How does Russia spread disinformation about sanctions and the global food crisis?
When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the international community reacted in different ways. Sanctions quickly became one of the most important significant and long-lasting responses to the Russian aggression. Hundreds of businesses started to leave Russia in response to President Vladimir Putin’s unjust war in Ukraine and it is profoundly weakening Russia’s economy.
More than 30 countries have imposed sanctions against Russia, cutting energy imports, blocking financial transactions and halting shipments of key imports, such as semiconductors and other electronics.
But even in addressing sanctions imposed on it, Russia started to use one of the most popular tactics of war — spreading disinformation in lots of countries to manipulate, confuse and overwhelm people about Russia’s real actions in Ukraine. A recent study by Yale University contains data that demonstrates the sinister narrative propagated by the Kremlin about the state of the Russian economy.
Russia’s use of disinformation to spread a false narrative alleging the country’s untouchability against a backdrop of Western sanctions has created a whole separate sphere of propaganda in need of consistent addressal and counteraction. “Economically, the sanctions we imposed against Russia to stop its aggression have a powerful and growing effect. Moscow selectively cites economic data trying to support President Putin’s claim that everything is fine and the state of the Russian economy is satisfactory. But this is not true,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Another topic that has been subjected to manipulation is the threat of global food crisis as result of Russia’s war in Ukraine which has aggravated global food security. Ukraine’s long-standing status of being the “granary of Europe” and being the main supplier of grain to dozens of countries in Africa and the Middle East was largely unknown. This had created an opportunity for Russia to yet again weaponise low awareness levels of the public – this time concerning Ukraine’s influence on the global food supply – and spread disinformation in order to mislead the world about the causes of the global food crisis. We have prepared a selection of commonly spread Russian narratives on the above-mentioned themes coupled with references to accurate sources and studies which refute them.
Fiction: The Russian economy is strong enough that international sanctions cannot significantly affect it. International sanctions actually harm the West more than Russia.
Fact: International sanctions are having a powerful effect on the Russian economy. The Kremlin’s purveyors of disinformation push the narrative that international sanctions have no significant effect on the Russian economy even deespite Russia’s central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina admitting that “…economic activity is declining … the termination of long-term economic relations will have a negative impact.”
Russia cannot produce domestic versions of products it once bought internationally.
Russian car production has fallen 33 times since the start of the full-scale war, while low-tonnage buses and fiber-optic cables production has fallen 5 times.
Transportation of forest cargo in annual terms fell by 17.8%, while grain transportation has decreased by 14.1%. The Russian metallurgy industry has also not been left unaffected, its production falling by 25%.
This year, sanctions may lead to a decline in the Russian economy of 6.4%-11.5%.
Fiction: International sanctions are ineffective because Russia can pivot to trading with countries that have not sanctioned it yet.
Fact: Russia is struggling to find new suppliers and customers for goods it once bought and sold globally. Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s imports dropped by 50%. The Kremlin is struggling to find new sources for essential items it is unable to produce. This is notable on the battlefield, where Russian troops have been noticed using microchips taken from refrigerators and dishwashers in their military equipment.
In public, Russia is touting its trade relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to make up for import and export shortfalls. In reality, it is an unequal relationship as Russia needs the PRC much more than the PRC needs Russia.
Fiction: The ruble’s performance shows the Russian economy is strong.
Fact: The Kremlin has enacted severe measures in order to artificially increase the performance of the ruble harming both Russian businesses and the general population.
Russian officials claim the ruble is the strongest-performing currency of the year, without mentioning its relatively high value due to the extreme capital controls Russia has enacted. After its unlawful, unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin banned its citizens from sending money abroad, suspended bank dollar sales, required exporters to exchange 80 percent of their earnings into rubles, and forced businesses to pay a foreign debt in rubles.
Fiction: The average Russian consumer is not affected by Russia’s failing economy.
Fact: Average Russian citizens already see the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine in their daily lives.
The Kremlin cannot ensure the average Russian citizen has the same quality of life as they did before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Over 1,000 international companies across a range of sectors have left Russia in 2022, leaving Russian citizens with no accessto goods and services they once enjoyed.
Fiction: Russia can simply redirect natural gas exports to Asia.
Fact: Russia’s energy infrastructure has limitations that make it difficult for it to simply shift its focus to Asia.
Exporting large amounts of natural gas tocountries outside of continental Europe is not an option for Russia in the near term. Over 90% of Russia’s gas is transported by pipeline, and most of the Russian pipelines connect to markets and refineries in Europe.
Fiction: The Kremlin has a lot of money available and can rely on cash reserves.
Fact: Putin’s depleted reserves can’t sustain Russia’s economy.
Russia’s past energy exports allowed the Kremlin to amass significant sovereign wealth. Now half of those funds are frozen overseas, thanks to restrictions imposed by the United States, Japan, and European partners in response to Putin’s continued aggression.
The value of Russia’s remaining foreign exchange reserves has plummeted by $75 billion since the February 24 invasion. And while Putin claims the ruble remains strong, the Yale University analysis shows the Kremlin is artificially inflating Russia’s currency with restrictions that “make it effectively impossible for any Russian to legally purchase dollars or even access a majority of their dollar deposits.”
Fiction: Western sanctions against Russia have caused a global food crisis
Fact: Western sanctions are not directed against Russia’s agricultural sector and do not affect the field of fertilizer production – it’s Russia’s waging of war to blame
The Russian agricultural sector is not under Western sanctions. It was Russia that blocked Ukrainian seaports from exportinggrain and other crops to countries that significantly depend on food imports from Ukraine – among them, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Algeria, and others.
Brookings Institution has noted that the appearance of Russian narratives in African media, in particular, is spearheaded by the Russian weaponisation of the ways in which the Russian war in Ukraine has exacerbated food and energy insecurities in Africa to manipulate the public’s opinion of the war.