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“The President boy” gets ready to attack Russia. Disinformation monitor #68

  • Zelensky was attacked and blamed for rising utility tariffs
  • Ukraine was accused of aggressive military plans
  • Refusal of the Russian vaccine was compared to sectarianism and the anti-vaccination movement
  • It was exaggerated that the closure of Medvedchuk's channels had been condemned by "thousands of the world's major media"
  • Zelensky was described as a president with dictatorial ambitions who, however, has no decision power
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization

Period: February 8—14, 2021

Disinfo topics

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

What’s new in disinformation?

The arguments in defense of Medvedchuk’s channels were supplemented by the thesis about the low quality of Ukrainian journalism and the need to close (or at least check) other channels. Hate speech voiced by the news anchor of the host of Channel 4 was used. Disinformers wrote that Ukraine was preparing an "offensive" against the occupied territories and even against "continental Russia." On the issue of relations with external partners, disinformers defended Dubinsky who was "betrayed" (literally “dropped”) by the Office of the President after the change of administration in the United States.

Helpless Zelensky with dictatorial ambitions

During our monitoring work, we have constantly reflected on how the attitude of disinformers towards President Zelensky is changing. According to Russian propaganda, he changed from a savior of Ukraine from the "fascist regime of Poroshenko" into Poroshenko’s lookalike and later even surpassed his predecessor. And last week, Russian mainstream sites, reacting to the closure of Medvedchuk's channels, made the headline that "Zelensky’s dictatorial ambitions revealed: He is leading Ukraine towards a national catastrophe."

Russian websites targeting Ukraine combined the thesis of Zelensky's alleged fascism with theses about his weakness and helplessness: "Emptiness in the president's chair: it doesn't bother anyone and doesn't solve anything." On the Ukraine.ru website, Zelensky is called a "President boy" and his hypocrisy has been contemptuously described ("he writes poems to his wife in the mova [in Russian, derogative for the Ukrainian language - Texty.org.ua], although everyone knows that he communicates with his dearest half in pure Russian").

Ukraine cannot accomplish the "Minsk 2" so it’s preparing a military offensive

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues have repeatedly said that the Ukrainian authorities "have now started on the instructions of the American masters, namely the intensification of this conflict (in the Donbas)." Disinformation also accused Germany and France of unwillingness to negotiate with Russian puppets in the occupied territories. "Germany and France, members of the "Normandy format", enter into dialogue with representatives of the Syrian or Venezuelan opposition and with unrecognized state entities in the Eastern Mediterranean"

They reiterated propagandist theses about Ukraine's aggressive intentions: "Ukrainian occupationist forces are preparing a "lightning" attack in the Donbas." In the summer, we reviewed OSCE data on shelling. The data showed that most shootings are from the occupied territories. It is noteworthy that since the beginning of the "truce", the Ukrainian military have been suffering losses from shelling, snipers, and mines.

Disinformers also argue that Ukrainian society would not accept capitulation in the form of "peace agreements." "Any president who tries to implement Minsk-2 will be immediately overthrown by local radicals who are strengthening their positions."

Regarding Telegram channels. They are also spreading lies about the preparation of an offensive by the Ukrainian military. Among them are the channels that were recently exposed by the SSU in their work for Russia. They write: “The costs associated with loading and unloading are borne by the Ministry of Defense. When do you need additional fuel for the army, especially from the state reserve? When serious outgo is expected soon... The puzzles of the future military aggravation in Donbass have been put together for a long time". They substantiate their manipulations with ratings: "Zelensky, saving the miserable remnants of his rating, demonstrates in every way that the Donbas will be on fire again."

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Refusing the Russian vaccine and a "betrayal of Ukrainian people"

Both Ukrainian clickbaits and Russian sites targeting Ukraine continue to push the thesis "Ukrainian authorities intimidate citizens, as they themselves can not give anything to their people." And, along with criticism of the failure of the start of general vaccination, they advertise the Russian vaccine. To do this, Ukrainian clickbaits even quoted Peskov (Putin's spokesman) as saying that "the global demand for the Russian vaccine is so great that the production potential now does not allow it to be met quickly." Which, however, did not explain why in this case Russia has such great interest in Ukraine as a potential buyer: "if Ukraine does not want it, other countries will get more, countries that ask for this vaccine and are ready to accept it with gratitude." In fact, according to the independent Russian publication Meduza, Russia lacks the capacity to make a vaccine. We wrote about this problem in our article. In addition, Russians themselves do not trust their own vaccine.

