These are all news items from Russia’s leading media outlets. This otherworldly element of our great neighbor’s news coverage is not new — and was once something of a Ukrainian national sport. 

Ukrainians wasted days diligently debunking this endless river of fake information. Proving, for example, that a desperate Ukrainian “soldier’s mother”, some angry “woman from Odesa”  and a “store vendor from Ternopil” on Russian TV were actually one and the same female actor. Explaining why a “crucified boy” didn’t exist.  

But while Russian fantasy news has long been with us, it has taken a turn since the all-out war began, becoming so dense and dark that there is little need even to comment. It’s enough to quote it in its full absurdity. 

And where once the reader needed to search out the wildest stories, their transition to a full genre of news makes them unmissable. So here are randomly collected pieces published in the most-read Russian newspapers in recent weeks. 

  • Life in Ukraine is unbearable. That’s not because of Russian military action, but because of deep divisions within Ukrainian society. Compared to Ukraine, it was explained, “North Korea is an example of softness and openness”, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda (or Communist Youth Truth, which is one of the most popular newspapers in Russia.)  

People are forcibly “undressed and tied to pillars” in city streets. Those who dare to go out, “are hunted, so they can be sent to the frontlines”. Primary school students study in bomb shelters at all times, and free expression on social media has been terminated.  

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  • Ukraine’s casualties are catastrophic. In only 10 days (from June 4-June 10) the Ukrainian Armed Forces lost at least 7,500 soldiers, not counting those killed “as a result of the use of Russian high-precision long-range weapons and aviation in the depths of Ukrainian territory”, Zvezda writes.  
  • The weekly paper Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts) wrote about street renamings in Ukraine. A street, recently named after deceased young commander Dmytro “Da Vinci” Kotsuibailo, leader of the Da Vinci Wolves unit, was re-branded by the publication as “Wolves Devouring Russian-speaking Children Street.” The piece was headlined “Walk along Apricot Street, Then Turn Into Hitlerjugend Street”. Why Hitlerjugend? As the author explained: “There is no Hitlerjugend street, but it’s only a matter of time.”  
  • Russia is very different. “Belgorod region is one of the most beautiful and well-kept regions in the country. It boasts perfect roads, flooded meadows, plowed fields, and neat houses. I’ve been to all of Europe, and it loses to the Belgorod region in terms of cleanliness and order! If Ukrainian TV showed images of Belgorod region from morning to night, Ukraine would dream of joining it, forgetting the European Union as if in a nightmare,” wrote Komsomolskaya Pravda, about the situation in Shebekino, a town on the Russian-Ukrainian border. It added an acknowledgment that Russia’s war now blights Russian territory: “But they were taught something else, and all they want is to destroy beauty.” 
  • Russian media are also unforgiving of their foreign counterparts. After Bloomberg News (and most other Western media) wrote that Vladimir Putin’s showpiece St. Petersburg International Economic Forum had been widely shunned by major foreign political figures, indicating growing isolation, Izvestiya informed readers that Bloomberg is a “garbage news” outlet. Expanding on the theme, the paper explained that Bloomberg is best avoided because “the American special services [had] joined” the management of the financial news agency.  

Media are also keen to quote the views of foreigners, presumably as a means to show Russia has supporters beyond its borders, although readers may not understand that these are often marginal figures offering benign views of the Russian regime.  

For instance, a far-right former French Member of the European Parliament, Florian Filippo, is rarely sought for comment by major media outlets in his homeland. In Russia however, he is a go-to figure for Russian journalists. Filippo, originally a primary school teacher, recently said that the Ukrainian counteroffensive had already failed, “It’s Zelenskyy’s fiasco,” he declared. That provided some sensational coverage in the Russian press. Russians are also interested in Filippo’s opinion on the Kakhovka Dam sabotage, on relations between Japan and the USA, and about France “serving” Zelenskyy’s interests.  

Another foreigner beloved by Russian propagandists is US colonel (retired) Douglas Mcgregor, who has been described by Fox News as a Putin apologist. Russia will liberate Odesa, he has stated, the Russians will “complete the defeat” of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the lives of the Ukrainian military “are worth nothing”, and Washington’s reluctance to recognize the defeat of the Ukrainian military may lead to the country’s complete disappearance from the map. Why is the US doing this? Because it simply cannot accept the existence of a strong and independent Russia. The country’s media have not repeated a description of him in the Washington Post as “a racist crackpot who is pro-Russia, anti-Merkel, anti-Muslim, and anti-Mexican.” 

Of course, modern-day Russia is not simply a carbon copy of Soviet Russia. There is an opposition media, mostly based abroad, and bloggers, who don’t always toe the party line. But their effect is questionable; Dozhd TV managed to upset both Ukrainians and its Latvian hosts, and had to move country after a number of rows. One followed its airing of a map showing Crimea as part of Russia. More importantly, there’s little obvious sign that they have achieved much in changing public opinion back home. 

That aim remains frustratingly elusive. For now, Russia seems lost in an increasingly nightmarish netherworld of its own making. 

Lera Burlakova is a Democracy Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA.) She is a journalist and former soldier from Ukraine. She served in combat from 2014-2017 after joining the Ukrainian army following the Russian invasion of Crimea. Her war diary “Life P.S.” received the UN Women in Arts award in 2021. 

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe's Edge
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
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