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Ukraine being sold to “the Saudis”. Disinformation monitor #69

  • “Vaccine tourism” to Russia predicted
  • Sanctions against Medvedchuk called “purging opposition”
  • Promising to name “the real” gas price for Ukrainians
  • Scaring with Zelensky selling Ukraine to “the Saudis
  • Nord Stream 2 guarding “world order
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization

Period: February 15 — 21, 2021

Disinfo topics

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

What’s new?

Disinformers have come up with "vaccine tourism" to Russia, which is supposed to begin in Ukraine. The characteristic technique of "news of the future" is used, when an event that is supposed to take place in an imaginary future is described as a fait accompli. The topic of utility tariffs came to life again. This was further agitated by the statements of the Acting Minister of Energy about Naftogaz. Disinformers tried to present their old thesis that the government is deceiving its citizens and selling "Ukrainian gas" at a higher price than the gas is worth. Also, Ukrainian clickbait sites used Zelensky's trip to the United Arab Emirates and wrote that he was going to sell to "the sheikhs'': land, railways, and strategic defense companies.

Fake of the week: “Ukrainian militants resell the coronavirus vaccine”

Russian sites that write about Ukraine are constantly creating fakes about the Armed Forces in the Donbas. This time, they accused the military of reselling the Pfizer vaccine. "In order to hide the fact of the theft of a foreign vaccine from the higher command, the head of the medical service of JFO Avramenko decided to use ampoules with a placebo instead of the missing ampoules with the vaccine." In fact, Ukraine has not yet received any Pfizer vaccines, so it is simply not physically possible to resell them.

Coronavirus and "vaccine tourism" to Russia

Ukrainian clickbait sites, following the Russian ones, produced headlines that vindicated Russia and ridiculed the supposedly ideological West ("In the West, Sputnik V is scarier than Covid-19"). The thesis about the coming world war, already widespread in Russia, was promoted in Ukraine. ("Controversies in the global world have reached such tensions that in recent years there has been serious talk of another world war.") Once again, the words of the former Canadian ambassador to Ukraine were taken out of context and distorted, comparing Ukraine to a lab rat (here is the synopsis of his lecture on the top 10 mistakes of Western partners regarding Ukraine in 2014-2019). Propagandists ended with emotional expressions about the purchase of Indian (not Russian) vaccine: “Refuse the production of Sputnik V, make long faces and beg India for its muddy vaccine instead”.

Russian websites have gone even further in their attempts to manipulate readers. The mainstream sites spread the story of how "vaccine tours to Russia began to gain popularity in Ukraine, when one can get inoculated with Sputnik V". Although it is a question of one screenshot, and in the text of the article even mentioned that "After the intervention of SBU the publication in the local edition to which the parliamentarian refers, was deleted". Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues also disseminated the theses about "Vaccine tourism: foreigners go to Russia to be vaccinated with Sputnik for free" or about "the first vaccination of an American in the Crimea", showcasing this as Russia's victory in the vaccine race. In fact, Russia has a very low level of vaccination of its own population, much lower than, say, the United States.

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues continued to pump up emotions around the delay in the start of vaccination in Ukraine. This time they used the actions of NABU concerning the possible abuses of Minister Stepanov.

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Sanctions against Medvedchuk and "purging" opposition

Ukrainian clickbait sites, as always, openly promoted the OPFL party or Medvedchuk personally. Last week, we monitored dozens of texts with statements by the OPFL, which "will defend Ukrainian democracy, the Constitution and fight for the rights of its fellow party members," and Medvedchuk's quotes that "the government has set out to establish a dictatorship and usurp power."

Meanwhile the Russian websites that write about Ukraine have continued to speculate about "political repression" and Ukraine's external governance ("Ukraine needs no courts, an approving or condemning tweet from the US embassy is enough''). The sanctions were associated with an attempt to save Zelensky's rating, and their result, according to disinformers, should be an aggravation of the situation in the Donbas (''Because Zelensky and Co. believe that such an aggravation is beneficial to them"), all this is aimed at "on the wave military relations, to start a more serious purging of the opposition inside the country".

In the Telegram, for even greater emotion, some authors drew parallels with Stalinism: “Today sanctions, tomorrow the threat of prison, the day after tomorrow the execution. Is this the democratic choice that the Maidan followed? Is this the result of thirty years of ‘democratic development’ of the ‘European nation’?"

Ukrainians "deceived" about gas price

This week, disinformers wrote a lot about the price of gas in Ukraine. They used an interview with Acting Minister of Energy Yuri Vitrenko and wrote "Of course, Naftogaz gets the largest margin of profit, buying at 2,88 UAH and selling at 7,86 UAH." However, they did not quote the rest of the interview, where Vitrenko explained that he was selling gas for UAH 2.88. Naftogaz will not be able to pay taxes and cover, among other things, the cost of subsidies for the poorest groups of population.