Russian websites have been even more radical, focusing on criticism of the Cabinet's ban on certifying the Russian vaccine in Ukraine. Mainstream Russian media published articles such as "Betrayal of the Ukrainian people: why Kyiv refuses the Russian vaccine "Sputnik V" and claimed that the ban was caused by "psychological problems": "Ukraine is a country steeped in complexes, nationalism, which it sees as patriotism, and xenophobia. Accordingly, the authorities in Ukraine are more afraid to show any weakness in the face of Russia."

And Russian sites that write about Ukraine have stamped Ukrainophobic texts in which they contemplated that “Political Ukrainianness is not even an ideology. It's more of a sect. With the superstitions characteristic of any sect and other things (...) for them, death is not the worst, it is much worse to "get dirty" by an act that does not fit into their (…) system of values and thus destroy the immortal soul."

At the same time, Ukrainians were ridiculed for their distrust of Russia, because it contradicts the propaganda narrative of "fraternal peoples" ("Everything that is Russian is bad. It comes from the devil. Anathema!"), and they tried to drive readers into logical traps (“these same people are quite resigned to the consumption of Russian gas, Russian electricity, and many other Russian things") and even accused critics of the Russian vaccine of spreading the anti-vaccination movement: "it is the Ukrainian government, refusing the universally recognized "Sputnik V", which creates distrust of the very fact of vaccination."

And in Telegram, where bloggers are usually even less burdened with decency, they promoted hate speech against supporters of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine (the author proposes to vaccinate pro-Russian citizens with the Sputnik vaccine): "Is it possible to forcibly puncture all those who voted for the OPFL party with this shit? What if it works out”, and claimed their phantasies as insider new that “The Office of the President is in a hurry to start vaccination in Ukraine before the WHO approves the Russian vaccine Sputnik V”, because “under the international COVAX program, we can get the same Russian vaccine and then it will be even worse".

Closure of Medvedchuk's channels and turning Ukraine into North Korea

Last week, continuing the issue of the closure of Kozak’s (in fact, Medvedchuk's) channels, both Ukrainian manipulative and Russian sites wrote a lot about the reaction to the closing of channels from the world media community: "European media do not rule out that Zelensky's sanctions are a political massacre of Medvedchuk." And Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues have openly exaggerated: "Thousands of the world's largest media outlets have reacted negatively to this decision and say that such a step by the head of state is clearly an attack on freedom of speech in Ukraine."

In addition, Russian websites writing about Ukraine predict that "permissiveness and impunity of the far right, categorical refusal of the Russian vaccine or cynical ban on opposition channels" will soon be supplemented by "another logical event, the ban on the party "Opposition Platform - For Life".

For their own purposes, Russian disinformation often uses odious quotes from the "opposition camp" to discredit any position that is different from theirs. This time, the words of Channel 4 TV presenter Ostap Drozdov, who makes a name for himself in scandals and controversial statements that often coincide with Russian narratives, were spread. For example, he called for protests against mobilization during the ‘hot phase” of the war.

This time he used hate speech, describing viewers of Medvedchuk's channels: "Unicellular organisms have lost their food, amoebae have nothing more to watch, infusoria slippers are stuck in hysteria and seizures." Russia's disinformation seeks to portray these statements as a common position of the Ukrainian community.

This case was topped with an appeal by Buzhansky to the National Council to "inspect the activities of the said TV channel" and "consider the need for sanctions." This was a good example of selective coverage of the problem of low-quality journalism in Ukraine. It will be recalled that Medvedchuk's channels have repeatedly been the subject of inspections, warnings, and fines by the National Council for their calls for war and incitement to hatred, showing banned Russian content, quotes approving of Putin and denying war or foreign aggression in the East, profanity, covert campaigning.

"The West milks" Ukraine and turns it against Russia

Regarding international events and the interaction of Ukraine with its partners, clickbaits were most worried about the fate of MP Dubinsky. They wrote that he was "dropped in a very ugly way" by the Office of the President: "excluded from the Servant of the People faction, he participated in the story with the Derkach files with the knowledge of the Office of the President." The reason for this fate is allegedly the new president of the United States, after whose inauguration “in Ukraine, actions to "eliminate" the politicians and the media that are inconvenient for the United States have intensified”.

