Vladimir Putin’s twisted-mind games in Ukraine have just hit a disturbing new low

Vladimir Putin’s twisted-mind games in Ukraine have just hit a disturbing new low

According to a new report from Ukraine’s Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate, Russian authorities have attempted to sow the seeds of a propaganda effort aimed at convincing residents of the occupied territories that Ukraine is already divided.

“Ukraine is already divided,” the Russian occupiers said, according to the secret service. “On the territory of the western regions, Polish zlotys were put into circulation, in most stores there are double price tags. There is no place to run away from Russia. Ukraine is not what it used to be.”

The false information, which the agency said centered on Melitopol in Zaporizhia, is intended to cast doubt on residents of Ukraine after nearly six months of war, the intelligence service said.

“The moves aim to undermine the moral and psychological stability of the pro-Ukrainian population remaining in the city,” the agency said in a statement.

The Ukrainian government urged residents to remember that Ukraine will not bow to Russia’s intimidation tactics and that one day the territory will liberate itself from the occupiers.

“All residents of the occupied territories should remember: all Ukrainian lands will be liberated, Ukraine will remain an indivisible and unitary state, and every occupier and collaborator will receive well-deserved retribution,” the agency said.

The obvious propaganda effort is not an isolated case. In addition to its kinetic struggle in Ukraine, Russia has also waged an information operations war this year to try to portray Ukraine and Ukrainian officials as aggressors and support Russia. In the days leading up to the invasion earlier this year, Russia was preparing to conduct false flag operations against its own forces to claim justification for an attack on Ukraine, a government official told The Daily Beast in January.

Even in the months leading up to the war, Russian officials and Russian influencers spread and amplified narratives aimed at portraying Russia’s troop movements on the border with Ukraine in response to Western provocations and spreading anti-North Atlantic Treaty sentiment.

News of apparent Russian efforts to convince Ukrainians their country is already being divided comes as US officials warn that Russia has a plan to annex certain Ukrainian regions. White House National Security Council coordinator John Kirby warned a few weeks ago that Russia may be planning to annex all of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, as well as Zaporizhia and Kherson, while Ukrainians work on a counteroffensive there.

When Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia relied on spreading propaganda to shift the narrative in its favor. Russia had throttled Ukrainian broadcasts in Crimea and replaced many of them with Russian broadcasts, allowing Moscow to spread pro-Russian narratives. And in March of the same year, when Crimea’s referendum showed support for joining Russia, only three in ten Ukrainians outside Crimea believed the referendum reflected the truth, while a majority of Crimean respondents said they believed it was theirs reflect views. (The referendum was widely viewed as a sham around the world; the United Nations declared the referendum invalid in 2014, and nations, including the United States, have continued to affirm that Crimea is part of Ukraine and did not recognize the peninsula’s annexation .)

The White House has warned that Russia could now reinstate the 2014 annexation playbook.

“We see ample evidence, both in intelligence and in the public domain, that Russia intends to annex additional Ukrainian territory,” Kirby told reporters in a July briefing. “Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what could be called an ‘Annexion Playbook’ very similar to what we saw in 2014.”

Russia’s plans could include coordinating “sham referendums” and claiming justification for annexing territories, Kirby said. Russia’s plan already includes installing proxies in occupied territories.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine again earlier this year, Russia’s efforts to advance the narrative of the war have gathered a steady pace and also appealed to audiences outside of Ukraine. The Biden administration has noted that Russian disinformation mongers have been working to frame Western aid to Ukraine as a reason for the war’s persistence and the looming food crisis, in an apparent attempt to dilute US support to Ukraine, the government said USA Intelligence, as The Daily Beast first reported.

The European Union has been working to ban RT and Sputnik to curb Russia’s spread of propaganda and misinformation, but Russia has found ways to circumvent them. Russia, meanwhile, has relied on diplomats to spread disinformation and has begun relying on over 200 websites with no clear ties to Russia to spread Russian propaganda, including claims that Ukrainian forces staged Russian attacks, according to Associate Press and NewsGuard.