Against Kyrgyz identity: How Russian propaganda works on social networks?

“Kyrgyzstan should unite with Russia”, “terrorists may attack”, “southern politicians”, “Nazi who discriminate against the Russian language”. Messages of this nature began to spread intensively on social networks in Kyrgyzstan from mid-2021. They were published on several pages and channels on social networks and instant messengers.

Data journalists from PolitKlinika analyzed the content of the Facebook pages “Salam Kyrgyzstan”, “Tentek kyz”, “Dve tochki zreniya” and the “Polit Lombard” channel on Telegram, disseminating similar messages, and found that they are aimed at increasing Russia’s influence in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia in general. 

We analyzed approximately 5,000 messages published on the above-mentioned pages from January 2022 to February 2023. Of these, every fifth message is aimed at strengthening Russia’s influence in Kyrgyzstan and awakening a feeling of longing for the USSR.

Increasing Russian influence is usually achieved by focusing on and raising the profile of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Kyrgyz-Russian Development Fund. For example, they characterize the CSTO as the only peacekeeping organization in the Central Asian region and sharply criticize initiatives to withdraw from it.

In addition, these pages often publish news about economic, political, military and cultural cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Russia, presenting Russia as the only strong partner.

“Russia is the main economic and humanitarian partner of Kyrgyzstan. The countries are actively developing bilateral relations and are members of many large integration associations, including the EAEU, SCO, CSTO and the CIS. Over the past 30 years, millions of people from  Kyrgyzstan have gone to work in Russia, have had the opportunity to support their families and contribute to the economy of the republic.”

(2022-06-18 “Dve tochki zreniya”)

These pages also publish messages about USSR figures, historical events and ideology, and also idealize life in the Soviet Union. Kazakh researcher Ainash Mustoapova says that nostalgia for the USSR is artificially created through the media and social networks.

Against Kyrgyz identity: How Russian propaganda works on social networks?

(DW illustration about people’s nostalgia for the USSR) 

“Nostalgia for the Soviet Union was not observed in the 1990s and 2000s. On the contrary, there were many people who were happy that they could travel abroad freely and that there were various products and things in stores. And suddenly, after 2010, they began to miss the Soviet Union. All this melancholy began to form artificially through television. For this purpose, television, WhatsApp messages, and social networks such as VKontakte or Odnoklassniki worked,” said Ainash Mustoapova.

Against national identity

The messages in these pages present the history of the countries that were part of the Soviet Union from the point of view of the USSR, and sharply criticize attempts to objectively interpret the history of the peoples of these countries. For example, Central Asians who were subjected to political repression during the Soviet era are called «Basmachi» and «fascist intermediaries» and are spreading messages against the bill to exonerate victims of repression proposed in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

“Do not allow the rehabilitation of fascist intermediaries in Kyrgyzstan!”

(2023-01-24 Salam Kyrgyzstan)

These public pages criticized the initiators of the above bill and called them “nationalists” and “traitors.” Using the example of Kyrgyzstan, the speaker of the Jogorku Kenesh, Nurlanbek Shakiev, is most criticized for raising issues related to national identity.

It should be noted that last year at the People’s Assembly (Kurultai), the chairman of the parliament proposed renaming the names of Bishkek districts. He also demanded that government representatives speak Kyrgyz at parliamentary meetings. In general, the pages we analyzed are directed against the language policy that the state is trying to implement and the reduction in the influence of the Russian language.

Dual attitude towards government officials

In these pages, not only national identity, but also certain government figures are systematically abused due to their political direction and decisions. For example, the head of the State Committee for National Security, Kamchybek Tashiev, is criticized for active cooperation with countries other than Russia, including Turkey.

President Sadyr Japarov, compared to the head of the State Committee for National Security Kamchybek Tashiev, is not particularly criticized on pages disseminating Russian propaganda. On the contrary, one can also find positive statements about Japarov, for example, “he looks like Putin in his youth” and “the best president.”

“The West is to blame for everything”

On the pages of “Salam Kyrgyzstan”, “Tentek kyz”, “Dve tochki zreniya”  and “Polit Lombard” an attempt is made to impose a negative view of some countries with which Kyrgyzstan cooperates in the political and economic direction. For example, in April 2022, after a US delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State Uzra Zeya arrived in Kyrgyzstan and announced that it was ready to sign a new cooperation agreement between the two countries, these pages regarded this as a knife in Russia’s back.

“Moscow views the ongoing negotiations between the Kyrgyz Republic and the United States of America as a “stab in the back.” Russia’s response in this direction will be sharp and consistent.”

(2022-04-21 Salam Kyrgyzstan)

They also stressed that Uzra Zeya’s visit to Central Asia is a “dangerous trip” aimed at destabilizing the region. All four pages we analyzed were dominated by anti-American messages, and almost all of them were slanderous.

And the war in Ukraine is presented from the point of view and rhetoric of the Kremlin.

The reports note that the war in Ukraine was started by Western countries, the United States and Vladimir Zelensky, who collaborated with them, and Russia’s actions are described as “an operation against neo-Nazism.”

In addition, the political and economic relations of Kyrgyzstan with Turkish-speaking countries, especially Turkey, are characterized negatively. In particular, they portray the “Turan” idea, which aims to unite Turkish-speaking countries, as a “pipe dream.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who openly supports this idea, faces a lot of criticism in these pages.

Against Kyrgyz identity: How Russian propaganda works on social networks?

