During the months leading up to the 30th anniversary of the USSR dissolution, various Kremlin-related Russian media outlets tend to portray the Soviet elites as traitors of the motherland, who deliberately took actions to destroy the country, as well as put blame on other countries for setting up the collapse, shows the latest analysis conducted by the Debunk.org.
December 25 marks an important date not only because it is Christmas; but also because it is officially acknowledged as the last day of the USSR. On that day in 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the USSR president and the US recognized the independence of the remaining Soviet republics. The year 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the USSR collapse, and since Russia claims to be the legal successor of the USSR, the anniversary, in general, is covered widely by the pro-Kremlin media.
The initial results of the analysis conducted by the Debunk.org team showed an increased attention to topic related to Soviet Union in Russian media, which pursued to spread false and potentially damaging information during the months leading up to the anniversary. In one way or another, the collapse is portrayed as a tragedy executed by different both internal and external actors.
During August-October 2021, Debunk.org researchers Agnė Eidimtaitė, Magdalena Wilczyńska, and Dr. Inga Zakšauskienė from Vilnius University detected and analyzed a total of 259 articles from Russian websites, which employed various techniques of disinformation and historical facts manipulation when it comes to the dissolution of the USSR in the 1990s. The analysis revealed how different actors are portrayed in the media as partially guilty of the USSR collapse.
The third week of August 2021 was a significantly active month for pro-Kremlin media. One of the reasons behind the increase in coverage might be the historical circumstances. On August 19, 1990, the newly established State Committee for the Emergency Situation (GKChP) that was comprised of high-ranking USSR and KGB officials unsuccessfully carried out a coup d’état, trying to overthrow the then-First Secretary of the USSR Gorbachev.
As predicted in 2021, stories portraying the Committee as somehow pertinent to the collapse of the USSR, which followed the failed coup, skyrocket. There are three main narratives pushed by the pro-Kremlin: the GKChP was a provocation organized by Gorbachev and executed to fully destroy USSR; Gorbachev knew about the attempt of the coup and could freely come back to Moscow; members of the Committee had good intention and will to save the country but did not take necessary measures to do so. “All of these messages are factually false, yet they help to keep the tragic atmosphere around the fact that USSR is non-existent,” said one of the analysts Agnė Eidimtaitė
Moreover, Mikhail Gorbachev appears as the most discredited former Soviet officer in the detected articles and is blamed for destroying the Soviet Union. Russian media describe him as weak, incompetent, and in addition portray Gorbachev as a puppet controlled by other actors, such as the West, the US, or other Soviet officials (e.g., Alexander Yakovlev, Yuri Andropov). Notably, the same names are also dragged into conspiracy-like messages, portrayed as the destructors of the USSR, and accused of the deteriorating political situation right after the death of Leonid Brezhnev.
“The intent behind such statements is to create an impression that the Soviet elites were the traitors of the motherland, who deliberately took actions to destroy the country. It is important to remember that the USSR collapsed due to many complex and intertwining reasons – one or two people could not be blamed for that,” said Magdalena Wilczyńska, a Debunk.org researcher working on this project.
In addition to blaming the Soviet officials for the collapse, the pro-Kremlin media falsely put the responsibility on different countries, such as the United States (mentioned in 13% of analyzed articles), Ukraine (8,2%), and Baltic states (Latvia 7%, Lithuania 6,7%, Estonia 6,7%). From CIA agents and Dick Cheney (former US vice-president) orchestrating the collapse from the inside to the US employing information warfare on the USSR population, there are many explanations and stories about how Washington was involved or even directed the dissolution of the USSR.
Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and other former Soviet republics are portrayed differently, albeit still blamed for the destruction of the USSR. Ukraine is one of the most vivid examples. Some articles accuse the Soviet elite with Ukrainian background (e.g., Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk) of the collapse. Some focus on the consequences of the collapse stating that it led to harsh social inequalities or a poor economic situation. In this regard, the Ukrainian independence movement was presented as a fascist movement, which followed (and still follows) Stepan Bandera’s (a Ukrainian ultranationalist) 'Nazi' ideology. Any claims that these countries were legally able to claim independence are undermined.
These results are only initial since the whole research period will take 6 months. In any case, it is quite clear already that event of the Soviet Union dissolution fuels the manipulation of historical facts spread by pro-Kremlin media. ‘Enemies’ and ‘traitors' - both internal and external - are being blamed for organizing and executing the destruction of the USSR.