affairs, would be a major exaggeration.
When Russian propaganda speaks of the Moscow Patriarchate’s faithful, it should be kept in mind that their share is only nearly 21% of all Orthodox believers in Ukraine.
By the way, it is important to compare the figure of 21% of Russian church supporters with the figure that was mentioned earlier in the context of political parties’ rating in Ukraine.
If combined, popular rating of the OPZZh and another pro-Russian force, Sharij Party, totals precisely about 21%.
This is no coincidence but rather a vivid and clear picture that reflects truth on the actual part of Ukrainian society the Kremlin relies on to impose its narratives on Ukraine’s domestic politics.
Is Russian propaganda able to influence Ukraine’s relations with partners?
Being at the initial stage of shaping its own democratic society, Ukraine also has to repel Russian aggression, trying to regain territories now temporarily occupied by Russia, while the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is walking a difficult path toward molding own self.
Under such conditions, countering Russian propaganda both in the domestic and international domains will require truthful presentation of facts that will leave no room for maneuver for Russian propaganda pundits. All attempts by the Kremlin to manipulate history or distort sociology can be thwarted by legitimate reports on the true situation as regards governments and populations of Ukraine’s partner states.