Russia launches 'propaganda' war over Ukraine

AFP , Sunday 2 Mar 2014

Russia launched an all-out propaganda campaign Sunday to whip up support for possible military action in Ukraine, as state media and ruling party officials claimed armed marauders were terrorising the ex-Soviet nation.

Kremlin-controlled media launched a full-scale operation with footage aimed at discrediting the new Kiev authorities and rousing anger at alleged outrages perpetrated against the Russian-speaking population.

"Our propaganda on state channels is really running wild," commented former economy minister Andrei Nechayev on Twitter.

Fanning suspicions of international involvement in the Kiev protests, news channel Russia 24 aired an apparent confession from a young Russian who claimed he was paid to serve as a sniper with opposition forces.

"There are mercenaries there... they come from very different countries: the United States and Germany, they come wearing identical military uniforms," he alleged.

He said he feared violent reprisals for his revelations, alleging that the protest leaders in Kiev would "just put people in a cellar and kill them".

Named only as Vladislav, he was filmed being grilled by investigators after being caught in the Bryansk region bordering Ukraine.

A Russia 24 anchor added a warning that "mercenaries are now going to Crimea. Their aims are clear enough: to provoke a new wave of the crisis and rob people on the sly".

The same channel interviewed the governor of the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, Yevgeny Savchenko, who warned that "crowds of armed people" were on the move and on Saturday tried to block a highway to Crimea.

Russian news agencies also issued simultaneous reports that Ukrainian armed forces were deserting en masse and going over to the side of the breakaway Crimean authorities.

The reports were first attributed to correspondents, and then to the region's self-proclaimed prime minister.

The unspecific but threatening reports seemed principally aimed at stirring fears.



Meanwhile top Russian lawmakers spoke out reassuringly on the situation, stressing a mood of national unity rallying around Putin.

"The situation in Ukraine consolidates all Russian civil society," said lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of the ruling United Russia party, who heads the lower house's committee on links with ex-Soviet states.

"Everyone is unambiguously in support of protecting our people in Ukraine, so as not to allow the Russian language and Russians to be pushed out of Ukraine," he said, cited by RIA Novosti news agency.

He said that the crisis acted to "strengthen even further the authority of the Russian president, who is taking a courageous and timely decision."

United Russia called for a popular march in central Moscow on Sunday, calling Ukraine's people a "brother" nation that "needs our protection and support".

The march, hastily organised and sanctioned by city authorities, was set to start at 1300 GMT at Pushkin Square and cover a route across central Moscow.

Under Russian law, rallies have to be agreed with authorities 10 days in advance, something strictly enforced for opposition protests.

United Russia warned that ethnic Russians in Ukraine were "suffering persecution and violence because they speak Russian, remain friendly towards Russia and do not recognise the nationalist Bandera supporters who have seized power".

Stepan Bandera was a controversial guerilla leader of Ukrainian nationalists during and after World War II, whose forces fought against both the Nazis and the Soviets.

Influential United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya appealed to "all people who care, which I am sure is the absolute majority", to turn out.

Opposition media reported that state employees such as teachers had been told to attend the rally, a common practise by the authorities.

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