Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24th February, 2022 Poland has become a new frontline state and the most important hub of military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Poland has been also one of the leaders of a hawkish foreign policy towards Russia, actively encouraging its Western allies and institutions to boost up military assistance to Ukraine as well as to increase the magnitude of sanctions against the Russian Federation. This activism has not gone unnoticed by the Kremlin and has had immediate effects on how Poland began to be depicted by Russian state media and governmental officials. This paper looks at the messaging about Poland, as presented in Kremlin official communication since the outbreak of the war in February 2022 to July 2022.
Research question and methodology
In our research paper, we intended to answer the following question: How did the Russian official communication channels present Poland since the outbreak of war in Ukraine? We assume that Poland was generally negatively depicted in the Kremlin’s official communication.
By official communication channels, we understand websites and accounts in social media: Telegram, vKontakte, Facebook and Twitter – directly managed by the government of the Russian Federation – as well as Russian media affiliated with the government and individuals – both politicians and the Russian propaganda apparatus members. In the first stage of our research, we identified the channels and looked at posts and content related to Poland. Twitter and Facebook were selected to show how Russian channels communicate with non-Russian speakers and vKontakt and Telegram to present the communication to the Russian speakers. The next steps embraced the identification of the main narratives and assessing their sentiment. Finally, we tried to find out the main correlations between different media channels and events, which happened and may have influenced the specific narratives on Poland. The time period of our research covered content published from 24th February to the half of July 2022.
Final remarks and conclusions
The report has analysed the way in which Russian state media and governmental officials, have been depicting Poland since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February 2022. Through analysing official statements, feeds and messaging on four social media platforms (VKontakte, Facebook, Telegram and Twitter), the authors were able to confirm the main hypothesis of the report: if at all present in Russia state propaganda, Poland is portrayed mainly negatively.
In general, in the Russian information space, between March and July 2022 Poland was depicted as a dangerous, warmongering state, with an agenda of escalating the war in Ukraine into World War III by dragging NATO deeper into conflict. The country was portrayed as posing a threat to Russia by supporting the Ukrainian war effort, which allegedly included sending Polish mercenaries to the Ukrainian front, developing (alongside the US) biological weapons and demanding a relocation of U.S. nuclear missiles into Poland’s territory. The motives of Poland – as seen by Russian propaganda – were self-serving. The country wanted to take advantage of the crisis by developing plans to invade and then annex some parts of Western Ukraine, Kaliningrad Oblast and even parts of Belarus.
At the same time Poland was depicted as working hand-in-hand with the Ukrainian government and in that sense it was as hostile of an actor to Russia as Ukraine is. Many characteristics which were attributed in Russian state propaganda to the Ukrainians, where also projected onto the Poles. Therefore, media portrayed Poles as a nation characterized by strong Russophobe attitudes, which were automatically understood as “fascist”, and “anti-semitic” behaviour. The Russian channels on social media platforms tried to solidify this image by magnifying, exaggerating and misinterpreting events, which took place in the real world ( ex. incident with the Russian ambassador in Warsaw).
The report has also shown that there is a clear prioritization of platforms used by Russian propaganda in general, with a natural preference for those which the Kremlin can control. Social media which originate from Russia, such as VKontakte and Telegram, were used more often than Facebook and Twitter to spread a negative image of Poland. The majority of the communications were published on these two channels. Using Facebook and Twitter was marginal and neglected. This is probably because both platforms have been previously banned in Russia, remain unpopular among domestic publics and have strict disinformation policies, eliminating much of the Russian propaganda-related content. An important observation worth noting is that most of the content on Poland was produced in Russian language. This, in combination with the type of platforms used, tells us that the messaging about Poland is addressed primarily to Russians and Russian-speaking groups living both inside and outside of Russia.
Although different channels on social media platforms shared the same content, the scale of coordination of Russian propaganda is unknown. It is somehow natural that there is some coordination between the Russian Embassy in Poland (which in comparison to other Embassies in Europe during the period analysed has limited its external communication to the minimum) and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also Russia-state sponsor media seem to mainly disseminate the official government communication coming from the MFA or the Kremlin. However, it is unclear whether statements of former President of Russia Dmitri Medvedev and other high-profile individuals have been part of a larger slander campaign against Poland or reflected only personal views. In general however, one should not assume the existence of a single centre coordinating state messaging and propaganda.
In general, the observations and analyses of the content shared in Russian social media are incremental in helping to understand what and how is communicated to Russian people and Russian-speaking groups living inside and outside of Russia. Depicting Poland as a source of all evil and an enemy of Russia, surely influences the attitudes of the Russian society in general. It also allows to justify losses of Russian army by showing that they are fighting against not only Ukraine alone but NATO. What is , it is also building an image of siege mentality to show that Russia is constantly attacked and the only saviour is Putin regime. It is important to follow this discourse remembering that for a long time also Ukrainians were depicted only negatively. As time has shown this was done in an effort to prepare the Russian society for war with its neighbour. The dehumanisation ultimately helped influence the Russian society to accept and support the invasion of Ukraine. Therefore, the official communication of Russia must be followed because this helps predict next steps of Moscow.