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Tactics and tools How Russian propaganda uses substitution tactics

“Substitution of concepts” is one of the most common tactics of Russian propaganda. Propagandists artificially substitute commonly used terms (concepts) that evoke mostly negative emotions with new ones that are perceived neutrally or positively.

Propagandists use this tactic primarily to form a modern new language. Since 2014, Russian propaganda has been talking about the “civil war” in Ukraine. Behind this term, Russia's participation in the hostilities in the East of Ukraine was hidden. Like, citizens of one country are fighting. The term “war” has stable negative associations. To avoid the sharp dissatisfaction of Russians with the fact that Russia is starting a full-scale war against Ukraine, they came up with a new, more neutral term - “special military operation”. Thus, the substitution of concepts was used to calm down the Russians.

Using the tactics of substitution of concepts, Russian propaganda called the retreat from the Kyiv region, Chernihiv region, the liberation of Zmiyinyi island a “gesture of good will”. That is, the Russian media covered the defeat on the battlefield as a voluntary withdrawal of troops, moreover, as a favor done to the enemy (that is, Ukraine). Thus, the emotions of strong disappointment were replaced by more neutral ones.

Russian propaganda widely uses the substitution of concepts to highlight the participation of foreigners in the war on the side of Ukraine. They call all foreigners fighting in Ukraine mercenaries. In fact, foreign citizens who receive financial rewards for participating in hostilities are required to enter the service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and they are subordinated to its command. Otherwise, they fight as volunteers. Now Russian propaganda says that supposedly the fighters of the Wagner group are “courageous selfless volunteers”. Actually, the Wagner militants are mercenaries. The private company is not part of the Russian army, but receives financial rewards from Russia for participating in the war against Ukraine and coordinates its operations with the Russian military command. That is, Russian propaganda deliberately replaces one concept with another in order to confuse and change the attitude towards Ukrainian foreign military personnel and Russian mercenaries.

This text is the first in the “Tactics and tools” section, which Detector Media is launching as part of the Disinformation Chronicles project. In it, we will explain how the most common tactics, technologies, and tools that Russian propaganda uses to spread disinformation work.

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