Updated: Oct 13
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022 has been accompanied by an intensification of Kremlin-coordinated information activities. The Kremlin is seeking to sway the opinion of foreign audiences in favor of Russia and justify its invasion by positioning it as in the best interest of Ukrainians. In some cases, these information activities have been successful. In Bulgaria, for example, many assert that NATO is responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Segments of the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states have also bought into Russian propaganda. In Lithuania, one study found that 54% of Lithuanians, for whom Russian is their first language, agreed Putin’s policies are an adequate response to U.S. and NATO actions against it, and 48% believed the Crimean peninsula lawfully belonged to Russia.
One particularly persistent disinformation theme spawned by the Kremlin purports that there is broad support for Nazism within Ukraine. In some variants of this theme, the current government can be considered a Nazi regime in light of its treatment of the Russian minority of Ukraine. Denazification was recognized by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his televised address on the day of the invasion of Ukraine as one of the key aims of his “special military operation”. The spread of this disinformation theme hints at one of the key features of many successful information operations: they have some basis in fact. There are, indeed, far-right groups in Ukraine – as there are in Russia – yet these groups remain fringe and do not represent the majority of the population. The manipulation and exploitation of this phenomenon to embellish Russia’s imperial pursuits and justify a flagrant violation of sovereignty, make it a text-book example of the dangers of disinformation.
Potential for Impact
Limbik has been evaluating the Potential for Impact (PFI) of the ‘Pro-Nazi Ukraine’ theme since Russia invaded Ukraine—assessing how this theme, and others related to Ukraine disinformation resonate with the U.S. adult population, and where outside of the U.S. they are being spread. As a refresher, PFI is a predictive metric that combines Virality and Believability to predict both action and emotion—it assesses whether information will be believable or credible, not just if it's likely to go viral.
The average PFI, high theme PFI, and low theme PFI lines all refer to other themes related to Ukraine disinformation Limbik is evaluating.
If the PFI for a particular narrative is greater than 100, this means that this theme or narrative has a high likelihood of resonating with the U.S. population (and therefore poses a higher risk). If the PFI for a particular theme/narrative is less than 100, this means this theme/narrative has a lower likelihood of resonating with the U.S. population (and therefore poses a manageable risk).
The ‘Pro-Nazi Ukraine’ theme initially recorded a +107.0 PFI, indicating a high likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population and thus posing a significant risk.
Although the PFI of the ‘Pro-Nazi Ukraine’ theme has decreased since then, the volume of artifacts (posts, articles, comments, etc.) propagating this theme remains high. The decrease in PFI indicates a lower likelihood of the ‘Pro-Nazi Ukraine’ theme resonating with people in the US, signifying less susceptibility to this theme and/or less effective artifacts spreading it.
Source(s): Facebook, Twitter
To understand whether a theme or narrative is being influenced by actors outside the United States, Limbik uses a Foreign Influence model to determine what percentage of related artifacts can be attributed to known or likely foreign actors. Foreign Influence percentage includes both artifacts posted by individual accounts abroad and those part of coordinated (state-sponsored) influence operations. Foreign Influence for the ‘Pro-Nazi Ukraine’ theme, as shown in the figure above, has remained high since the invasion of Ukraine. In fact, the majority of artifacts have, since the invasion, been attributed to actors from outside the United States. Looking at the primary foreign propagators of this theme for the February 17th to June 16th period demonstrates that the majority of artifacts coming from outside the U.S. originated from the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, and notably Ukraine. The latter seems to indicate that the Russian minority of Ukraine has been crucially involved in the spread of the purported existence of a Nazi regime of Kyiv - congruent with their spread of other Russia-launched MDM related to the invasion.
On the 21st of June, during a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine, Jared Cohen, CEO of Jigsaw and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, argued that the Russians use this false narrative to dehumanize Ukrainians and commit war crimes. The ‘Pro-Nazi Ukraine’ theme clearly remains relevant in the information landscape and requires continued evaluation to understand how both domestic and foreign audiences engage with it. With far-right pundits such as Ben Swann (formerly associated with Russia-backed RT America) continuing to purport variants of this theme, notably the channeling of US military aid to Nazi groups in Ukraine, this theme has found firm footing in the West.