Article by Matthew Frizzell

Moments before the February 24 invasion of Ukraine began, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech stating the reasons as to why he ordered Russian forces to attack their western neighbor:

“The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”

If you were confused by this statement, you’re not alone: what Putin said has little to do with reality, but was rather meant as part of a narrative being spun as part of a decades-long covert misinformation campaign that spans the globe, in this instance a fairy tale designed to paint Russia as the victim and Ukraine as the aggressor in this conflict, and the invasion itself as a peacekeeping action. The broader misinformation campaign is aimed not only at convincing Russian citizens to back the annexation of Ukraine, but also to cause division amongst nations in the West, specifically NATO-allied countries.

“Vladimir Putin engages in using disinformation, or as I call it ‘cognitive warfare,’ to help consolidate and maintain his power,” explains the founder of, Marcus Kolga. The ultimate goal of the dissemination of this misinformation is to resurrect the Soviet Union—the inclusion of Ukraine being a key component—and protecting the sphere of influence of Putin’s regime.

“His position requires him to present that there is a constant threat to Russia—that there are constant crises that only Vladimir Putin can save the Russian people from.”

Kolga is a leading expert on Russian and Central and Eastern European issues, and has been tracking online interference originating from Russia that has influenced numerous events in the West, ranging from interference in US Presidential elections, the anti-mandate trucker protests in Canada, and the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign that has been justifying Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

This portion of the Russian misinformation campaign against Ukraine paints the country as being an oppressive regime run by nazi-like dictators that are carrying out a campaign of genocide against Russian-speaking communities in the Donbas region; although all of this is false, Putin is using this story as a justification for Russia’s backing of separatist elements in the region, along with his claims that the invasion is intended to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”

Putin’s regime has also been working toward the resurrection of the Soviet Empire, a political entity that has traditionally viewed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as an enemy, a perceived adversary that has grown since the end of the Cold War through the admission of member countries from Central and Eastern Europe. Russia has been trying to convince NATO to promise to not allow Ukraine to join the military alliance—one that carries a mandate that if one member country is attacked, its fellow members are obligated to come to its defense—a membership that, according to Putin, would constitute a “hostile act;” therefore, Putin’s propaganda machine also casts the invasion of Ukraine as a preemptive strike, decapitating a Western-backed threat to Russian security.

But the Kremlin’s cognitive warfare campaign against NATO covers a much broader scope than just strategically isolating Ukraine from the West: “Putin wants to recreate the Soviet empire and he can only do that if the West is fractured,” Kolga explains. “So, it’s been his goal over the past two decades to erode the cohesion within the transatlantic alliance. When NATO stands together, Putin has no chance of defeating it.”

“This tool—disinformation propaganda—is truly a front line and ominous weapon that Vladimir Putin uses and uses it very effectively… and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than bombs and guns and tanks. He will continue to use it against [the West], not just Ukraine, as long as he remains in power.”

According to the US State Department, Putin’s disinformation program consists of five main components: official government communications, state-funded global messaging, cultivation of proxy sources, the weaponization of social media, and cyber-enabled disinformation.

“The Kremlin bears direct responsibility for cultivating these tactics and platforms as part of its approach to using information as a weapon,” according to a 2020 State Department report, titled Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem, that details Russia’s misinformation tactics. “It invests massively in its propaganda channels, its intelligence services and its proxies to conduct malicious cyber activity to support their disinformation efforts, and it leverages outlets that masquerade as news sites or research institutions to spread these false and misleading narratives.”

“We’ve seen Russian troll farms constantly push out content, whether it’s around the elections in the United States or Canada or various parts of the European Union,” said Thomas Holt, professor in the school of criminal justice at Michigan State University. Regarding the current crisis in Ukraine, Holt says that “this is one of those times where we can expect Russian troll farms to be heavily active in an attempt to either depict a narrative that fits the notion that they’re a peacekeeping force, or that there’s false flag events that have occurred that justify their presence there or the use of serious violence against civilians or anything else.”


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    1. Needless to say, I’m not trying to convert anyone: the emotional investment into certain alt-realities runs far too deep for many individuals, and that can’t be simply broken using any form of evidence or logic.

      My main goal is to help stimulate the awareness of those that still have the presence of mind to question the media that they’re consuming, not only to avoid falling into potential cognitive traps like the algorithmiclly-challenged–being aware of how media can manipulate its audience makes one a better consumer of said media–but also to be aware of how we as a (now divided) culture have gotten to this point. And maybe someone along the way will come up with a better remedy for the cognitive quagmire we collectively find ourselves fighting.

