At a glance.
- Volcanoes, resources, and living space in the world island.
- Bypassing censorship.
- Victory Day reviewed.
- Not disinformation, but persuasion.
- Fact-checking official claims, from orbit.
Volcanoes, resources, and living space in the world island.
Isvestia has published a long interview with Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev. The special military operation, he explains, is defensive, a response to a centuries-long conflict with the West (notably the "Anglo-Saxons"), and that conflict is driven by enduring geopolitical forces that push the Western enemy to seek to dominate Eurasia, "the world island," as late nineteenth-century theoreticians called it. The US has a special interest in Ukraine, Mr. Patrushev explains, because the Americans know that the geothermal system under Yellowstone is a volcano, and that it's soon to erupt. When it does erupt, the Yellowstone volcano will render most of North America uninhabitable. Thus the Americans plan to move to Ukraine, and that's the root cause of the war.
Essential to the Anglo-Saxon anti-Russian project is what Isvestia characterizes as the attempt to erase the historical memory of the Soviet Union's victory over fascism in the Second World War. "Attempts to distort the history of the Second World War began in the West even before its last shots had died down," Isvestia glosses Mr. Patrushev's comments. "Already in the early stages of the conflict in England, they tried to publish a collection of false documents in order to lay the main blame for the outbreak of war in Europe on the Soviet Union. Modern specialists in juggling facts without a twinge of conscience strive to equate the aggressive ideology of fascist Germany with the communist ideas of the USSR, and in fact use the clichés of their predecessors."
The British branch of the Anglo-Saxon conspiracy is much given to clever manipulation, but the American side is simply brash, clueless, and arrogant. "Nothing surprising," Mr. Patrushev explains. "Americans do not know what war is in principle. On their continent, the last battles died down in 1865. They did not experience the horrors of the blockade, destruction, famine, concentration camps, did not lose millions of people. Therefore, their elites easily talk about the need to arm, inflict a military defeat on Russia, and prepare for new wars."
The geopolitical claptrap aside (and we note in passing that German nationalist intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s were much given to such speculation) the article provides an example of the centrality of the Great Patriotic War mythos to Russia's official imagination.
According to PC Gamer, a Finnish newspaper, Helsinin Sanomat, has created a custom version of the first-person-shooter game Crowd-Strike: Global Offensive that's designed to bypass Russian wartime censorship. "As the Russian government has de facto suppressed its national press and blocked access to foreign media," said Antero Mukka, the paper's editor-in-chief. "Counter-Strike has remained as one of the rare channels that allows us to communicate independent information to Russians about real events from the war." The version that's delivering the information is a specially designed map, "de-voyna" ("voyna" is "war" in Russian), that resembles a wrecked Ukrainian city. Some of the underground sites players visit (cellars, bunkers, etc.) contain news of Russia's war against Ukraine in both Russian and English.
BleepingComputer reports that Crowd-Strike: Global Offensive is popular among Russian gamers, who represent about a tenth of all players worldwide.
Victory Day reviewed.
Russia's Victory Day celebrations on May 9th were brief and small, scaled down for a number of reasons. President Putin used the occasion to double down on his implausible claim that Russia's war against Ukraine was in fact a defensive war, that the actual aggressor is the West, acting through Ukrainian terrorist puppets. The Telegraph quotes him as saying, "We have repulsed international terrorism, we will protect the inhabitants of Donbas, we will ensure our security."
The UK's Ministry of Defense (MoD) sees in this week's remarks a retreat from an earlier triumphalism. "In February 2022 Putin announced the Special military operation," The MoD tweeted, "Today he addressed his nation to say 'A real war has once again been launched against our Motherland.' The descriptions of the conflict as a defensive ‘war’ has grown more frequent as his situation has worsened."
Ukraine's Ministry of Defense gave the parade in Moscow, the centerpiece of Russian celebration, a predictably jeering review. "We watched Russia's "Victory Day" parade today with great interest. Our tribute: russia had exactly one tank rolling down Red Square...a T-34, first produced in 1940. To the loneliest little tank in the world...best of luck!" Tough crowd, but they're not wrong.
The choice of a single T-34, a Second World War icon and a regular feature of Victory Day parades, was probably a gesture of solemn remembrance. It may have proven wayward, at least in its effect on foreign audiences ("Tanks for the laughs!" as Task & Purpose cheekily put it in their deck), but it doesn't mean that, depleted as its armor may be, the Russian army is down to just one tank. It probably means, rather, that the ceremony's organizers were after an elegaic approach intended to evoke memory of shared sacrifice, especially given the unexpectedly long war against Ukraine and its unexpectedly high casualties. That's essentially the conclusion the MoD reached in its Wednesday retrospective on Victory Day. "On 09 May 2023, the make-up of Russia’s annual Victory Day Parade in Red Square highlighted the materiel and strategic communications challenges the military is facing 15 months into the war in Ukraine. Over 8,000 personnel reportedly took part in the parade, but the majority were auxiliary, paramilitary forces, and cadets from military training establishments. The only personnel from deployable formations of regular forces were contingents of Railway Troops and military police. A vintage T-34 from a ceremonial unit was the sole tank on parade. Despite heavy losses in Ukraine, Russia could have fielded more armoured vehicles. The authorities likely refrained from doing so because they want to avoid domestic criticism about prioritising parades over combat operations."
The Russian parade and the Ukrainian reaction show a stark distinction between the Russian and Ukrainian approaches to persuasion. Russia's approach is heavy, dark, and designed to instill fear. Ukraine's is quick, light-footed, and well-attuned to a sympathetic audience. And intimidation isn't always easy to pull off. (See this New York Times essay for an account of intimidation and its implications.)
Not disinformation, but persuasion.
From Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, last Friday. The tweet is in English, but the message is being widely disseminated in Russian: "The closer the counteroffensive, the hotter the surrender season. Don’t wait for the heat! The most favorable conditions are now. In April, 3,200 russian soldiers applied for surrender through the ... 'I want to live' project. It has received over 16,000 requests to date." At least one Russian soldier has apparently been seen, in drone footage, following a Ukrainian drone to surrender, the Telegraph reports.
How to fact-check economic disinformation.
You can do it from space, an essay in Foreign Affairs argues. Satellite imagery of a country at night reveals how much artificial illumination there is. It's extent, distribution, and duration can serve as pretty good proxy for economic activity, and a much better indicator than the official statistics an authoritarian regime publishes. The essay's author, the University of Chicago's Luis R. Martinez, writes, "I parsed the available data on nighttime lights in 184 countries between 1992 and 2013, comparing changes in the relative brightness of a country with its reported GDP data. Autocracies reported higher GDP growth figures than democracies did for the same amount of growth in nighttime lights, overstating yearly GDP growth by a factor of 1.35 relative to democracies. (This means that when the true growth rate is 1.0 percent, the authoritarian government reports 1.35 percent, or when the true growth rate is 10 percent, it reports 13.5 percent.)" And Professor Martinez is looking at you, China, where the lights show the GDP isn't growing nearly as fast as the bureaucrats say it is.