Disinformation is nothing new, one of the earliest documented uses traces back to ancient Rome when Octavius forged the last will and testament of Mark Antony. That sort of fabrication is very far removed from the realities of disinformation today, however, which is far more public-facing.
For its part, the Kremlin has 100 odd years of experience with state-led disinformation, with the Bolshevik regime in the 20s closely integrating disinformation into the intelligence and state apparatus. The word disinformation was allegedly coined by Joseph Stalin himself, to make it appear that the concept was western, an act of disinformation in itself. Early Kremlin disinformation efforts were not just contained to the Soviet sphere but also were spread across newspapers all over the world.
The Kremlin has been redrawing borders and rewriting history since the establishment of the USSR, and when Putin rose to power he began placing emphasis on the country's past. He painted a grand historical narrative about Russia’s greatness, the presence of the Russian people in territories it used to command, and the so-called fabricated nations that are former constituents of the USSR, such as Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Another key narrative that has made him popular and secured him allies is his portrayal of Russia as the “Third Rome”. This historical narrative that Moscow is the successor to Rome and Constantinople as the home of the Roman Empire dates back hundreds of years and has seen a revival under Putin who has used Byzantine symbols like the double-headed eagle, talks about the divine ordination of Russia, and constantly emphasises Russia’s Christian Orthodoxy.
These narratives have been used to rile up nationalist sentiment and distract from Putin’s ongoing failure to provide wealth and prosperity for the Russian people. Instead of focusing on curbing corruption and liberalising for the benefit of ordinary citizens, he works to focus people’s attention on his restoration of Russian greatness and efforts to ‘protect’ Russians living outside the country’s borders. In Putin's declaration of war, he stated that Ukraine denies everything that unites Russia, part of a larger pattern of rearranging Russian history to fit his ideological ambitions.
Read more about the Kremlin’s disinformation within the war in Ukraine here.