‘Compassion, tolerance, and love for others’ What the Kremlin’s latest propaganda guides tell pro-government media outlets to say about the war
Story by Andrey Pertsev. Translation by Sam Breazeale.
In July, the Putin administration distributed two new messaging guides to Russia's pro-government media outlets and politicians. Both documents give detailed instructions for how to create parallels between Russia’s current war in Ukraine and well-known historical events in the public imagination. The first one focuses on the 988 “baptism of Rus,” when Kyivan Rus ruler Volodymyr the Great is said to have baptized the people of Kyiv after converting to Orthodox Christianity himself. The second is about the 1240 Battle of the Neva, when Prince Alexander of Novgorod is believed to have defeated Swedish invaders on the banks of the Neva River. The guides instruct the media to use these events to portray Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine as a preemptive war launched to protect Russia from a godless, resource-hungry West, as well as from Ukrainian Satanists who make ritual human sacrifices. These arguments have already begun appearing in state media — sometimes verbatim. Meduza has summarized their contents.
The Kremlin has “recommended” that Russia’s state-sponsored and pro-government media — as well as its establishment politicians — start drawing parallels between the war in Ukraine, the “baptism of Rus” in 988, and the Battle of the Neva in 1240.
In July, the Putin administration issued two guides that make the case for the similarities between the war and the two historical events. Meduza has obtained copies of both.
Both documents blame the war in Ukraine on the “collective West,” which it claims has spent almost a millennium attacking Russia in a quest to capture its natural resources and to destroy the Orthodox Church.
The fight against the 'godless'
The most recent guide was distributed to pro-government media heads in late July, according to sources close to the Putin administration. In its introduction, the authors point out alleged similarities between the baptism of Rus, when first Christian ruler claimed by Russia is said to have baptized the people of Kyiv, and the ongoing war in Ukraine:
The baptism of Rus became the basis for the strengthening and the unity of the Russian state for hundreds of years. The Orthodox faith teaches compassion, love for one’s neighbor, and tolerance for others. These values became the foundation of Russian civilization and allowed Russia to unite hundreds of distinct peoples. Today, members of all of Russia’s ethnic groups have once again united in opposition to the godless, and in defense of traditional values and our children’s right to live in accordance with them.
The document also says that adopting Orthodoxy helped unite the “disparate Russian lands” and facilitated the creation of a state whose defining value was “tolerance.”
It goes on to claim that the war in Ukraine, like the "baptism of Rus," is consolidating the country’s “foundations as a state,” as well as the “foundations for Russia’s development for centuries to come.” The unnamed authors assert that this is all a result of the recent “social cohesion” around the army and around the “president’s strategic course,” writing, “Russia has once again become capable of fulfilling its mission: defending the oppressed.”
The Kremlin also suggests blaming the war’s outbreak on the “collective West,” which is convinced of both “its own exceptionalism” and the “inferiority” of Orthodox Christians. The authors “recommend” that the media and public figures say the following about the war’s causes:
The conflict in Ukraine was instigated at the hands of Western countries, which provided Ukraine with weapons. Ukraine was to become a staging ground for an attack on Russia. The strategic goal of the collective West has been unchanging for centuries: [they want] the containment, the weakening, the dismemberment, and the complete destruction of Russia.
One of the goals of the “special [military] operation,” according to the document, is to “fight against the godless,” characterized by the authors as “rapists, thieves, and murderers” who “[don’t] believe in anything — and who [believe] that this frees them from moral responsibilities to other people.”
The Kremlin also recommends that the media not exempt Ukraine’s troops from the “ungodly” designation. In fact, the guide instructs media figures and politicians to claim that Ukrainian soldiers “offer sacrifices and conduct ritual killings,” as well as using women and children as a “human shield” (something Russian state media has been claiming since the start of the war).
“For Ukro-Nazis, there’s no such thing as morality; they don’t think in such terms, because they are truly godless. They’re not afraid of the divine penalties they'll face for their atrocities. Many of the Ukro-Nazis are open Satanists and followers of hateful cults,” the guide recommends saying.
Russia’s propaganda outlets were spreading this message even before the new guides were issued. In early June, for example, a RIA Novosti headline claimed that “Satanism and occultism have become the ideology of Ukraine’s national battalions.”
'A preemptive strike'
The other guide released by the Kremlin draws analogies between the war in Ukraine and the Battle of the Neva. The document was released in early July, when Russia traditionally celebrates the anniversary of the 1240 battle.
The authors start by explaining that the “collective West” has been trying to break up Russia for centuries. They even explain who they mean: according to the Kremlin, the “collective West” has referred at various times to the Teutonic Order, Sweden, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Napoleon’s empire, the Third Reich, and NATO.
All of these entities, the document claims, have practiced the same tactic: turning the “peoples living close to [Russia’s] borders” against the Russian state. At that point, the authors draw a direct analogy to the “collective West” that “pumped Ukraine up” with weapons and opened a “network of biolaboratories” on its territory (a claim that's been thoroughly debunked).
However, the guide continues, all of the West’s attacks on Russia have had the same ending: “Society unites around the national leader and, demonstrating courage and heroism on the battlefield, fight off the invaders.” The Kremlin recommends that the pro-government media and politicians note how this happened both after the victory in the Battle of the Neva and after the start of the war in Ukraine (though there’s no reliable data supporting this claim).
One of the chapters in the document is called “Power in Truth!” The words are believed to have been said by Alexander Nevsky, but according to historical records, the phrase was part of a longer expression: “Power isn’t in God, but in the truth” (the Kremlin's guide also includes this quote).
“Russia’s warriors had the truth on their side — they were defending their home, and our victory was thus the only possible outcome,” write the authors. The sections on the “special [military] operation” make no mention of “defending one’s home,” but they do hold that today’s Russian soldiers are also “confident that they’re right, because they’re continuing the job of their fathers and forefathers: finishing off Nazism.”
The Kremlin also claims in the document that the contemporary West, like its past manifestations, wants to destroy Russia in order to get its hands on the country’s resources. However, the authors say, those resources have changed; while the West used to want Russia’s population, now it needs its minerals:
The consumer society that has developed in the West requires a lot of resources. The West ran out of its own resources several centuries ago, which was the reason for colonialism and neocolonialism. The West has openly stated that Russia has too many resources for one country and thus must be divided up.
Russian propagandists are instructed to use all of these arguments to lead audiences to the conclusion that the war in Ukraine was a “preemptive strike” — a claim that pro-government outlets and Putin himself have made repeatedly.
“Russia’s leadership, as well as Vladimir Putin himself, would not allow an attack on Russia. The decision was made to launch a special military operation, which allowed [Russia] to prevent a repeat of June 22, 1941, when Nazi troops invaded Russian territory,” the authors claim.
Meduza has already found several instances of Russian pro-government media outlets using the arguments from the guides. One article from Gazeta.ru, for example, is titled “The Baptism of Rus and the special operation in Ukraine: what do they have in common?” It includes sentences and paragraphs copied directly from one of the Kremlin’s “guides,” including that “Russia has once again become capable of fulfilling its mission — defending the oppressed.” The article also describes Russia’s struggle against “the godless.”
A similar article was posted on the pro-government site FederalPress. The propaganda site Regnum published an article about the similarities between the Battle of the Neva and the “special operation.”
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov did not respond to Meduza’s requests for comment, and neither did the media outlets FederalPress or Gazeta.ru. After this article was published in Russia, Regnum editor-in-chief Modest Kolerov told Meduza that the topic of the article on the Battle of the Neva was chosen by its author, and that the outlet didn’t coordinate with the Putin administration.