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The three D’s on Ukraine from Medvedchuk: degradation, deindustrialization, and deintellectualization. Disinformation monitor #50

  • Zelensky's comment on re-election in Belarus gave the Belarusian authorities reason to point out Ukrainian problems and accuse Ukrainians of interfering
  • Pessimism and apocalyptic reflections on the eve of Independence Day.
  • Disinformers interpret Ukrainian support for the protests in Belarus as a desire to "liquidate Minsk as a negotiating platform for the Donbas."
  • Is Poroshenko conducting a "soft catch of the Servant of the People" and anticipating victory in an early presidential election?
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization
  • Period: August 17–23, 2020

Headline of the week

“Ukrainian career lift: the Cossack who chopped Zelensky's cucumber goes into politics. He will be a deputy”

Anti-protest of the week

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues covered a small meeting of "not indifferent Ukrainians" in support of Lukashenko. Its participants disseminated classic messages of Russian propaganda about the non-repetition of the Ukrainian scenario in Belarus, they held posters with the words “Belarus! Stand up as the Brest Fortress against "colored" and "Maidan" coups!"

Disinfo topics

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

Mocking Zelensky and advice not to meddle with Belarus

Every week, manipulative media produce texts in which they try to ridicule or discredit Zelensky. Not criticize but namely discredit. Last week, there were clickbaits such as "Zelensky mourning" (about the president's publication dedicated to late musician Skriabin's birthday) and "The Cossack who chopped Zelensky's cucumber goes into politics" ("a Cossack who became famous for cutting in half a cucumber lying in the palm of the President is to participate in the local elections”).

Zelensky's comment on the situation in Belarus containing advice for Lukashenko to hold re-elections caused a wave of materials. And while Ukrainian manipulative publications mostly quoted Zelensky himself, Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues used Zelensky's comment only as an occasion to quote in detail the response from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, which initially manipulated in a Russian manner that "Ukraine is a fraternal country for us and Ukrainian people are fraternal for Belarusians", and ended up with the reproduction of theses of Russian propaganda about the destructive consequences of the Revolution of Dignity: "In our opinion, the Ukrainian leadership, for many years to come, will have more important issues to deal with daily inside their country than to give advice to its neighbors." The same trick was used by Russian mainstream sites, publishing materials under headlines such as "Minsk has renounced the "worn-out" advice of Zelensky."

Lukashenko accuses Zelensky of instigating protests

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues, when writing about the protests in Belarus, drew parallels with the Revolution of Dignity. They wrote a lot, using a variety of propaganda theses that are already familiar to us (that is, the theses well "polished" at Ukrainian events).

For example, they mentioned that for some participants the protests were only "part of the asylum process in Europe" and described "a whole business where people form an opposition portfolio and it is very easy to get asylum and citizenship."

They never forgot to blame the West. However, an emphasis was placed on Russia's superiority in resolving this geopolitical confrontation. They wrote that "the West allows Russia to settle the situation in Belarus" because Belarus is only a "Potemkin village financed with Moscow's money" and therefore is "an immanent part of Russia's sphere of influence and will remain there whoever comes to power, and the West has neither the strength nor the means to get Belarus out of there."

Ukraine, and Zelensky in particular, was also tried to be portrayed as a party that sought to discredit Lukashenko's government. Allegedly, "it is very profitable for Ukraine to get Belarus caught in a military conflict" in order to "eliminate Minsk as a negotiating platform for the Donbas" (as if the negotiations are only possible in Minsk). They even frightened their readers that "Ukraine is preparing a military offensive in the Donbas in case of the entry of Russian troops into Belarus."

Russian manipulators theorized that "Russia has reason to consider Ukraine and Belarus as its legitimate sphere of influence" because "these countries are located in a key security zone of Moscow. The Kremlin will do much to prevent an increase in NATO's already significant military presence at its borders." At the same time, mainstream Russian websites quoted Lavrov as "stating external interference in the affairs of Belarus" and Peskov: "attempts to intervene from the outside in the situation in Belarus are unacceptable." These statements do not mention the inadmissibility of also Russian interference in the affairs of Belarus. Remember the penetration of Russian methods of hybrid warfare into the Belarusian media space or gradual replacement of Belarusian TV journalists with Russia Today employees.

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Local election: OPFL opposes the list of polls without election in the Donbas, Palchevsky's propaganda in Kyiv

The topic of the local elections, which are due at the end of October, is gaining momentum together with the active promotion of Palchevsky (a candidate for mayor of Kyiv) who multiplies content for dozens of garbage sites and actively uses fake polls. Now this candidate has focused on urban issues and pays tribute to the soldiers killed in the Russian-Ukrainian war, but back in March he declared “the possibility of stopping the war. Russia really wants to stop the war”(archive).

Last week, members of the OPFL tried to appeal the Central Election Committee’s decision not to hold elections in some territorial communities in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Based on the findings of the military-civil administrations, the CEC decided not to hold elections in some front-line polling stations where voting took place in 2019, although the situation at the front has changed little. Indeed, experts emphasize the possible political bias of the CEC's decision, but the OPFL does so in an emotionally manipulative way. For example, Nimchenko accused that "CEC officials and military-civil administration leaders acted together, for political and ideological reasons," allegedly because "residents of the controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts would not support the pro-government political force in the local elections, and this would affect the election results." And Boyko addressed "heads of so-called military-civil administrations" with a requirement either to provide elections, or resign. It should be noted that the call to resign has already become a classic recipe for representatives of the OPFL, who regularly call for the resignation of the president, his office, the Cabinet, the NBU, and others who disagree with their pro-Russian position.

