Over the past six months, we have witnessed a sharp increase in anti-American rhetoric not only by the Viktor Medvedchuk’s pro-Kremlin TV channels but also by representatives of certain political groups. And this rhetoric is happening not just from the 44-member Opposition Platform For Life faction in Parliament, which officially advocates a pro-Russia policy. It’s happening among billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky’s puppets in parliament, from the 24 MPs in Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna faction, as well as others. All participate in this campaign of deliberate discrediting of the United States and the West. Two parliamentary groups include many former members of the Party of Regions, led by President Viktor Yanukovych, driven from power by the EuroMaidan Revolution and convicted in absentia of treason and collaborating with Russia’s invasion.
They’re trying to make us Soviet people again
Despite the demise of the U.S.S.R., even 30 years into Ukraine’s independence, we are witnessing a new massive propaganda campaign against America. In speeches from pro-Russian MPs, we’re being told that the West is imposing “its external management of Ukraine,” about “bloodsuckers from the America-run International Monetary Fund.” And, of course, intensively warned about the pesky “Sorosiata” (“little Soros minions”) throughout Ukraine. “Sorosiata” is a generalized derogative slur in pro-Kremlin discourse which has come to denote not just liberal activists actually cooperating in Soros-funded projects but in fact all the reformists, activists and pro-Western politicians in Ukraine.
The hosts of numerous talk shows on Medvedchuk’s TV channels skillfully pick-up these anti-West utterances, stress and amplify them. ZIK-TV channel, which is part of the same Russia propaganda-minded media pool, even used to air a TV event called “Smells Like Soros.” The name itself not only expresses prejudice against the Hungarian-born philanthropist, George Soros, but also underscores purported secret US interference in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Medvedchuk’s and Kolomoisky’s TV channels regularly air “journalist investigations” designed to support the narrative about West’s conspiring against the Ukraine people. Indicative in this sense was a recent program on “1 + 1”, a primary TV channel owned by Kolomoisky, about “secret American bacteriological laboratories in Ukraine” purportedly experimenting on Ukraine citizens. The same outrageous claim also was prominently discussed on Medvedchuk’s TV channels. Not so incidentally, Vladimir Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s children.
At the same time, and true to script, the Kremlin’s official international propaganda is spreading similar content. A recent example: Russia’s representative to the United Nations, Vasiy Nebenzia, said that “the Americans have transformed Ukraine into their dependency.”
Kremlin has a standard set of explanations for why is Russia interfering in Ukraine’s affairs. Among them is the thesis that America is trying establish, or has already established, control over Ukraine. So it’s not interference on Russia’s part. It is helping “Ukrainians” resist the Americans. Russian politicians, Moscow’s propaganda media (its usual “experts” included) and their surrogates in Ukraine all narrate that there is a clash between the two powers in Ukraine—the United States and Russia. Therefore, according to Putin’s regime, Russia, as the U.S.S.R. successor, is compelled to defend itself and its former territory against aggressive American interference in the sphere of its traditional geopolitical interests.
The scandal involving Joe Biden, the former US vice president, also is a staple of the Kremlin’s anti-American campaign in Ukraine. A coordinated pool of the pro-Russia media outlets are very active in discussing the recent statements by pro-Moscow Ukraine member of parliament Andriy Derkach about purported Ukraine involvement in the U.S. presidential election. The audience of those media has been heavily immersed in conspiracy theorizing to make sure they came away with an anti-American viewpoint.
This misrepresenting of U.S.-Ukraine relations is a good fresh example of Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections. Here, the Kremlin gets two for the price of one special op: sow social unrest in the U.S. and undermine US support for Ukraine. All with one blow.
Russia propagandists still work with Soviet-engineered demonizing cliches about “Uncle Sam” – looking for a favorable response in Ukrainians who spent a big part of their adult lives in the U.S.S.R. Russia psy-ops hope to capitalize on the black-and-white “USA vs. the Soviet Union” perception of the world that had been imposed on all Soviet subjects from birth. To evoke loyalty to Moscow, everyone was indoctrinated to not just fear, but rather hate Washington. This was standard thesis in schools, universities, the army, enterprises, on television, and even in the well-censored folklore and contemporary social culture of the U.S.S.R.
Kremlin propagandists believe they can awaken old negative cliches about the United States in Ukrainians, and thereby elicit a Pavlovian response of increased loyalty to the modern U.S.S.R., that is, to Russia. They operate on the premise that the seeds of Soviet propaganda, planted generations ago and fertilized for decades, can still bear the desired fruit today. The primitive logic being: if America is evil, then Moscow must automatically be good.
Thus, there is a new large scale surge of anti-U.S. and anti-Western media campaign under way in Ukraine, utilizing manipulations and outright fakes. The mind of the average Ukrainian is the battlefield here. By cultivating hatred towards the West, Kremlin hopes to prepare conditions for victory of pro-Russia politicians on the next Ukraine elections.
