This evokes a popular conspiracy theory in Russia that the West has for hundreds of years hated and envied
Russia and been trying to destroy it. In 2022, the Russian propagandists actively toyed with the idea of dropping nuclear bombs
on Western European countries
In 2022, one of the ways to astroturf the support for the “special military operation” is to brand it with the letters Z and V. The letter Z has been used to mark military trucks and equipment that were supposed to go to the Western (Zapad
) Front as opposed to the Eastern (Vostok
) Front. There were sculptured images of Zs erected in the squares of some cities, and on some occasions government employees forced children
to line up in Z-like formations in kindergartens, hospices and schools. Another example is a burger joint
in Syktyvkar (Komi Region) where burgers received so-called patriotic titles with Latin Zs in their names. There is some evidence for the limited success
of this campaign in Russia’s far-flung regions. Still, most of the highly publicized Z-campaigns have been so far sponsored by the Russian government or staged by people employed by the state, as the majority
of the population has not been especially responsive to them and is trying to disassociate from the war.
To legitimize the war among the population, the Russian government has also drawn on conspiracy theories. As Ilya Yablokov and Precious Chatterje-Doody have pointed out,
conspiracy theories were incredibly important communication strategies before the war and even a tool of public diplomacy. With the full-scale invasion, the scale of government-funded “conspirology
” has increased as well: birds and bats that are somehow infecting only ethnic Russians with diseases; runes on bracelets that are supposed to be indicative of the Nazi ideology subscribed to by the Ukrainian high military command; and “planted corpses” in Bucha. These examples represent a fraction of the theories circulating in the Russian media as the Russian government tries to skirt responsibility or find justification for the carnage. It is unclear how much the Russian population actually believes these explanations, but there are grassroots fears of poisoned soda and pastries
that align not only with Soviet urban legends about sabotage (vreditel’stvo
) but also with a broadly conspiratorial foreign affairs
Another continuity in the rhetoric that blends sabotage, conspiracy and the West is exemplified by the “Gayropa” narrative. In 2013-14, one of Russia’s arguments against the European integration of Ukraine was that the EU would legalize gay marriage in Ukraine and force gay men to work in kindergartens. This was coming on the heels of the win by Conchita Wurst in the Eurovision Song Contest, over which the Russian propagandists expressed outrage that a non-binary person won. In 2013, pro-Russian social media users opposing the Euromaidan portrayed it as a festival of gay men
who use drugs and worship Hitler, versus the Russian world of the traditional family, Christianity and the cult of the Great Patriotic War.
In 2022, the Gayropa narrative has been further strengthened by the adoption of a new anti-LGBTQ law that bans any kind of queer representation
in the Russian public space.