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Is Ukraine ruled by the West?

Have you heard that bats were used for tests on the coronavirus? Where? In US American secret laboratories in Ukraine. That is what a Russian Defence Ministry spokesperson declared in the middle of the ongoing war. What the Ukrainian initiative StopFake.org identified as a fake, has some deeper foundation in conspiracy theories…

In the years before 2022, in Ukraine new narratives developed which were not expressly pro-Russian, but frequently appeared in Kremlin propaganda. The most popular of these new anti-Western narratives1Researchers call these narratives “anti-Western”. What do they mean by that? It is a category where anything from “the West”, meaning sometimes the European Union, the United States of America or also Australia, is seen in broad opposition. It can refer to people, culture or policies. were:

  1. Ukraine is a failed state.
  2. Ukraine is under external governance from Western “curators” and “Sorosites”.
  3. George Soros and the International Monetary Fund want to exploit Ukrainian lands.
  4. The US deployed a network of bio labs in Ukraine to experiment on human beings.

Ukraine is a failed state

n these narratives “the West” is portrayed as the biggest threat to Ukraine. We did an interview with the researcher Julia Eichhofer in December 2021, who is working at the Zentrum für Liberale Moderne in Berlin. She explains the first, her “favourite” narrative:

“Ukraine as a failed state. (…) This narrative is very complex and aims to undermine trust in Ukraine’s independence, in the idea of a Ukrainian state. (…) Russian propaganda says that the reforms in Ukraine have failed and that the state falls apart because of corruption. Ukraine will therefore not be able to survive without Russian resources. It is absolutely dependent on Western donors and on the US. These narratives conclude that at some point Ukraine will split into pieces and that there are very deep civilizational differences in the country.”

Ukraine is under external governance from Western “curators” and “Sorosites”

The second narrative argues that reforms are driven by shadowy Western “curators” or “Sorosites”, people who obey George Soros and follow Western business interests. It is argued that these people from outside want to extract all the resources and make the country dependent by economic reforms such as reforms against corruption. “Sorosite” as a label is used to smear any public person in this sense. Sometimes the EU is also portrayed to have forced Ukraine into an unprofitable Association Agreement.

Similarly to the first narrative, Ukraine is supposedly not an independent state and can thus not actively shape its international relations.

George Soros and the International Monetary Fund want to exploit Ukrainian lands

The third narrative sees that George Soros and the International Monetary Fund, an international financial institution, are grabbing Ukrainian agricultural lands, stealing them from ordinary Ukrainians. This supposedly means that Ukrainians will be unable to survive, as the agricultural industry is being destroyed.
The Budapest-born American financier and philanthropist George Soros again is mentioned here. Vitalii Rybak, analyst at Internews Ukraine, explains which role Soros plays in conspiracy theories – or to be more precise – which role “conspiracy theorists” ascribe to Soros: 

“In Ukraine, not a lot of people know exactly who George Soros is (…) People use his figure more as a metaphor, as a myth, as an embodiment of all the so-called greedy West (…) And George Soros is a useful picture because he’s an old person. He’s a Jew. This also speaks to some parts of the Ukrainian population. Also, he has an institution in Ukraine, the International Renaissance Foundation, which does a lot to support Ukrainian NGOs, Ukrainian media and so on.”

George Soros thus is portrayed as having a lot of power. That he is a Jew and depicted as evil is a typical element as most conspiracy theories, even very old ones, have an antisemiticcore.

The US deployed a network of bio labs in Ukraine to experiment on human beings

The Covid-19 pandemics are part of conspiracy theories worldwide. With the development of vaccines, in Ukraine conspiracy theories appeared claiming that the US intends to test these on Ukrainians. This is based on an older narrative that the US government has created biological laboratories in Ukraine and other Central and Eastern European countries to carry out tests on human beings.

You are wondering how many people in Ukraine do believe in these conspiracy theories? Shockingly many!

40% believe that “Ukraine is now under external governance by Western curators, creditors, and ‘Sorosites’”
39% believe that Soros and the IMF want to exploit Ukrainian lands
25% believe “the US deployed a network of bio labs in Ukraine”

These are the results of a study published by international researchers in the “Arena” programme in cooperation with the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research and others. Besides having conducted a poll and having used focus groups to determine the most popular conspiracy narratives in Ukrainian society, they give recommendations of how to counteract these.

The danger of these narratives is that people lose their sense of agency and believe that they neither can influence what is happening in their life nor can they participate in their community or country. This leads to a feeling of helplessness. Furthermore, they might question if the Ukrainian government can act independently.

What are the goals of all of these anti-Western conspiracy theories then?

“… to undermine the trust in democracy and paint an ugly picture of a collective West. (…) Ultimately, all these narratives seek to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty while presenting Russia as a better choice for Ukraine (…) The goals of these multiple narratives include building an information bubble for Russian-speaking Ukrainians, as well as those who support pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine. Ultimately, an escalation in Ukrainian society is sought, a division of the population, in order to ultimately destabilise the country.”

Julia Eichhofer

And why did these narratives change in the last years?

Since the beginning of the military aggression of Russia in Ukraine in 2014, it has become more difficult to spread obviously pro-Kremlin narratives within Ukraine. Russian television and social media channels were blocked in the same year. Since then, the Ukrainian population has developed a more negative image, especially of Putin’s regime, according to opinion polls. Those were reasons to develop new anti-Western narratives that are less openly connected to the Russian state.

The attitude of the population of Ukraine to Russia has changed and is still changing.

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