Propaganda: Russia’s War on Ukraine, Part III

A video-recording of the third instalment in this series, chaired by Emeritus Professor Marko Pavlyshyn (Monash University), and featuring Professor Natalia Chaban (University of Canterbury), Dr Julie Fedor (University of Melbourne), Dr Robert Horvath (La Trobe University), and Dr Volodymyr Kulyk (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine), speaking on the theme of ‘Propaganda’ (27 May 2022).


Professor Natalia Chaban, ‘Mapping Information Flows in Ukraine, Russia and the World: Political Communication at Times of War’

February 24, 2022 – the day of the Russian Federation’s military assault on Ukraine – marks a watershed in the geopolitical history of the twenty-first century. This presentation dissects flows of information in Ukraine, Russia and the world which came to life after the start of the war. In focus is the interplay of the information projection properties which are argued to create powerful narratives for domestic and international audiences – accentuation of content, its contextualisation through historical and cultural resonance, narrative tactics and emotive charge.

Dr Julie Fedor, ‘The Figure of the “Sacrificial Victim” in Russian State Propaganda’

This presentation explores a key but hitherto underexamined trope in Russian state propaganda: the figure of the sakral’naia zhertva (a phrase that might be glossed as ‘sacred victim’ or ‘sacrificial victim’). The notion that enemies of the Russian state routinely commit acts of ‘human sacrifice’, which are then blamed on the Putin regime and used to generate revolutionary moods in society plays an important role in state-promoted conspiracy theories about how the world ‘really’ works. The presentation considers some examples of this phenomenon, as well as seeking to show how it fits in with broader patterns and strategies of victim blaming in Russian state propaganda, including in the framing of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Dr Robert Horvath, ‘The Rise of Dmitrii Steshin: How a Neo-Nazi became Russia’s Most Celebrated War Correspondent’

This paper examines the meteoric career of Dmitrii Steshin, a leading pro-Kremlin propagandist and perhaps the most prominent Neo-Nazi in the Russian media today. Steshin was a key member of Russkii Obraz, a Moscow-based Neo-Nazi organisation that advocated an apartheid-style regime and celebrated racist violence. In 2008–2009, Russkii Obraz became part of the Kremlin’s ‘managed nationalism’, an attempt to mobilise nationalist extremists against the anti-Putin opposition. This relationship collapsed after the FSB exposed the relationship of Russkii Obraz to BORN, a terrorist organisation responsible for a series of politically motivated murders. Despite being closely connected to BORN’s leader, Steshin avoided prosecution and his career flourished. As the star correspondent of the mass-circulation tabloid Komsomol’skaya Pravda, Steshin has been showered with accolades for his coverage of Russian military interventions in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria. This paper illuminates the connections between Steshin’s Neo-Nazi sympathies and his role as a propagandist for Putin’s wars.

Dr Volodymyr Kulyk, ‘Russian Propaganda Narratives in Western Academic and Think Tank Publications on Russian-Ukrainian Conflict before the Full-Blown Invasion’

One way propaganda affects public opinion is through the incorporation of its narratives into academic and think tank publications which, in turn, influence media coverage of the respective topics. While most studies of the impact of Russian propaganda on Western societies have focused on mass media and politics, less attention has been paid to how its perspectives are adopted by scholars and policy analysts. Based on a systematic analysis of texts produced by academics and think tank analysts in seven Western countries in 2014–2019, we have identified six key narratives of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict starting with the annexation of Crimea and the instigation of separatist outburst in the Donbas. Most of these narratives proposed some kind of compromise with Russia rather than deterrence thereof, a preference partly accountable for Western politicians’ reluctance to strongly support Ukraine and help it prepare for the current full-blown invasion.

Speaker bios

Professor Natalia Chaban focuses her interdisciplinary research on cognitive and semiotic aspects of political and media discourses, image and perceptions studies within the EU and IR contexts, and public diplomacy and political communication. Natalia widely publishes including articles in high impact journals such as the Journal of Common Market Studies, Cooperation and Conflict, Journal of European Integration, Foreign Policy Analysis, Mobilities, Comparative European Politics. Professor Chaban is a twice awarded Jean Monnet Chair, President of Ukrainian Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand, Director of the Public Diplomacy and Political Communication Forum at the UC, co-editor of the peer-reviewed Australian and New Zealand Journal of European Studies and leader of a number of transnational research projects supported by the European Commission, European External Action Service/Foreign Policy Instrument of the EC, and NATO. Several of her research projects focus on Ukraine–EU relations.

Dr Julie Fedor is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Melbourne’s School of Historical and Philosophical Studies. She obtained her PhD in History at King’s College, Cambridge. She is the author of Russia and the Cult of State Security: The Chekist Tradition from Lenin to Putin (Routledge 2011); co-author of Remembering Katyn (Polity Press 2012); co-editor of Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan 2013); and contributing co-editor of Memory, Conflict and New Media: Web Wars in Post-Socialist States (Routledge 2013) and War and Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Palgrave Macmillan 2017). Since 2015 she has been General Editor of the Journal of Soviet & Post-Soviet Politics & Society.

Dr Robert Horvath is a specialist on Russian Politics. His most recent book is Putin’s Fascists: Russkii Obraz and the Politics of Managed Nationalism in Russia (Routledge 2021). It examines the relationship between the Putin regime and Russkii Obraz, a neo-nazi organisation that became a major force on Russia’s radical nationalist scene in 2008–2010. He is also the author of Putin’s ‘Preventive Counter-Revolution’ (Routledge 2013), a study of the program of reforms and repression that transformed the face of Russian politics during Vladimir Putin’s second term as president.

Dr Volodymyr Kulyk is a Head Research Fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He has also taught at Columbia, Stanford and Yale Universities, Kyiv Mohyla Academy and Ukrainian Catholic University as well as having research fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Woodrow Wilson Center, University College London, University of Alberta and other Western scholarly institutions. His research fields include the politics of language, memory and identity as well as political and media discourse in contemporary Ukraine, on which he has widely published in Ukrainian and Western journals and collected volumes. His latest book is Movna polityka v bahatomovnykh kraïnakh: Zakordonnyi dosvid ta ioho prydatnist’ dlia Ukraïny (Language Policies in Multilingual Countries: Foreign Experience and Its Relevance to Ukraine; forthcoming from the Ukrainian published Dukh i Litera in May 2021).

This special series of events is co-hosted by:

Part I: Resistance (Dr Roman Horbyk, Dr Olga Boichak, Prof. Marko Pavlyshyn).

Part II: History (Assoc. Prof. Olga Bertelsen, Assoc. Prof. Oxana Shevel and Prof. Serhy Yekelchyk).

Part IV: Solidarity will take place on Friday 16 September, 5:00PM AEST. This event will feature HE Nina Obermaier, Prof. Michèle Knodt, Prof. Zdisław Mach, and Dr Olesya Khromeychuk.

Part V: Poetry (Friday 14 October, 5:00PM AEDT)

Part VI: Re-Building (Friday 11 November, 5:00PM AEDT) (details on Parts V and VI coming soon).