The Kyiv School of Energy Policy and the Civil Network OPORA analyzed the key narratives of Russian propaganda which Russia uses to justify the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
The Russians exert every effort not only to convince the widest audience possible but also to dominate the discourse in the broadest sense of the word.
If we step back from the detailed consideration of Russian state media rhetoric and information support for the occupation of the ZNPP, we will see that the whole matter boils down to a threefold metanarrative about Russia that runs like a golden thread through all disinformation narratives. The first component part of Russian metanarrative is Russia’s responsibility and moral superiority over its geopolitical opponents. This component is most evident in Russian state media discourse about placing the ZNPP under Russia’s protection and demonization of the Ukrainians, who are shelling the nuclear site and their compatriots on a systematic basis, “create panic” over the nuclear security of the ZNPP and are preparing to use the prohibited secret nuclear weapons against the military and civilians. Russian state media never provide any arguments to back up a claim that only they can guarantee security of the nuclear plant because their regular readers/listeners take it for granted. In order to confirm this statement, we can examine Russian state media disinformation activities in the field of nuclear energetics before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. For example, Russian state media emphasized that Ukraine was a “puppet state” subordinate to the United States, “a nuclear waste disposal site” colonized by the West. According to Russian state media, Western partners use Ukraine as a place to store hazardous materials without caring about the nuclear security and the threats to life and health of Ukraine’s population. Russian state media claim that, unlike the Americans, Russia invests in research and development of modern technologies for safe processing and disposal of radioactive waste. Moreover, “Russia continued to provide nuclear waste storage and disposal services to Ukraine even when Kyiv delayed payments.” In other words, Russian state media portray Russia as the most responsible and caring partner in the world. Russian state media said that “the Americans want to get a second Chernobyl disaster, but we are not willing to take such a risk.”
The second component of the Russian state media metanarrative is Russia’s technological superiority over its rivals. In the context of ZNPP, we can trace the development of this idea in Russia’s statements about maintenance of the ZNPP in working order and counseling of nuclear plant personnel through the efforts of Russian specialists. In a broader context, the main way for Russia to emphasize its technological excellence was to set itself off against one of the key competitors on the nuclear fuel market: the American company, Westinghouse. The Russians started making statements regarding the violation of nuclear reactor safety in Ukraine “due to structural defects caused by the American manufacturer, Westinghouse company” even before the Russo-Ukrainian war began. According to Russia, the Ukrainians are ready to take the risks associated with the use of U.S. fuel “just to show their loyalty to Washington yet again,” while the Americans are testing their hazardous technologies in Ukraine because only Ukraine can take such a risk due to its dependent position, unlike other countries.
The third component part of Russian metanarrative is the indispensability of Russia to the world nuclear market. In the context of Russian occupation of the ZNPP, the Russians emphasized that they would do a great job of managing the nuclear facility thanks to advanced capabilities and continuous professional development of Rosatom employees, and due to the fact that the ZNPP was built with the use of Soviet technologies. The Russians have made frequent statements about their country’s indispensability and leadership in the international market of nuclear energy prior to taking control of Ukrainian nuclear facilities. They claim that the attempts to decrease dependence on Russia in the field of nuclear energy are not based on any reasons other than politically motivated ones, and such attempts yield nothing but losses from replacement of Russian technologies. According to Vladimir Putin, “the goal of the collective West is to make life harder for millions of people.” In the context of nuclear facilities that were built in Ukraine and other countries with the involvement of the Russian Federation, the Russians emphasize that it is impossible to ensure safe operation without using their materials, equipment and services. In the context of Ukraine, the Russians systematically insisted that the goal of ensuring safe use of Western fuel at the Soviet nuclear sites is unattainable. When the United Kingdom (UK), US, Canada, Japan, and France announced a plan to displace Russia from the international nuclear energy market, Russian media published a paper titled “Dangerous counterfeit: anti-Russian alliance creates a nuclear threat.”
In summary, Russia’s disinformation efforts in the field of nuclear energy boil down to one common denominator: Russia is the only reliable partner on the nuclear energy market. It should come as no surprise that Russia’s economic rhetoric is consistent with the political one, considering that Russia has been shedding the blood of Ukrainians on their own territory for nine years in the name of Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood and the one and only “Russian World.”
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