Pro-Kremlin viral video portrays Ukraine invading Russia

A propaganda video that has gone viral through Russian social media appears to turn reality on its head -- painting Russians as rag-tag insurgents fending off an invasion from a fascist Ukrainian Army.

The unusually slick video, which has more than 500,000 YouTube views, appears to show exactly the opposite of what the world has witnessed in recent weeks. Instead of Russia invading Crimea and even sending troops into other regions of eastern Ukraine, the video portrays Ukraine invading Russia's western provinces.

"It is well-sophisticated propaganda," Dennis Deletant, a visiting professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, told "I was shocked to see the dispute presented in this form. The video is clearly a glorification of violence, and it's obviously aimed at younger people from the way in which it is presented and filmed."

Titled "They Came in Vain," the two-minute video is consistent with how Russia’s state-owned media has portrayed the conflict with Ukraine: Russia under threat from an expansionist Ukraine with its eyes on expanding its territory at Russia’s expense.

In the film, a Russian insurgent is seen sitting in a tunnel, loading bullets into an AK-47 magazine, while explosions can be heard overhead. Propaganda leaflets are scattered on the floor -- one portraying a takeover of Russia by right-wing Ukrainian extremists.

The video, which was released after Russia invaded Crimea, first appeared in March on a YouTube channel called Donetsk Partizan.

Experts say Moscow’s demonizing of Kiev -- with allusions to its Nazi sympathies of WWII and its current, though marginalized, far-right contingent -- is combining with such propaganda to drive events on the ground in eastern Ukraine.

"The Donetsk Partisan videos are provocative, professional-quality clips that reinforce the line promoted by state-run Russian media in the conflict: that Ukrainians are aggressive, right-wing, Nazi-like 'fascists' who are forcing eastern Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population into a life-and-death defensive struggle," said Dr. David Brandenberger, associate professor of history and international studies at the University of Richmond.

Brandenberger said the propaganda videos advance their agenda in a "surprisingly complex way."

"They oversimplify the conflict into an ethnic standoff between Russians and Ukrainians. They distort the diverse Ukrainian political spectrum into something dominated by right-wing “fascists” (who actually poll less than 2 percent of the national electorate)," he told "They suggest that Ukrainian objectives include the seizure and ethnic cleansing of historically Russian-populated regions. They construct parallels between this so-called Ukrainian aggression and the Nazi invasion of this territory in WWII.

The precise source of the video, meanwhile, remains unclear. There is no evidence in the video to suggest it was officially produced by either the Russian government or any of the state-owned Russian TV channels, Brandenberger noted, adding that, "They are labeled as being produced in Donetsk, where a small group of Russian-speakers is petitioning for Russian intervention and possible secession."

Brandenberger and others described such propaganda as a gross misrepresentation of the Ukrainian government.

"Although the Donetsk Partisan propaganda videos may echo and play upon local fears and rumors in eastern Ukraine, they distort beyond recognition the position of the Ukrainian government, security services and military by invoking the specter of fascism and ethnic cleansing," he said.

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