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Anything but Maidan. Russian propagandists wish for a Tiananmen in Belarus. Disinfo monitor #49

  • The protests in Belarus are supposedly the work of external forces and they "must" be brutally suppressed, as in Hong Kong.
  • Tighter quarantine in the red zone is inflated into a "parade of sovereignties".
  • A series of terrorist attacks in Ukraine (without casualties) indicates "collective madness and general apathy".
  • The cease-fire was called a "feint before the local elections".
  • The oligarchs were christened "holders of sovereignty."
  • See how disinformation topics have changed throughout the year in our interactive visualization

Period: August 3–9, 2020

Disinfo topics

% of news related to the topic among all mews from the group of sites

Headline of the week

“It doesn’t matter winter ones or summer ones”. Ukraine proposes starting school with burning tyres”

Slip up of the week

"If you want to support the staff of the independent news agency "Antifascist", please send transfers to Yandex-Wallet"

This is what sites that target Ukraine write, forgetting that Yandex does not work in Ukraine.

Lukashenko "flirts with the West" while he ought to "take China as a model"

Protests against presidential election fraud and police brutality began in Belarus last week. The protests quickly became one of the main topics not only in the real news, but also for disinformers. They wrote about the fate of the detained Wagner mercenaries of the Russian private military company and accused Lukashenko that his recent actions "hope to lure to his side those who voted for him before, as well as "tell the West that he is not as Russian as they believe".

In addition, Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues could not help but compare the events in Belarus with the protests in Ukraine. They tried to discredit the protests as much as possible and also discredit all the participants, calling Andriy Parubiy a "defective 100% degenerate." And their consequences were described as follows: "Erasing the memory of millions of people by brainwashing with shock information." Instead, they offered China as their recipe for stability as opposed to "external intervention" through protests.

They hinted that Lukashenko ought to follow the example of the Chinese Communist Party, which in 1989 dispersed student protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The Chinese leadership ordered the army to use firearms and tanks against unarmed students who demanded the democratization of the country. As a result, several hundred to several thousand people died. Official China avoids, and often censors, any mention of the 1989 events.

Finally, disinformers even tried to "prove" that Lukashenko's resignation and democratization of Belarus were not beneficial for Ukraine. Allegedly, it would lead to “this country becoming "the favorite Eastern European wife for the West: money will flow there, loans, investments, and grants."

As for Russia, they assured that "Russians have formed a negative attitude towards the Ukrainian Maidans," so nothing similar (ie, mass protests against the government) can ever happen in Russia. We will remind that in Russia there were already mass protests against falsifications at elections in 2011-2013 on Bolotnaya Square. Numerous and protracted protests are currently taking place in Khabarovsk.

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Coronavirus and the "parade of sovereignties"

The division of Ukraine into zones and the suspension of transport connections with Ternopil and Lutsk (which are now in the red zone) shocked the media and returned the topic of coronavirus to our monitoring. Ukrainian manipulative publications used this information drive the most, pumping up emotions by writing about the "transport blockade", and they called these events "an idiotic invention of the president's office", which seems to be "far more destructive for the unity of countries than even the open supporters of the Russian world", and the refusal to strengthen quarantine on the part of local authorities was once again christened "a parade of regional sovereignties".

Russian mainstream media, citing "statements by Western Ukrainian city councils about the disobedience of the central government in 2013 and 2004," speculated that the center's ties with the regions "are increasingly questionable" and even predicted that Ukraine would face "either a reboot and the emergence of a viable center, or regionalization, federalization and, at the limit, disintegration." They compared the central government's response to the statements of the mayors of Western Ukraine and the events in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in 2014. And here they openly manipulated by writing that "All (regions - Texty.org.ua) are equal, but some are more equal than others."

These are two completely different stories. The mayors of Ternopil and Lutsk act within their powers and oppose stricter quarantine because it is not popular among voters. In 2014, riots initiated by Russian citizens first took place in Eastern Ukraine. The authorities reacted calmly and went to negotiations. But later a group of Russian militants led by Igor Girkin invaded Ukraine. And after a while, Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border and began fighting on the side of the militants.

And the events of the last week unfolded against the background of new records of Covid-19 incidence. Any decision in this situation can be presented as "anti-people", because it is a balance between protecting people from the virus and the deterioration of the economic situation through lockdowns.

Terrorism epidemic

Another terrorist act with hostage-taking (this time in Kyiv) caused a wave of speculation in Ukrainian manipulative publications about the root causes of the intensification of terrorism in Ukraine. The attacker, who has the citizenship of a Central Asian country, asked journalists from TV channels, who often broadcast live from the scene, to come to him. He behaved senselessly. Journalists from Channel 112, linked to Viktor Medvedchuk, were among the first to arrive and broadcast live not only the terrorist, but also the pro-Russian blogger and founder of the party of the same name, Anatoly Shariy.

