VILNIUS, Lithuania – A Lithuania-based project is urging Russian speakers worldwide to make random phone calls to people in Russia and speak openly about Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, an effort to offset the Kremlin’s tightening grip on domestic media.
The Kremlin calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor and dislodge leaders it calls neo-Nazis. Ukraine and its Western allies say this is a baseless pretext for an invasion of a country of 44 million people in which thousands have died, over two million made refugees and thousands have cowered in besieged cities under bombardment.
In Lithuania this week, a network of IT, advertising and communications professionals said it launched the #CallRussia project with a database of 40 million numbers of Russian individuals and a guide on what to say during a conversation.
“These conversations will be incredibly difficult, considering the propaganda and authoritarian information blackouts Russians are subjected to,” the project website said.
“But direct conversations are the only way to spread the truth and end this war.”
Russian independent news outlets and various foreign media were forced to halt operations in Russia last week after the State Duma (parliament) passed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for anyone found to be intentionally spreading “fake” news.
The Call Russia project said volunteers placed 32,000 calls to Russians on Tuesday and Wednesday from Lithuania, the United States, Germany, Britain, Poland and other countries.
Tomas, a volunteer based in Vilnius who made around 50 calls in an evening, said that all but one Russian hung up on him or refused to speak at any length.
As for the one who did speak at length, Tomas said, “he kept repeating the Russian propaganda to me, that Ukrainians are shooting civilians and bombing their own cities and Russians are saving them from the Nazis. It was weird for me.”
A large proportion of Russians, especially older people, get their news exclusively from state media and many independent media outlets have closed since the invasion began.
In another attempt to make Western coverage of Russia’s invasion available to Russians, three leading Nordic newspapers on Thursday began publishing selected news articles in Russian.
“The tragedy in Ukraine should not be communicated to the Russian public through propaganda channels,” the
editors-in-chief of Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter and Denmark’s Politiken said in a joint statement.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says that the Western media offer a partial – and often anti-Russian – view of the world while failing to hold their own leaders to account for corruption or devastating foreign wars like Iraq. – Rappler.com