I am obsessessed with the war that Russia has forced on Ukraine. Why does it consume me? Because it is a perfect example of the situation Baha’u’llah referred to when he said that if one country attacks another, all should rise up to defeat the aggressor. I interpret that statement as constituting a personal spiritual duty on my part to support Ukraine as much as I can, which is why I make monthly donations to the Ukrainian government at its United24 website. I have watched numerous YouTube videos about the war and the circumstances that led up to it, and have uncovered things that I would not know from mainstream Western media. Western media does not air many Ukrainian voices. President Zelensky’s nightly address to his nation is one way that a Ukrainain voice can be heard regularly all over the world.
Yesterday, I was reading articles written by another Ukrainian voice, this time Dmytro Zolotukhin, who is an expert in disinformation. He used to be the Deputy Minister of information policy of Ukraine. I learned about him from an interview with him on the fascinating Youtube channel Silicon Curtain, which takes an interest in propaganda and disinformation. Zolotukhin taught me that Russia’s war against Ukraine began not on 24 February 2022, but on 1 March 2014, with a fake story about how Ukraine and Chechnya were collaborating to attack Russia. This narrative was promulgated as news on Russian media outlets in a bid to frighten Russians and, over time, instill into them the idea that it was necessary for Russia to invade Ukraine. This was just the beginning of a long-running detailed plan spanning 2014 to the present, in which the Russian propaganda machine published fake stories about Ukraine. The level of planning for this campaign to make Ukraine look evil is staggering. In the astonishing document, “White Book of Special information operations against Ukraine in 2014-2018”, Zolotukhin explains that the planning is remarkably similar to the way that a fictional TV series is written for Netflix. Each story has a title and seasons comprising many episodes. For example, the fake story about US-funded biolabs in Ukraine with deadly pathogens that needed to be destroyed was the theme for one series. The document outlines the details of many such stories, their titles, seasons and episodes.
This is how the war against Ukraine began – with words. Zolotukhin’s point, as I interpret it, is that we need to care about the words and deal with them when they happen, and not dismiss them as harmless and then be forced to deal with a war many years later. Someone on Reddit asked the question: what are idle fancies and vain imaginings? I think the case of Russian propaganda against Ukraine is an excellent example of those things. And just as Zolotukhin says, they are not harmless. They work like a vice. The population in Russia are in an information vaccuum. They have only state-controlled media; unless you go digging, at possible risk to your safety, there’s no way to find out what’s really going on. So many believe what the TV says. It’s all nonsense, but they don’t know that and have no way to find out. The population is in an open-air information prison.
Baha’u’llah actually calls idle fancies a prison: “Or is the testimony of these faithless souls who breathe naught but the breath of selfish desire, and who lie imprisoned in the cage of their idle fancies, acceptable?” (Gleanings XCI) Interesting isn’t it? He is asking: should we trust those who look after their own interests, whose deeds conflict with their promises, and who wallow in disinformation? What is happening in Russia now, with the mobilisation of thousands of men, shows what happens to those who wallow in disinformation. These men, and their families, thought that they could watch the war on TV but have now found themselves becoming actors in it. The prison that provided comfort up to now has turned into the four walls that prevent escape from the nightmare.
Their situation is a lesson. It’s frightening, unsettling and hard work refusing to take the easy path and rejecting the narrative that others promulgate for us. Standing up to that pressure ususally involves questioning fundamental ideas about who we imagine ourselves to be. That work is deeply uncomfortable internally. But it’s either that or find yourself enabling injustices that you cannot get out of once the veils have been lifted on the truth.