What today’s Ukrainians really think
Despite centuries of Russian czarist followed by Soviet Russian colonial oppression, and nearly 30 years of massive of Kremlin propaganda and interference in the internal affairs of independent Ukraine, Ukrainians are in fact emerging from the long Russian nightmare.
In a matter of one generation, Ukrainian society has become highly and sustainably loyal to the United States, the European Union, and NATO, despite years of massive Kremlin propaganda in the country. Pro-West sentiment among Ukrainians grew considerably with the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution that toppled Yanukovych, followed immediately by Russia’s ongoing military invasion. During these six years of a war that remains as hot as ever, Ukrainians’ fidelity to their European civilizational choice and unity with the Euro-Atlantic community remains steadily high. Moscow has been unable to undermine the pro-Western bearing of Ukrainians by either war or propaganda.
Here are some polls results. According to a global study conducted by the U.S. Pew Research Center from May to October 2019, Ukraine people are among the world’s most pro-American nations, significantly ahead of even America’s traditional allies in terms of positive perceptions of the United States – exceeding the British, Australians, and Canadians.
Sociological research of Ukrainian firms also confirms Ukrainians’ positive attitudes toward the West in general and to the United States in particular. Long-term polls by Ukrainian pollster Rating confirm that the friendship Ukrainians hold for the United States exceeds the resentment two to three times, and sometimes four.
According to a 2019 poll by the Razumkov Center, the United States and the European Union, along with Poland, are ranked by Ukrainians as the undisputed leaders among Ukraine’s strategic allies.
Proponents of Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO traditionally and convincingly outnumber opponents. The Ilko Kucheriv Foundation for Democratic Initiatives’ opinion poll regularly gauges that a referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO would win with an absolute majority of 60-70%.
Hundreds of opinion polls of Ukrainian citizens in recent years have shown the same picture: the number of citizens with pro-Western views dominate. These results are sustained over time despite the massive Kremlin propaganda campaign in the Ukrainian media.
Ukrainians are not Pavlov’s dogs. Russians have repeatedly underestimated Ukrainians’ collective consciousness. The problem Russia information war strategists face is that their personal chauvinistic attitude towards us continuously distorts their professional perception of Ukrainians.
Nevertheless, Moscow continues spending enormous resources to impose an anti-Western picture of the world on the average Ukrainian in the hope that it will reflect well on Russia. There is a concern in the media sector that the Kremlin is continuing to acquire more and more TV channels in Ukraine.
Russia’s war in the Donbas convinced the Russians that a frontal military invasion against Ukraine was meaningless. So they began coupling their military operations with an uptick in other tactics. Kremlin is employing the same hybrid warfare strategy that it’s been using against the West. That is, to destroy a strong and unyielding opponent from within: using freedom of speech and pluralism in democracies for unhindered devastating influence on the mass psyche of citizens. on the mass consciousness of the citizens.
Moscow plans to defeat us all, not with weapons, but by inciting and exacerbating internal problems in our countries. Moscow invests enormous resources in these efforts and maintains a vast army of agents, fellow travelers, and useful idiots. If Russia can budget vast sums of money on propaganda against the whole free world, then it becomes quite apparent that the sanctions already imposed against the Kremlin are woefully insufficient. Given Russia’s critical dependence on the West for its finances, technology, and hydrocarbon exports, their aggressive violations of fundamental international norms can and must be overcome not by arms but by effective and efficient sanctions. However, this is a subject for another article.
Finally, the 2019 Pew Research Center study should help those in the U.S. advocating a foreign policy more focused on a “Europe Whole and Free.” The findings provide a clear and unambiguous answer to the question which countries in Europe are, and are very likely to remain, the most reliable allies of the United States. They are today’s independent European states formerly in U.S.S.R./Soviet bloc which relatively recently restored their nations’ statehoods, but remain in Russia’s threatening shadow, including Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, these newly independent countries still had a long road ahead to consolidating and making their freedom from Russian domination permanent. These societies haven’t yet been spoiled by decades of freedom and prosperity. The citizens of these countries have a tangible sense of the promise of an international order based on mutual respect, the rule of law, and democratic societies. They also know full well that it was the United States more than any other power that helped them wrest their countries free from under the Soviet Russian yoke.
The Kremlin is well aware of this Eastern Europe belt of countries loyal to the United States, this formidable barrier for Russia’s desired domination of Europe. Without question, the Kremlin is mightily fighting against it. Controlling these nations is a sine qua non for Russia’s imperial ambitions, so assuring their freedom makes Russian saber-rattling against Europe impotent. For Russia, it all begins with Ukraine, the region’s largest country, and one which is still not protected by NATO’s collective security. United States’ loyal allies in Europe will remain Russia’s primary targets of aggression until the final expiration of her capabilities for competing with America.
Mykhailo Basarab is a Ukrainian political consultant based in Kyiv.