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A Tortoise File

Russian warship go f*** yourself

We thought the Russians were masters of the information war; that they’d sweep Ukraine aside. Why is it not turning out that way?

Russian warship, go f*** yourself

First published
Monday 7 March 2022

Last updated
Sunday 6 March 2022

Why this story?

Alongside the fighting in Ukraine there is an information war playing out on traditional media and online. For Ukraine controlling that narrative feels like it really matters, as they try to boost morale and galvanise support from the West when faced with overwhelming Russian military might. You may have come across stories such as the one about the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island, a rocky outcrop in the Black Sea, telling a Russian warship to go f*** itself as they faced a bombardment. Or the ace fighter pilot, known as the Ghost of Kyiv, who reportedly shot down six Russian planes in one day. It’s widely accepted that these stories are a blend of fact and fiction. And they are amplified by thousands of Ukrainian volunteers who make up an IT army fighting Russia online using every platform available.

But whether the stories are true or not hardly seems to matter. They’ve helped build a narrative in which Ukraine, led by Volodymyr Zelensky in combat fatigues, is the heroic underdog battling against an all-powerful Russia. And the Russians are a formidable online enemy. Few countries are as adept at spreading misinformation and waging war in this way. In this instance western media outlets have identified a number of false bloggers connected to the St Petersburg troll farm writing articles critical of Ukraine. But for all its efforts most experts believe Russia is currently losing the information war. But could it be that it’s not really fighting it with all its convictions? President Putin presumably knows that he’s unlikely to persuade people outside Russia that he’s right. So perhaps his focus is more on tightly controlling the message inside Russia, using state TV which remains in lockstep with his propaganda message. Jasper Corbett, Editor