Clickbaters wrote that "President Volodymyr Zelensky reported as late as in May how prices and tariffs for natural gas are falling," and now he is responsible for the rising tariffs. Note that there is nothing particularly unusual in the growth of gas prices. The cold winter increased its usage and increased the market price accordingly. But disinformers instead emotionally inflamed discontent by mixing tariffs in one basket with lockdown: "Quarantine and insane utility tariffs have become an explosive mixture for many Chernivtsi residents: people are getting bills for heating that they are unable to pay."

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues continued to manipulate Ukraine's GDP figures: "According to preliminary estimates, Ukraine's GDP in 2020 fell to 62.7% from 1990 levels." In fact, there is no reliable information on what the GDP of Soviet Ukraine was, since the USSR systematically overestimated its indicators for ideological purposes. In addition, much of Soviet industry (especially military industry) became unnecessary after Independence, which led to a decline in nominal GDP. Economic growth in the early 2000s is then explained by disinformers with "the situation on world markets", "sparing prices" from Russia, and the talents of the "post-Soviet bureaucracy".

Zelensky sells Ukraine to "the Saudis"

Clickbait sites and Russian sites that target Ukraine have been particularly active in discussing Zelensky's trip to the United Arab Emirates. The President's Office explained its purpose with signing several documents. But in disinformation behind the looking glass,

they wrote that "the Saudis intend to buy the controversial ‘Motor Sich’ and the Ukrainian railway, which is ‘supervised’ by the honorary Sorosling railway worker Serhiy Leshchenko." The source of such information was the Telegram channel "Legitimate" (under the sanctions of the SBU). It should also be clarified that the Saudi dynasty rules Saudi Arabia. Instead, the United Arab Emirates which the President visited have their own local dynasties.

Nord Stream 2 "saves the world order"

Regarding sanctions against Nord Stream 2, Russian sites that target Ukraine wrote: "The West is trying to force Russia to pay for their geopolitical project in Ukraine." And they strongly emphasized the role of Ukraine in American sanctions. They also used recent bad weather and power problems in Texas to justify the need for Nord Stream. It will be recalled that the European gas market is large and competitive. Thanks to liquefied gas and gas from other suppliers, Russia does not play a decisive role in it. But after the completion of another pipeline, Russia's influence could grow sharply. And as the history of the Ukrainian-Russian "gas wars" shows, this can really lead to problems with gas supplies and to political pressure.

Russian sites targeting Ukraine praised the importance of Nord Stream: "The importance of the unfinished gas pipeline in the context of maintaining world order is not less than the results of the US presidential election." And they wrote that the "survival" of Europe depended on Nord Stream 2. It is so important for the Europeans because "Built during the Soviet era, overhead gas pipelines run through the territory of Poland and Ukraine, the states of semi-colonial, in relation to the United States, status." That is, they acknowledge that the main goal of the project is to remove Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States from gas transit.

Also this week:

Dmytro Razumkov was also mentioned, who has been called the "main competitor" of President Volodymyr Zelensky on manipulative websites for many months. “Razumkov today is trying to get out of the shadow of Zelensky and the servants of the people and to start his own game, since it is clear that the servants of the people are losing their popularity”.

The decision of the National Security and Defense Council to impose sanctions against Viktor Medvedchuk and his entourage was assessed: “Today's sanctions against the OPFL leader Viktor Medvedchuk and his wife Oksana Marchenko are nothing more than a banal flirtation of Zelensky with the hurray-patriotic electorate.” They wrote that the “attack on” Medvedchuk is “one of the requirements of the US presidential administration”.

Shariy criminal case: "repressions continue"

The announcement of suspicion of state treason for Shariy forced the disinformers to repeat the theses that were worked out in Medvedchuk's "case". "Continuation of the massacre of freedom of speech in Ukraine'', "onslaught on a political competitor, destruction of another multimillion-strong channel of information, through which the people of Ukraine and the world learned the truth about the crimes of the authorities''. They also wrote that the Shariy case is “a gift to a blogger who has begun to become uninteresting to the public'', and that Shariy is in fact “the leader of a party that enjoys the well-deserved support and trust of Ukrainians, a party represented in many local councils.” There is a common message in these two mutually exclusive theses: Shariy benefits from the actions of the Ukrainian authorities.

Russian websites gladly shared his quotes that the SBU had "completely turned into an organized criminal group," reflected on repression in Ukraine, and quoted Azarov who "named the blogger one of the ‘bright critics”of the ruling regime” and expressed his willingness to help Shariy. “the newly created political force of Shariy has a perspective, but he needs professionals, especially in the field of economics, social spheres, etc. “I’m ready to help him,” Azarov said”.

