Russia-Ukraine crisis: Russian media spinning coverage to 'confuse' the public, experts say

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As Russia ramps up its invasion of Ukraine, Russian media is ramping up a different picture of the conflict. 

Social media has become a battlefield of its own with content produced by Russian media, which is under the control of the Kremlin. Viral videos purportedly showing the Ukrainian military being the aggressors have turned out to be false.  

“Videos and other content posted on social media … are part of Russia’s information warfare doctrine,” former Defense Intelligence Agency officer Rebekah Koffler told Fox News Digital. “The goal is to favorably predispose Russia’s population to the government’s actions, in this case, military incursion into Ukraine; and to sway foreigners who are sympathetic to Russia, to see the Russian side of the story.”

Koffler, author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America” and host of the “Censored But Not Silenced” podcast, says Russia practices what intelligence agencies call “strategic deception,” which is meant to “confuse Western intelligence and government leaders about Russia/Putin’s intentions,” fueled by a “significant amount of money” from the Kremlin. 

“Russia’s goal is not exactly to convert someone who is anti-Russia and make them into Russia’s supporter, but to sow enough doubt and confuse people about the real facts on the ground, so they become unable to make sensible conclusions about who is right and who is wrong,” Koffler said. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to the media during a joint news conference with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. (Yur Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP)
(Yuri Kochetkov/Pool)

Russian media outlets are also touting Putin’s narrative where the truth is “mixed up” with falsehoods. 

For example, headlines from Rossiyskaya Gazeta, which roughly translates to the Russian National Gazette, offer a glimpse of how the Russia-Ukraine conflict is being portrayed.

Recent headlines like, “Carefully but forcefully,” “Kyiv will not be able to return Donbass by military force,” “Putin: Military assistance will be delivered to Donbass in the event of need” and “They are defending Motherland” advance Russia’s messaging. 

Koffler asserted Rossiyskaya Gazeta “pretends to be the USA Today” of Russia but is instead a “mouthpiece” for the government. 

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    A headline from Rossiyskaya Gazeta that translates to "They are defending Motherland," while plugging a new documentary. (Rossiyskaya Gazeta)

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    A headline from Rossiyskaya Gazeta that translates to "Kyiv will not be able to return Donbass by military force." (Rossiyskaya Gazeta)

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    A headline from Rossiyskaya Gazeta that reads, "Carefully but forcefully." (Rossiyskaya Gazeta)

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    A headline from Rossiyskaya Gazeta that translates to "Putin: Military assistance will be delivered to Donbass in the event of need." (Rossiyskaya Gazeta)

She also warned about RT America, formerly known as Russia Today, something she considered a “Russian government propaganda arm. Full stop.”

“They wanted to dissociate with the word ‘Russia’… so they made it RT and they routinely hire English-speaking people including Americans … This is trade craft, typical Russian trade craft,” Koffler said. “They do that not only with, you know, in the media but in intelligence, right? They always watch for, you know, retired intelligence officers and somebody who would be either disgruntled or just get another job or like retired military. It’s a propaganda machine in the English language, and they have it in many other languages.”

“Vladimir Putin owns the media … It’s just a tool for him to get his message out the way he wants it,” Fox News contributor Daniel Hoffman, a CIA veteran whose tours include the former Soviet Union, told Fox News Digital. “He’s at hybrid war right now, so he’s launched cyber attacks … He’s got the military in action, he’s got diplomatic efforts, he’s got an information war because he uses his own state-run media to do stuff, obviously he’s got his intelligence services planting stories as well.

“He’s got all kinds of, you know, cyber efforts to own the information battle space and that’s what he does. And it’s all coordinated.”

American and Russian flag pair on desk over defocused background. Horizontal composition with copy space and selective focus.
(iStock/Photo Illustration)

As part of the information war, Koffler said there’s very little the Biden administration can do to combat Russia due to the First Amendment and any actions the federal government takes, she suggested, would further sow distrust among Americans. But she did offer advice for those who don’t want to be duped by Russia’s propaganda. 

“Don’t believe everything you see on the internet. That applies to any content: Russian, US, anything,” Koffler said. “For a regular person with an untrained eye, it’s very hard to spot fake content. The Russians are professionals at it. There’s a whole entity, the Internet Research Agency, that puts out content that is used for the purposes of covert influence. Russia’s objective is not only to hack US networks, but also Americans’ minds.”

SOCHI, RUSSIA – OCTOBER,21 (RUSSIA OUT): Russian President Vladimir Putin speeches during the Valdai Discussion Club’s plenary meeting, on October,21,2021, in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
( Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Koffler, who was born in the Soviet Union, added she grew up not believing “anything” she heard but was trained to “think for yourself.”

“That was my instruction from my parents … Do not believe anything you hear on TV, do not believe everything that your teachers teach you and to the point, like trust only yourself,” Koffler said. “That’s where I see our society going as well for that reason, not just because of the Russians, but you see how, you know, the left and right [are] completely on different sheets of music and each are singing their own tune, and there’s no crossover and there’s no straight news anymore.” 

“People just need to be savvy readers of the news and understand what the source of the news is and does that source, whoever it is … are they trying to influence or inform?” Hoffman said. “They should vet the sources because these days … you can pick up information from anywhere.”

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