“Terrorists may invade”: Messages that create fear

In these pages, through “the demonization of the enemy, a tool of manipulation, the West is presented as a party interested in destabilizing Central Asia.

Statements are made in the rhetoric of “Terrorists may invade Kyrgyzstan”, “The West is seeking to make Central Asia a second Afghanistan”, “Tajikistan attacked Kyrgyzstan at the direction of the West and may attack again.” This creates a sense of fear, uncertainty and suspicion among the population

It can be noted that such statements are aimed at maintaining Russian influence in Central Asia. This is because after many fear-mongering and provocative statements, Russia is being portrayed as the only friendly country trying to bring peace to Central Asia. And the countries of Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan, are promoted as a weak country that cannot defend itself and always needs help.

“An alliance with partners is the most effective solution in the fight for security in the face of geopolitical threats. It is very difficult for Central Asian countries to confront threats alone. The tragedy in Kazakhstan clearly proved this. In addition, regional instability is fueled by problems in Afghanistan and terrorist threats. Yes, Western players are increasingly saying that they have chosen Central Asia as the target of another instability.”

(2022-07-13 Dve tochki zreniya)

Among the provocative messages one can also find words inciting interregional hatred. For example, there are cases where words such as «southern official» and «northern clan» highlight the origins of the person in question.

Contempt for the media, NGOs and activists

On the pages we analyzed, independent media, non-governmental organizations and a certain group of activists in Kyrgyzstan are systematically discredited. For example, among non-governmental organizations Soros-Kyrgyzstan, Internews Kyrgyzstan and international organizations such as NED, OSCE, USAID are presented in a negative light.

“Soros Kyrgyzstan and non-governmental organizations have begun new work. Now they are creating an army of “informers” and traitors in the Kyrgyz state.”

(2022-08-06 “Tentek kyz”)

As for the Kyrgyz media, Azattyk, Kloop, and Kaktus were attacked by these pages. When defaming the media, manipulative techniques of “blaming” and “labeling” are often used. For example, Kaktus and Azattyk were accused of presenting Tajikistan’s position when covering conflicts on the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in 2022 and called them “treasonous media.” And Kloop is described as media that promotes Western values.

“We all know that Azattyk, Kloop and Kaktus Media are financed by money from the United States and the European Union, and work only to strain society and follow the instructions of the West. So it’s time to close them.»

(2022-10-13 “Tentek kyz”)

also attacked on these pages. For example, journalists Bektur Iskender, Adil Turdukulov and activist Urmat Zhanybaev have been criticized for openly supporting Ukraine.

These pages also carry out an active smear campaign against figures raising issues related to the decline of Russian influence in Kyrgyzstan and decolonization. For example, activists such as Rita Karasartova, Dinara Oshurakhunova and Umay Arykova have been called “agents of the West spreading Russophobia” in Kyrgyzstan.

What links pages: shared experts and links

In addition to messages aimed at increasing Russian influence, the four pages we analyzed have other connections. Firstly, only opinions and interviews of certain people as experts are published on the pages.

For example, on all four pages Alexander Knyazev and Dinmukhamed Almambetov are presented as experts on Kyrgyzstan’s relations with other countries and security issues. Alexander Knyazev is most often mentioned.

Alexander Knyazev is known in Kyrgyzstan as a political scientist. Sputnik Kyrgyzstan, financed by Russia, regularly reprints Knyazev’s thoughts. It is interesting that in 2013, Knyazev wrote an article on the website “Kyrgyzstan – a country of brutal fascism?” After the article was published, he was banned from entering Kyrgyzstan. After this, it was said that Alexander Knyazev frightened the then authorities with connections from the Kremlin.

Dinmukhamed Almambetov is one of those who regularly gives interviews to these pages and is positioned as a security expert. In open sources we found a short biography from Sputnik Kyrgyzstan, which only states that he served in military units in the southern and northern regions of the country. Almambetov also took part in the 2021 parliamentary elections together with the “El Umutu” party.

An interesting fact — on the analyzed pages there are also a lot of messages promoting the leader of the El Umutu party Almaza Askar uulu.

The second thing the pages have in common is that they link to the same media and to each other. For example, in more than a year, four pages linked more than a hundred times to the Kremlin-controlled Sputnik Kyrgyzstan.

The “Aimak” Telegram channel presented in the graph is focused on Kyrgyzstan, and the “Segodnya KZ” Telegram channel is focused on Kazakhstan. They also spread Russian propaganda.

In addition, pages actively share each other’s posts. For example, the “Dve tochki zreniya” page linked to the “Polit Lombard” page, which we analyzed, 53 times, and to “Salam Kyrgyzstan” — 18 times.

Russian propaganda in a new space

Despite the collapse of the USSR, Russia is still trying to maintain its influence in post-Soviet countries. To do this, it actively uses the media and conducts extensive activities in the information space of some countries. For example, the TV channels ORT, Rossiya 24, RTR, Kultura and Zvezda are broadcast in Kyrgyzstan. In the Kyrgyz Republic we have an editorial office of the Sputnik news agency, which is banned in some countries for disseminating Russian propaganda. In addition, the newspapers “Arguments and Facts”, “Rossiyskaya Gazeta”, “Moskovsky Komsomolets” and “Komsomolskaya Pravda” are sold in kiosks in Kyrgyzstan.

And for the last two and a half years, Russian propaganda channels aimed at the countries of Central Asia have been open and actively operating on social networks and instant messengers.

Author: “PolitKlinika”

Illustration: The Economist

You can familiarize yourself with the methodology here.

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