Manipulative publications linked the so-called "terrorism epidemic" to the local elections, they blamed Zelensky for a video he recorded at the request of a terrorist in Lutsk, and speculated as “flexibly” as possible about a possible conflict between the Security Service of Ukraine and the Interior Ministry. “I do not want to say that the SSU or the Interior Ministry organizes terrorist attacks, but if they had a normal relationship, then maybe all this would be solved in a calmer environment”.

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues saw these events as "a sign of an unhealthy society and an inefficient state." And, adding to the terrorist acts the protests of the passengers of the train, the driver of which did not stop in Ternopil (due to the inclusion of the city in the red zone), they concluded that Ukraine "gently slides into collective madness and general apathy" and "has entered a state of monthly terrorist trash." Not far behind were the mainstream Russian websites that produced headlines such as "In the World: The Coronavirus Caused an Epidemic of Recklessness and Troubles in Ukraine."

Also this week:

Local elections and Medvedchuk's self-glorification

Among the growing amount of paid-for publications and "expert" comments on the eve of the local elections, Ukrainian manipulative publications did not forget to push the thesis that "The Servants" will be interested in forming a coalition with OPFL”, and they once again praised Medvedchuk: "by autumn, the question will not be whether the Servants' audience is ready to accept an alliance with the OPFL, but whether Medvedchuk will agree to take Zelensky's Servants into the coalition."

Fakes about cease-fire

The usual fakes about the violation of the cease-fire by the Armed Forces were complemented last week with the Russian disinformation that the truce is just a "feint before the local elections, because the rating of "Servants of the People" is falling into the abyss every day," accusation the US allegedly dissatisfied with the cease-fire ("because all the Washington’s efforts to inflame the "Russian-Ukrainian war" may be in vain") and all possible attempts to discredit the Armed Forces, such as allegations of arson of military equipment "in a state of alcoholic intoxication."

Threats of a “new Donbas” in Western Ukraine

Another disseminated fake from Russian sites targeting Ukraine last week: "Kyiv fears violent acts of disobedience by extremists from radical terrorist groups that could pose a danger to members of national minorities, the Hungarians and the Poles." Thus, the already classic thesis about the federalization of Western Ukraine was supplemented by a scarecrow that "militants of one of the brigades of the Armed Forces will be sent to the territory of the Lviv region to suppress the riots." The disinformers did not specify what "riots" were in question.

However, often the same Russian propaganda is behind the incitement of hostility against national minorities in Ukraine, at the behest of which demonstrative ultranationalist actions are taking place. As, for example, it was in 2018, when the Hungarian Cultural Center was set on fire in Uzhhorod at the request of an openly pro-Russian “German journalist”.

Kolomoisky opposes "external forces"

Disinformers wrote winderfully favorably about the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. A few years ago, he was a caricature enemy of Russian propaganda and evidence of the "disintegration" of the Ukrainian state. Now, on manipulative sites he was written about as one of the holders of "sovereignty" (along with other oligarchs of the country), who can resist "external forces". The list of external forces is predictable: these are American politicians and philanthropists, whom Russian propaganda mentions on every occasion. "Kolomoisky directly threatens their protégés in Ukraine who impose policies favorable to America."

This is not surprising, since Kolomoisky and his media have been keeping "journalists" in Ukraine for several years, pursuing a policy that benefits Russia.

Summary

This week, disinformers wrote about the protests in Belarus and drew parallels with Ukraine. In the protests, they saw the hand of "external forces" and tried to push Lukashenko to brutally suppress them. As an example to follow, they cite China's actions in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Hundreds of protesters were killed by the military at the time, and the exact number of deaths is still unknown. China censors mentioning those events in every possible way.

As for Ukraine, manipulative sites try to pass off any contradictions between the government and the regions as a "parade of sovereignties." This time, the reason was a new system of "adaptive quarantine" in the country. According to it, additional restrictions should be introduced in those areas where the epidemic is developing the fastest. Among the restrictions were banning the movement and stops of trains, which caused outrage in Lutsk and Ternopil.

Disinformers called the western regions a "new Donbas" where "riots" take place (they did not specify the localities). It should be noted that often the same Russian propaganda is behind the incitement of hostility against national minorities in Ukraine. For example, in 2018, at the request of a pro-Russian "German journalist", the Hungarian Cultural Center was set on fire in Uzhhorod.

Methodology

We searched for topics in 14059 materials in the Russian language from:

Manipulation in news was singled out by our improved AI classifier developed in the project We’ve got bad news. In the monitoring, we only regarded materials about social and political life which are about Ukraine.

Limitations of the study:

In this study, we only regarded the topics which are in line with Russian disinformation campaigns. Most of them are based on real events, as disinformation works more effectively this way. Topic names reflect manipulations used in the topic. Accordingly, news stories on Ukrainian mainstream sites on the same topic may have completely different content from that of manipulative materials.

We take the topics of Russian propaganda in Ukraine from the following groups of materials:

In the first and second groups of news, the materials were selected by the AI classifier of manipulative news.

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