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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses environmental control to achieve its goals

Environmental control (Milieu control) is a tactic that involves the influence of a social group on a person so that, as a result of social pressure, he or she changes their beliefs, values and begins to act, think or behave in a certain way. The term was popularized by American psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. He noted that various tools, in particular specialized language and slang, can be used to isolate members from the rest of society and deepen connections with a group of people.

Russian propagandists widely use environmental control tactics in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The occupiers are trying to isolate local residents of the occupied regions by limiting access to the Internet, Ukrainian media and television, mobile communications, and in some cases, even turning off Russian communications and the Internet. Almost the only source of information remains Russian television, which broadcasts Kremlin narratives around the clock, and the group of people who find themselves in the occupied city also do not have access to information externally.

For example, after the liberation of Kupiansk by Ukrainian troops, a group of people from other temporarily occupied cities picked up Russian disinformation that the Ukrainian Armed Forces allegedly drove over Russian teachers in tanks, whom the occupiers brought from Russia to brainwash Ukrainian children. Such messages were distributed in local telegram channels, rumors were transmitted orally and repeated many times. And since the search for alternative sources of information in the temporarily occupied territories is impossible or requires significant effort, people were subjected to social pressure (after all, this is what the social group thinks, and the information was repeated by several sources, which created the effect of objectivity) and began to believe in fakes. Therefore, some people might have fear that when the Ukrainian army comes to de-occupy their city, it will commit the same crimes.

As for the use of a common language that helps identify members of a social group, Russian propaganda uses newspeak - inventing new words and phrases, redefining existing terms. The Russians launch missile attacks on civilian infrastructure, residential buildings, hospitals, schools and kindergartens, but broadcast that they are targeting “decision-making centers” - supposedly the location of the Ukrainian military. Hiding behind this term, Russia is trying to normalize the shelling of Ukrainian territory (even if these are military targets) and hide the murder of Ukrainian civilians. By picking up the newspeak, residents of the temporarily occupied territories not only identify their own kind, but are also influenced by Russian narratives. They begin to think that Russia is only hitting the “decision-making center” and is not doing anything wrong. The use of a newspeak unites these people into a certain social group, which then puts pressure, in conditions of information isolation, on Ukrainians who have the opposite opinion.

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