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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses scare tactics

Scaring (appealing to fear) is a propaganda tactic in which propagandists use fear or persistent prejudice to obtain a desired result. If you don't do / support what is being proposed, it will only get worse.

After the liberation of Ukrainian territories from invaders, the whole world learned about numerous war crimes by the Russian army, including crimes against children. After the liberation of Kyiv region in the spring of 2022, the atrocities of the Russians in Bucha became known. At the time, propagandists wrote that the photos and videos from Bucha were a provocation by Ukraine to get Western help and discredit the Russian army. At the same time, the Russian propaganda started spreading fakes about “punishing” Ukrainians who were under occupation for receiving Russian humanitarian aid. During the Ukrainian army's counteroffensive in Kharkiv region, propagandists began to work ahead of the curve, assuring that Ukraine would allegedly run the message that the Russians tortured civilians in occupied Kharkiv region. The Russians also claimed that the Security service of Ukraine (SBU) was preparing a punitive operation against citizens loyal to Russia in Kharkiv; they wrote that Ukraine would allegedly send “punishers” who would mock civilians and kill anyone who did not support Ukrainian nationalism. In other words, Ukrainians were being intimidated into believing that they would be worse off after liberation than they were during the occupation. The Russians used the same tactics during the liberation of Kherson: first they spread messages that Ukraine was preparing a “new Bucha” in Kherson, and then they began writing that “hell for civilians” was beginning in Kherson. They said that after liberation, the Ukrainian military began repressions against civilians. They also wrote that Kherson residents complained about the deterioration of life after the arrival of Ukrainian troops, saying that they did not want to live “in Russia”, and now they suffer in Ukraine. In other words, the Russians not only keep Ukrainians in the temporarily occupied territories in constant fear, but also convince them that after liberation their lives will be even worse. They say that Ukraine will consider everyone to be traitors and collaborators, so we must “put up with it” and support Russia.

Also, Russian propaganda uses scare tactics during massive missile attacks on Ukraine. Repeatedly during the air raid alert, they spread the message that allegedly the Ukrainian air defense system cannot cope with the massive shelling, allegedly the Ukrainian air defense system shoots down only ten percent of Russian missiles. They say that the Ukrainian authorities lie about the number of missiles and forbid showing the results of their hits in order to hide the real state of affairs. Allegedly, the presidential office exaggerates the effectiveness of the air defense system and “invents” missile attacks. After reports from the General Staff about the real effectiveness (over 64%) of the air defense system, propagandists manipulate that if the Ukrainian air defense system works as effectively as possible, the West no longer needs to supply Ukraine with weapons. The purpose of these messages is psychological pressure on Ukrainians at a time of emotional vulnerability, to increase panic and fear caused by shelling, and to discredit the Ukrainian army and government.

Another example of the intimidation Russia resorts to not only in Ukraine but also abroad is the use of nuclear weapons. These messages have been broadcast by propagandists both to Russian audiences and to foreign audiences since the start of the full-scale invasion. Also, the Russian army is constantly conducting “training” of strategic deterrence forces with launches of ballistic and cruise missiles codenamed “Hrim” (Thunder). The need for such “training” is justified by the fact that allegedly Ukraine, the US or NATO want / could launch a nuclear strike on Russia, so one should be ready for a “retaliatory strike”. Russian propaganda also periodically spreads fakes that allegedly Ukraine wants to use a “dirty bomb” and blame it on Russia. At the same time, Russia has begun to expand the “list of situations” in which a “preventive” nuclear strike is allegedly possible.

In this way, Russia resorts to nuclear blackmail and tries to induce Ukraine and other democratic states to negotiate on its own terms.

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