Russia's three-day blitz invasion of Ukraine has now been going on for fifty days. Lest I become trapped in some sort of Western-perspective-only media bubble, I have been making a conscious effort to also read pro-Russian takes on the situation. Frustratingly though, the only thing I feel I have learned from this is that listening to anything the pro-Russian side says is completely pointless.
From the horse's mouth
When the invasion began, I started following the Twitter accounts and web sites of various official institutions of the Russian state. I also started collecting a list of Twitter accounts whose tweets were often boosted by these Russian institutions. What I found surprised me.
First, let's consider official communication from the Russian regime.
Now, I am more familiar with statements from European, and especially Swedish, government institutions. These are usually pretty fact-based and dry, often even boring. Recent communication from Russian institutions is, well, different.
And by "different" I mean "completely bonkers".
Nostalgia, lies and conspiracy theories
Every single claim that I have observed from these official Russian sources has been either (a) a pretentious reference to a glorious past ("on this day in Russian history", etc.), (b) a crazy conspiracy theory ("the West has always tried to destroy Russia", "the CIA operates factories for chemical weapons in Ukraine", "the Ukrainian government wants to kill all Russian-speaking people in the country", etc.), or (c) an obvious lie ("the West has no freedom of expression", "Russia does have freedom of expression", "it was never Russia's intention to capture Kyiv", "Russia does not target civilians", etc.).
Category a, the sappy national-pride factoid, is, of course, fine. All countries do it. And Russia does have a lot of history worth remembering, some of which Russians certainly deserve to feel proud of. But a feelgood tidbit about the first Russian-made airplane or an anecdote from the life of Shostakovich isn't going to help me understand the beef Russia has with Ukraine, so let's set those aside for now.
Categories b and c were what surprised me. The claims made here are so divorced from observable reality that, surely, no one who has access to a news source other than Russian state television could possibly believe them, right?
This brings us to those other Twitter accounts I mentioned.
Angry kooks and sock puppets
These accounts, of which at least some claim to be based in the West, say all the same things as above, and worse, and where "Russia official" sounds aggressive and aggrieved, these accounts sound as though they're positively foaming at the mouth. Everything that has ever gone wrong in the history of the world is the fault of the West, and especially Nato, and especially the US. I also soon started noticing a pattern in the other things they talked about, for sometimes they mused on subjects not directly related to the war in Ukraine.
For twenty years or so, as a sort of weird hobby, I've been trying to find and follow as many conspiracy theory web sites as possible. You know, 9/11 was done by the US government/the Illuminati/aliens, covid vaccines/5G/fluorinated drinking water will turn us into zombies, "they" don't want you to know about homeopathy/the gold standard/aliens, that kind of thing. Over the course of these fifty days, the "often retweeted by Russia" group has started to look more and more like the "probably sleeps wearing a tinfoil hat" group, in terms of the topics they like to weigh in on.
It makes no sense
I'm giving up. Just like, it seems to me, the entire Russian state apparatus has given up on even trying to meaningfully argue their position, instead relying entirely on lies and not even caring that their lies often contradict each other. Not to mention the "Russia can do no wrong" kooks and sock puppets. I made an honest attempt to listen to their side, but nothing I heard made any sense, and the angry and hateful tone they always use is very off-putting and doesn't seem healthy.
I am not a Russophobe. I understand a little bit of Russian after a brief stint studying the language at the university. I love Russian food, I used to visit the Russian film festival here in Stockholm, and I have travelled the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok. But the current Russian regime is — how can I put this politely? — crazy. And henceforth I will assume that anything and everything they say is a lie.
For example, the mere fact that Russia claims that its cruiser Moskva's demise was due to an accident makes me pretty confident that it was not, so it was probably indeed sunk by Ukraine. Or possibly by the Illuminati or the aliens.
In conclusion, I feel it's safe to say that anyone who wishes to actually understand the situation can safely ignore anything the Russian regime says. It contributes nothing.
Edit, Apr. 19: Fixed typo. Added sub-headings.