Meanwhile, Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues wrote that Poroshenko was carrying out a "soft catch of the Servant of the People." The inspiration for this position was the anonymous Telegram channel "Legitimate" (one of the main participants in our investigation of the methods of Russian influence on Ukrainian deputies). It was described how “Poroshenko launched a thorough work to reformat the party of President Vladimir Zelensky "Servant of the People" into a resource under his control" and how he "pushes his people into the "Servant of the People". All this, allegedly, is done in order to "return to the presidency, and not necessarily waiting for the next election." Russian sites name as Poroshenko’s people almost all politicians with a pro-Ukrainian position who join the pro-government party (which, let us remind you, was created in 2018 and therefore cannot boast of a large regional network and “their own” deputies with many years of experience). This is probably done in order to reduce the influence and position of pro-Ukrainian politicians in the ruling party.

Economy: hryvnia's decline, budget hole, overstatements about the IMF loans

Both Ukrainian and Russian manipulative publications continued to develop the topic of Ukraine's economic impoverishment last week. However, Ukrainian manipulators saw the reasons in the actions of the government of Shmyhal and the "Ze-populists" (“The creative guys managed to send the economy into negatives during a favorable world context, even before the coronavirus, and after 4 years of growth during the rule of profiteers), while Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues continued to characterize the Ukrainian government exclusively as puppets, writing that "the IMF trap has snapped - Ukraine will not get out." In support of their theses, they ironically mentioned how "Volodymyr Zelensky, through his television alter ego, Vasyl Holoborodko, told the IMF officials to screw off" and once again called Ukraine "an agricultural appendage of the West and a cheap sweatshop." Let us remember that the interest rates on IMF loans are rather low, and that Ukraine used to be an "appendage" and "colony" as part of the Russian Empire and the USSR.

The level of economic expertise of the contributors to Russian propaganda sites is evidenced by their assessment of corruption: “corruption is not even a competitive advantage, it is a condition for the survival of most of the Ukrainian business structures in the global economy. And, in fact, the basis of the sovereignty of a country like Ukraine, which is no longer able to defend itself in any other way”.

Also this week:

Medvedchuk spamming on the Independence Day

Viktor Medvedchuk used the Independence Day occasion in order to disseminate his speech "Three main enemies of Ukraine, or the results of 29 years of independence" in manipulative publications, where, using data favorable to himself, he reflects on the degradation, deindustrialization, and deintellectualization of Ukraine. It will be recalled that Viktor Medvedchuk himself, despite his role as an opposition politician, has been in power (that is, in senior political positions) since the late 1990s and can therefore also be held responsible for the phenomena he himself describes.

Spy stories

Information from Butusov, the editor-in-chief of Censor.net, that Wagner's mercenaries detained in Belarus were the targets of a special operation of Ukrainian intelligence and arrived in Belarus in transit to Kyiv did not go unnoticed by disinformers and manipulative sites. A popular explanation on Russian resources is that it is Poroshenko who is pumping the thesis of "high treason" of Yermak and Zelensky, in order to stage a coup (once again). Ukrainian manipulators mostly believed in the failed operation of the Ukrainian special services.

Russian sites wrote about another failed Ukrainian special operation to capture a high-ranking terrorist from the Donbas. The SBU refutes this information.

External policy

In addition to Belarus, disinformers raised the traditional topic of Ukrainian-American relations, which is now naturally focused on the US elections. There were statements about the lack of support from the US because Trump is sided with Russia, and the pro-Russian MP, on the contrary, assured that "It will also be bad for us if Biden wins, because we will have a lot of questions about whether or not we have external governance."

Both positions are united by disbelief in supra-party support for Ukraine in its opposition to Russian aggression, which actually exists in the United States. Such statements are superficially patriotic, but they demoralize by reports that Ukraine is not needed by external partners and that it lacks support. This is one of the strategies of disinformation: "no one needs you, give up."

Crimea

The schedule of water outages due to drought on the peninsula has been reported. Crimean sites in the occupied territories either write about it neutrally or report plans to solve the problem. Mainstream Russian sites mention the tourist season in Crimea, the fight against the impact of sanctions, and the possible recognition of annexation by Belarus. That is, they do not focus on water. Occupationist sites traditionally try to portray the "good life under the occupation."

Summary

Belarus remains among the most mentioned topics of the week. Disinformation about this has many purposes: to once again expose the Maidan as a defeat for the Ukrainian people, to intimidate Belarusians, and to accuse Ukraine of foreign interference.

On Ukrainian manipulative sites, a significant part of the materials is devoted to local elections, specifically, Palchevsky's propaganda and emotional protests of the OPFL about the list of polling stations in Donbas where there will be no voting according to the CEC decision. Russian sites have not yet shown much interest in the topic and are writing more about the consequences of the election for all-Ukrainian politics. They expect the influence of the "Servants of the People" to decrease and Poroshenko's position to strengthen. In the Russian disinformation, candidates for the local elections are divided into "Soroslings" (this includes some "servants" and the candidate for mayor of Kyiv from the "Voice" party Serhiy Prytula with his statement about the need to increase tariffs), and the rest. The thesis of external governance has become almost as commonly used as the "failed state."

On the eve of Independence Day, some of the publications were reflections on the achievements and defeats of the state during its existence. While regional websites wrote about the celebration program, Ukrainian mainstream websites published the results of opinion polls on independence, manipulative websites mentioned impoverishment, migration sentiment, and lost economic potential (ie, energy-intensive, obsolete Soviet industries, detached from the market and people’s needs). The lion's share of these publications differed minimally and consisted of Medvedchuk's opinion, but we also noticed other commentators on the "collapse of the country." These statements were reprinted by Russian disinformation sites.

Methodology

We searched for topics in 12200 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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