      But that isn’t to say we shouldn’t hold out hope, considering that from time to time we hear about former QAnon adherents that have recovered from their psychosis. We all need to keep our eyes, ears and hearts open: we never know when someone might reach out for help.

      1. Thanks Matt. Your insight was well formed and hopefully convincing for those who are confused and need more information.

      2. The implication here (as it is elsewhere) seems to be that somehow Russia is uniquely or principally behind the acceleration of divisions in this country – just as it was the apparent culprit (in the minds of many) behind the election of Trump over Hilary. Generally ignored is that we are being propagandized constantly from within as well as without from multiple sources. Social media itself is a way to provide personalized propaganda to the masses by the corporate entities themselves and often in close cooperation with our own governments. Whatever Russia’s troll farms can achieve is dwarfed by the abilities of the platform owners themselves – especially now that we can see their proclivity for censorship and manipulating information flow. Our divisions stem from fundamental disagreements on the direction the country should go in numerous ways. Each side of this argument is ready to demonize the other – often to the point of hysterics and irrationality. It is certain that all adversarial countries leverage these internal divisions, just like we do to them – but they are endemic and have grown organically here. A sufficiently cohesive nation/culture cannot be induced to divide from without. It’s limiting and lazy to think that everyone with political opinions that they don’t like are either Russian trolls or their dupes – and the resentments engendered in real people by that kind of reaction only serves to accelerate those divisions. Think about that the next time you find yourself smugly ranting about Trumpers, conservatives, alt-righters, freedom truckers and the like…you might just be contributing to adding fuel to the fire.

        1. It was never my intention to imply that Russia was the sole source of this influence: while the manipulative effects of the advertising algorithms of social media/search engines and the companies and individuals that capitalize on the vulnerabilities of their users are well documented, they weren’t the subject of this article.

          But the Kremlin’s meddling in the affairs of it’s intended adversaries should not be underestimated, as Moscow pours vast amounts of resources into its cyber-warfare activities, including the organization of on-the-ground opposing political rallies and demonstrations:

          I’m not in the habit of ranting about Trumpers, conservatives, alt-righters, etc., smugly or otherwise. It’s not something I feel comfortable doing about anyone, and I don’t appreciate the insinuation that I’m disrespectful enough to be like that.

          1. Please accept my apologies for the insinuation. This was a case of poor phrasing and not my intent. The use of ‘you’ was meant to be general to the reader (i.e. some readers of unknown country who do or may have that proclivity) and not a statement about you personally. To my recollection I have not seen any ‘rants’ from you here.

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    I have also seen certain elements siding with Putin. Of course, there were many people who sided with Hitler even during the war. There have always been such people, and they have always been wrong, and it has always been important to speak out. This isn’t a political website, but I don’t think defending freedom is a political act. It is above politics.

    1. I agree Whitley , it’s a humanitarian catastrophe.
      Killing civilians under any circumstances is wrong .
      The exodus of the affected population is a disaster .
      I hope a safe corridor can be negotiated for fleeing refugees as soon as possible .

    1. I read that article. It was very good. One point that stuck out for me was the conversation Trump had with Putin about hypersonic missiles. Fiona’s take was that it was a threat that Donald didn’t seem to acknowledge.

      1. I’m sure that the reason he did not acknowledge it was because he had no clue what a hypersonic missile is. I doubt if if even knew (or knows now) what Mach 5 is, let alone what these weapons can do as to maneuverability. I’m sure that Putin knew that he didn’t understand it, and was grinning on the inside over the ignorance of the American president. THAT is scary.

  2. When you don’t say NO, you give permission for a thing to continue. We should all say NO in whatever ways we can.

  3. Putin views the casting aside of fossil fuels as the most dangerous threat Russia faces . It is their life’s blood . to prevent it happening he will make war .

  4. This might be out of line with this article BUT over the last few days the last song on the TITANIC keeps coming to mind. I cannot watch the news and view so much suffering. Which ship will be sinking? 

    The last piece played by the Titanic‘s musicians was “Nearer My God to Thee.” This song is assumed to be based on Jacobs Ladder.

    Jacob’s Ladder – Bible Story, Verses and Meaning (

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