Russian websites, both Ukraine-targeted and mainstream, have discussed the role of the international community in bringing peace to Ukraine. They either threatened with force: "Neither NATO planes nor Ukraine will fly over Crimea without our knowledge and permission" or spoke contemptuously about Ukraine: "Ukraine in general is a unique country, torn to pieces, the poorest country in Europe." But in general, Ukraine's role for them fits into "the West is currently using Kyiv as one of the components of a hybrid war waged against Russia." But more often they reiterated accusations that Ukraine is going to take back the occupied territories using armed force and even take "continental part of Russia".

The Telegram channels wrote about the implementation of the Minsk talks: “The Donetsk and Luhansk republics are fulfilling their part of their obligations strictly. Any problems there are, are the problems with the Kyiv authorities." However, Western partners were held "responsible" for Ukraine's implementation of these agreements.

Also this week:

Utility tariffs and impoverishment

Disinformers continue to rejoice at the resumption of electricity imports from Russia and the lack of a "normal system to guarantee a decent amount of coal in warehouses" presenting this as Ukraine's dependence on Russia. They intimidate readers by headlines such as "Reboot impossible: Ukraine's "life support system" has reached the bottom." If you check the facts, in early February, Ukraine imported about 2 to 3% of its needs from Russia. This is a small amount needed to balance the system during periods of high loads caused by the unexpectedly cold winter.

The spread of panic and apocalyptic predictions is also supported by Ukrainian manipulative sites which top the topic of total impoverishment with the topic of rising utility tariffs ("Ukrainians deliberately spoil the meters so as not to pay for utilities") and add to this the IMF loans: "It remains just to ask Shmyhal, why the heck take loans to raise the already unbearable communal tariffs and the prices for energy resources if our people already have nothing, excuse us, to munch after paying for the utilities?»

Mono-majority is held together by fear and "money in envelopes"

Russian sites targeting Ukraine scoffed at the "change in ideology" of the People's Servant party. We are talking about the "Ukrainian centrism" named as the new party ideology by the party leader. Disinformers predict that soon “the SP ideology will fall to the right, and the president will start being sculpted as the father of the nation, which is natural in this case". In general, predictions are a common method of disinformation, because in principle they cannot be verified, but they create certain beliefs in the reader.

Telegram channels wrote about the "corruption worth billions at the Big Construction", which created a "black box" for the President's Office. They accused the Office of the President of political corruption and bribery of deputies. “Now the deputies are being blackmailed with the envelope like monkeys with gingerbread, and for special cases, there are security officials who collect dirt on the Servants of the People and threaten the very clever with criminal cases”.

Traditionally, no changes

Disinformers continue to discredit the Ukrainian military. They are accused of violating the armistice, although no facts have been provided, and observer data show that shots and shellings usually come from the occupied territories. Disinformers also continue to attack the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. They continue to write "lightly and optimistically" about the fate of the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine, saying that the militants will be vaccinated with Sputnik and hope that Putin will "not betray them". On the topic of Crimea, they talk about new roads, threaten Ukraine and the United States for flights near the peninsula, and plan to lift "the Covid-19 restrictions."

Summary

Disinformers continue to balance in their texts between the thesis of fascism and Ukraine's retreat to totalitarianism, and the “invertebrateness” and complete dependence of Ukrainian politicians. At the same time, Zelensky is accused of dictatorial ambitions and is called a "President boy" who "decides nothing."

The rest of the disinformation toolkit also remains constant: they often justify their theses with generalizations and exaggerations, as in the case of "Thousands of the world's largest media" which allegedly condemned the closure of Medvedchuk's channels. With their light hand, the delay in the start of vaccination is not evidence of problems in this area, but a manipulative statement that the authorities "cannot give anything to their people." By the way, vaccination is delayed in the EU, too, because the largest vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca overestimated its capabilities and postponed delivery dates.

Bright comparisons and unsubstantiated historical parallels, which should be easy for readers to remember, serve to turn Ukraine into either Nazi Germany or North Korea (which is strange to read on Russian websites, given the problems with freedom of speech in Russia itself). And conspiracy narratives fit into the context of the change of power in the United States and are reinforced by theses about Ukraine's total dependence, which is only a tool of "hybrid warfare waged against Russia."

It is difficult not to notice how imperial these theses are and how they aim to undermine the value of Ukraine's independence and turn it only into a buffer zone and a territory that Russia has the right to claim in order to defend its borders.

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.

Methodology

We searched for topics in 15855 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.

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