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By Kris Osborn, President - Center for Military Modernization

(Washington, D.C.) Just how much of the Russian population is influenced, convinced or swayed by false media reports and disinformation campaigns intended to blind the public to the actual reality of what is happening on the ground in Ukraine? Are Russians, or at least a majority of Russians, fully blocked from seeing media reports of destroyed family homes and civilian areas throughout Ukraine? Is it possible in this information age of the internet that ordinary Russian citizens simply do not have access to the free world and Western news reports? 

Russian Disinformation

This may be true to an extent, experts say, and Russian state-run media continues to overflow and bombard the airways with false narratives regarding the war in Ukraine. These news reports include showing fake, altered or manufactured video footage and circulate false information about the war.

Mike Mears - Former CIA Director of Human Capital - Talks About Zelensky

Mike Mears - Former CIA Director of Human Capital - Talks About Zelensky

Are Russians simply unaware that children are being murdered by the hundreds if not thousands? Did Russian soldiers truly think they were only on a training mission or a limited effort to “help” the Ukrainian people and remove Nazis. Of course these suggestions are and were ridiculous, yet if accompanied by manufactured Russian video evidence or coerced testimonials, average citizens may simply not understand. Thousands, if not millions may simply be in the dark about the war crimes, atrocities and deliberate attacks on civilian neighborhoods.

One former very high-level intelligence community official closely following the war says these manufactured videos can have a devastating influence upon average Russian people simply unaware of the truth. In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, video images showing fake Ukrainian atrocities can regrettably have a very large impact.

Mike Mears, Former Director of Human Capital for the CIA, closely follows the war in Ukraine and at times watches Russian news broadcasts. He told Warrior he is “disgusted” by what he sees on the Russian news.

“A psychological study published last month stated that if all your senses say one thing, but your eyes tell you another, you believe the eyes. So seeing is believing, basically all these old sayings come through. So that's what ties all that together that the Ukrainians had been able to use this power of storytelling and vision and visioning. And on the Russian side, of course, they are too if you watch Russian news, I tried to check in every other night, until I got so disgusted, I've got to turn it off,” Mears said.

The Kremlin is making strategic use of fear and scare tactics toward the Russian people, by telling them they are in grave danger of being killed by NATO unless defended by Russia.

A former high-level intelligence community leader with the CIA says analysis of Russian news reports reveal a “targeted” propaganda strategy playing on the fear and uncertainty woven into many Russians who might think quite differently about the war should they have access to more information.

 “They're (Russians) using techniques with a very isolated singular message, striking fear into the native Russians that NATO is going to come after you, or some other crazy story for the night. By precluding all other information, and watching this on television, that's sort of the message that takes over ….. that only Putin can protect you. There are things to be worried about and fearful of, but only Putin can protect you,” Mike Mears, former Director of Human Capital, CIA, explained.

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There is some amazing evidence in support of how Russian soldiers were manipulated emerging from intercepted phone calls of Russian soldiers made public by Ukraine.

“The intercepted phone calls that I can see are those provided by the Ukrainian side. So they obviously let the best ones out. But that's what you see……Kris, in those intercepts on the calls home is exactly that,” Mears told me.

In one intercept released by Ukraine and recalled by Mears, a Russian soldier says to his family “I thought I was coming here to help these people, at least in the early stages, and I find out that they don’t want help. They don’t want to be taken over.” In yet another call recounted by Mears, a Russian soldier says “I haven’t seen any Nazis here. I really don’t know why we are risking our lives, and I am losing friends.”

The Ukrainians are doing a strong job of telling their story to a large extent, however the Russian move to “black out” Western news continues to have quite an impact. Certainly some within Russia are able to see Western news, however experts estimate that millions are not, raising questions about the troubling extent to which the Russian public is being lied to and manipulated.

“Each side uses a different method. And one of them is simply taking the truth and blowing it out in a form and story format, and visually, and so on. And then the other side, obviously, is using the worst of propaganda techniques,” Mears said.

Interestingly, Mears cited a number of known instances wherein individuals have simply conducted open-source research of available facts and information to essentially “disprove,” “invalidate,” and completely “negate” Russian claims in their state-run media.

“Numerous times the Russians have gone out again with video or visuals and said such and such. ..and then somebody on the internet gets the GPS coordinates to show it was totally false, or they can show the bullets came from this side, not that side…so the story is totally false,” Mears explained.

Mike Mears retired as the CIA’s Chief of Human Capital where he founded and headed the CIA Leadership Academy. He is a trainer and leadership consultant to government and private sector organizations.

Prior to CIA, Mike was senior vice president at GE investments where he managed private equity funds, was a turnaround specialist, and a Six Sigma Black Belt. Before that, he launched eleven small business start-ups, and was president of a fast-food company. Mike served as commander of a nuclear missile site, a general’s aide, and was decorated for valor as a U.S. Army combat platoon leader in Vietnam.

He earned his undergraduate degree at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

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Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.