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Fokin is the star. Disinformation monitor #52

  • Fokin voicing an “adequate stance” on the Minsk process
  • Manipulations about the Russian language on the eve of local elections
  • Scaring about the beginning of school year during the epidemic
  • Writing that Zelensky “does not want” peace
  • Spreading myths about “200 militants from Ukraine” in Belarus
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization

Period: August 31 – September 6, 2020

Disinfo topics

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

Quote of the week

The propaganda of federalization in Ukraine is now banned, which is not surprising: even Hitler in "Mein Kampf" fiercely criticized federalism, so what can you expect from his ideological heirs

Syntagm of the week: “Coronavirus egocentric”

This is how a man was named who refused to wear a mask on a trolleybus. And we would not have mentioned this in the monitoring, were it not for the attention of Ukrainian manipulators to every "anti-mask" incident. Writing about them, garbage sites not only produce clickbait headlines ("Naked man in Khmelnytsky trolleybus paralyzes traffic, passengers enraged"), the manipulative sites also carefully cite the arguments of scandalmongers, forgetting the arguments in favor of wearing masks. Thus they popularize neglect of means of containment of a virus.

Ukrainians don't want peace while Fokin's stance is "adequate"

The statement by Vitold Fokin (Prime Minister during Kravchuk's presidency, now the first deputy head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Tripartite Contact Group on Donbas) that granting special status to the entire Donbass would lead to peace has sparked criticism and publications. And while mainstream Ukrainian sites quoted Avakov, Kravchuk, or Razumkov as saying that Fokin's stance did not reflect the position of the Ukrainian delegation, Ukrainian manipulators did everything they could to stir up emotions. They quoted the pro-Russian anonymous telegram channel Resident, pondered Kravchuk-Medvedchuk's cunning plans, and simply resorted to ageism, describing Fokin as "senile," "deeply disoriented and dilapidated," "naive" "old lunatic."

However, Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues sided with the former prime minister and used the emotional criticism of Fokin for their own ends. They wrote about the "information campaign against the representatives of Ukraine in the TCG", about the desire to "disrupt the peace process in eastern Ukraine" with Fokin’s dismissal, that "it makes sense to rejoice that Fokin, at least, was not beaten like Sivokho", contemplated that “even worse" people would come in place of Fokin, and frightened their readers with aggressive nationalists who "speak in various public places with dirty insults to the Ukrainian ruler, calling to send him to the dump of history and even lynch him on Khreshchatyk street."

As soon as a Ukrainian official voiced an adequate position contrary to the nationalist forces, all his colleagues immediately denounced him, and the compromises he voiced immediately fell into the category of ‘going contrary to national interests’ ”

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Local elections as pretext to split the country

In Ukraine, local elections are approaching, and disinformers are beginning to write more actively about them. They are trying to spread distrust of the central government to local self-government, criticizing regional parties and politicians: "The voter will once again be misled by the promise of renewal of political life at least at the regional level." However, it is regional policy projects and incumbent mayors that retain leadership in most major cities, such as Kyiv, Dnipro, Ivano-Frankivsk, and others.

They also try to manipulate language and nationality issues in local elections. They write that in Ukraine "the policy of ethnocide of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine and revelry of street gangs continues”.

There are several narratives about events in the regions. For example, in the Chernihiv region, “Akhmetov's servant Lyashko" is running for the Verkhovna Rada, and the People's Servant has put up a weak opponent. In Dnipro, Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues support deputy Buzhansky and moan that the People’s Servant did not elect him as a candidate for mayor because "He is a tough anti-Westerner, which is clearly not suitable for the People’s Servant." As for Odessa, disinformers write about the People’s Servant’s "secret alliance" with Gennady Trukhanov, who also received a "comfortable" opponent in the election.

To sum up, disinformers describe the main problems of Ukraine before the local elections as follows: "the continuation of the policy of discrimination against Russian language and Russian-speaking people, lack of progress in Donbas within the framework of the "Minsk agreements", foreign agents in positions in supervisory boards and in the management of state concerns, the absence of punishment for the main state and war criminal and his organized criminal group Roshen". You can read about real problems as Ukrainians see them in this poll. Spoiler: they are different.

Also this week:

Coronavirus in school. "Hasta la vista, quarantine"

Ukrainian media wrote about the coronavirus mainly in the context of the beginning of the new school year. The mainstream and manipulative media focused on communication problems, conflicting recommendations, and a lack of government funding for quarantine measures in educational institutions. However, the manipulators, as always, pumped emotions: "Forcing parents to buy masks is like selling tickets to a bomb shelter." Yes, the Ministry of Education and Science has failed to prepare schools, we pay attention to emotional unwarranted injections when there are enough arguments. Political scientists, journalists, and politicians were posed as "experts" who demanded in a populist way "insuring educators and raising teachers' salaries" (a good idea, but not very feasible in the context of underfunding).

Zelensky does not control the SSU and does not want peace

Zelensky was often mentioned this week in connection with the work of the Ukrainian special services. According to Russian disinformers, he does not control the latter, because "Virtually all of Ukraine's special services become simple branches of the CIA and US military intelligence." The reason for such statements was the "failed SSU special operation", which according to Russian media and some Ukrainian politicians and journalists was to end with the detention of Wagner mercenaries who fought against Ukrainians in the Donbas and with the landing of a plane in which they were to fly in Ukraine. Zelensky himself is accused by disinformers of not "wanting peace" enough and not fulfilling the Minsk agreements. It will be recalled that Ukraine has recently agreed to separate its troops away from the pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine, and has also complied with the ceasefire despite shelling by the self-proclaimed authorities of occupied territories. Russia has not even provided a cease-fire, which its puppets want to violate again.

Belarus: Russia meddling, Ukraine accused

Disinformers continue to write a lot about Belarus. Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues promoted two theses. The first is that "Lukashenko can play for another six months or a year, but if he does not start reforms, he will sooner or later be overthrown." Guess what reforms we are talking about? Yes, you know the right answer. Belarus must "reform into a common space with Russia." This view sounds very strange given that the protests in Belarus began against election fraud and police brutality, rather than "insufficient integration with Russia." And Russia itself has become the main pillar of the Lukashenko regime.

The other thesis repeated by disinformers is that "radical participants in the riots in Belarus have been trained in Ukraine." Ukraine is accused of preparing "militants for export" and meddling in Belarusian politics. However, no Ukrainian radicals have been detained in Belarus so far. Instead, Russian security forces and propagandists move freely around the country.

Summary

This week, much attention was focused on the Minsk peace process and the upcoming local elections. Vitold Fokin, the first Prime Minister of Ukraine who was recently appointed to the TCG, has become a hero for Russian sites targeting Ukraine. They wrote that the former prime minister voiced an "adequate stance", and "nationalists" united against him. Fokin expressed the opinion that it was necessary to give a separate status to the unoccupied territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions together with the occupied one. This practically means handing over the Donbas to militants and the Russian military.

As for the local elections, disinformers tried to shift the focus from Ukrainian problems to their own ideological mirages of “discrimination against the Russian language and Russian-speakers, a foreign agency in office, and the Roshen organized criminal group”. At the same time, they sincerely wonder why their theses are not used by any serious candidates for mayors of large cities. This is not surprising, because most citizens are not concerned with the status of the Russian language or the supervisory boards of banks, but are concerned with corruption, the coronavirus epidemic, and war.

Methodology

We searched for topics in 18223 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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