Rada: scares about "law on home confiscation"

Clickbait sites have not calmed down yet after Dubinsky was expelled from the Servant of the People faction. They wrote that "Maxim Buzhansky is sure that he will be expelled next." Another notable topic was the discussion of utility tariffs in the Rada. Disinformers turned to their favorite narrative of "external governance": "The IMF has set a new condition, namely to double tariffs, and for those who are unable to pay, a law on confiscation of housing must be adopted...". The IMF did not make any demands for tariff increases or confiscation of property.

Another notable topic was the decision to dismiss the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Clickbaiters quoted the justice minister as saying, "I am rescuing NABU and its director from a corrupt elite that is trying to destroy NABU's independent institution and turn it into a pocket body that can then be directed as needed." The problems at NABU began after a court ruled that the appointment of its head by the president was unconstitutional. Read more about the context here.

Minsk: Russia demands to shun elections "according to Ukrainian law"

It was written that Russian puppets in the occupied territories were against "holding" elections under Ukrainian law, as required by the Minsk agreements. Instead, they propose to “restore the administrative border of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics and write in the agreements that the elections "will be held in the independent DPR and LPR." That is, to give the free parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions under Russian military occupation. It will be recalled that no decisions are being made in Donetsk and Luhansk, the entire region is already under Russian occupation.

In addition to the Minsk agreements, Russian websites targeting Ukraine wrote that Russian representatives in the OSCE "called for paying close attention to Ukraine in the issue of the existing threat of Kyiv's transfer of portable anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS) to terrorist organizations" in the Middle East. It is very strange to hear such accusations from Russia, which handed over real anti-aircraft systems to real terrorists, not imaginary ones, in 2014. As a result, pro-Russian militants shot down several Ukrainian military planes and a Malaysia Airlines plane.

Russian websites targeting Ukraine continued to write about Ukraine’s "course for further aggravation." Disinformers explain the reasons as follows: "Ukraine has accumulated significant potential, and does so not just to burn it out." Meanwhile, it is the Ukrainian military that is suffering losses on the line of contact. Primarily, through snipers and mines.

Remembering Maidan

Last week, the Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution defining the historic role of Euromaidan. Disinformers could not miss such an opportunity to remember the odious, former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych.

Disinformers claim that “Viktor Yanukovych and his son Alexander have already proven in court that they were not involved in the shootings on Institutska Street and on the Maidan”. The Court of Appeals did cancel Yanukovych's arrest in absentia in one of the cases, and the case itself was returned to a lower court (not closed). As for other cases, the trials are ongoing, and the former president has already been convicted for state treason.

In addition to Yanukovych, disinformers wrote about the "cultural genocide of millions of Russian-speakers" as a result of the Maidan and that in Ukraine "murder takes place not only in secret torture chambers, but also in the open, often directly on the streets."

"Gas repartition": minister of energy criticizes the head of Naftogaz

Clickbait sites wrote about the conflict between Yuri Vitrenko (head of the Ministry of Energy) and Andriy Kobolev (head of Naftogaz): "Two alpha males do not get along in one flock." And Russian sites targeting Ukraine simply criticized Vitrenko in every possible way, called him a "compromised freak" and looked for traces of the United States in his actions. Not surprisingly, since he was one of the key people who was able to sue Gazprom for about $3 billion and win the case.

Traditionally, no changes

Disinformers continue to claim that the problem of drinking water in the Crimea is under control and will be resolved soon. They blame all the aggravation on the line of contact on the Armed Forces and flaunt the military "feats" of the militants near Debaltseve in 2015. They also invariably criticize "Ukrainization" as a consequence of the language law and defend the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. In international politics, Russia has accused everyone around of aggression except itself.

Summary

Every week, we pay attention to the amount of materials on (pro)Russian websites aimed at advertising the Russian vaccine and promoting other propaganda theses (such as total corruption of politicians or external governance of Ukraine). And last week was no exception. The theses promoted by Ukrainian clickbaits and Russian sites reaffirmed that Sputnik V was not merely a drug but a central component of a special information operation carried out by Russia.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to write anything original about the "repression" against Medvedchuk or Shariy, since the number of publications remains consistently large but the arguments of disinformation have been exhausted. In dozens of publications, they repeat that the “attack on the opposition” is an attempt to save Zelensky's rating. In a previous issue of the monitoring, we noted their comparison of Ukraine with a totalitarian state or Nazi Germany, and therefore the standard methods of emotional cheating or unfounded historical parallels can also be seen as exhausted.

On economic issues, disinformers took up the rise in utility tariffs and decided to mix them together with the dissatisfaction with quarantine measures. They blame everything on Volodymyr Zelensky personally and the IMF. Among new things, “the Saudis” (as the leadership of the UAE was titled for unknown reasons) have been added to the list of potential “buyers of 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.

Methodology

We searched for topics in ___ 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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