The need to dispel propaganda rather than dismiss it

 Q+A host Stan Grant asked a young pro-Russian audience member to leave the studio after he made claims regarding the Azov Battalion. It’s a shame he did this without giving the young man and the rest of the audience a few myth-busting facts.

Yes, the far-right “Azov Battalion” in Ukraine does exist. However it comprises only 900-2500 individuals - i.e. less than 1% of forces fighting the Russian invasion

The Azov Battalion is a far-right paramilitary organisation. It has its parallel in various Russian and Belarusian fascist, anti-Semitic organisations (e.g. the “Russian National Unity” paramilitary movement). These far-right terrorist groups are all reprehensible - but hardly representative of any country in the so-called “Russkiy Mir” (the Azov movement’s political wing gained only  2.3% of the vote in the 2019 Ukrainian elections - not enough for a single seat). 

So while Putin’s reference to “Nazis” has some basis in fact (in Eastern Ukraine, Russian separatists have faced off against Azov), that “Battalion” (however visible on social media etc.) remains a tiny fraction of the current Ukrainian defence/resistance. And the “Nazi” pretext for invading a democratic, sovereign nation remains just that: it offers zero justification for the invasion, never mind the criminal attack on civilian centres. 

Lest young Sasha in the audience protest, it matters not that the Azov Battalion most certainly killed innocent civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk prior to the invasion. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And I’ll observe that no one was dying before the annexation of Crimea and the occupation (let’s not kid anyone - this wasn’t anything but an occupation by another name) of Donetsk and Luhansk. In other words, the Azov Battalion was no more an issue than its Russian and Belarusian counterparts before Ukraine was invaded in 2014. The problem is a geopolitical one - not a local cultural one.

It is true that the Azov movement needs to be dealt with as a terrorist organisation. But I doubt that’s going to happen in the midst of a war against the might of the Russian Federation.

The war in Ukraine - being waged by nuclear-armed Russia for Putin’s personal anti-democratic motives - is unjustifiable and a threat to millions of innocent civilians (and indeed, to world peace). It is currently a much bigger problem than the (indisputably terrorist) actions of a particular white supremacy group in the region. Sasha and others who have been swept up in Putin’s disingenuous narrative ought to be made aware of this rather than being simply dismissed and ejected from the discussion.

Because this is an information war as much as a physical one. Having inadvertently allowed Sasha to start spouting Putin’s propaganda, he owed it to Sasha, and everyone watching, to dispel that propaganda - not just dismiss it. He already disputed the 13,000 casualties as being caused by the Azov Battalion. It wouldn’t have taken much more to add that this “Battalion”, numbering 900-2,500 people, could not justify the invasion of a sovereign, democratic state of 44 million. 

It’s unlikely that Sasha would have been convinced by any such rebuttal. But if we’ve learned anything about disinformation in the Murdoch Press era it’s this: simply dismissing the talking points of those who are misinformed (and derisively laughing at them - as people did with Pauline Hanson supporters in Australia or Trump voters in the US) does nothing to remedy their ignorance. Indeed, it adds fuel to the “mainstream media censorship” belief. 

To change people’s minds, we need dialogue. And fact, not bare dismissal, must take centre stage in that dialogue.

Copyright © 2022 Dejan Djurdjevic