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Russia wants to speak to the US about “Ukraine’s political future”. Disinformation monitor #71

  • Criticizing CoviShield and using Poroshenko’s emotional claim for their own purposes
  • Comparing Zelensky to a dictator, an underachiever, threatening him with execution by a firing squad
  • Russia uses Sputnik V for its foreign politics
  • Discrediting Sternenko in every possible way
  • Blaming the US of “escalation” in Eastern Ukraine
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization

Period: March 1—7, 2021

Disinfo topics

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

What’s new?

Disinformers reacted to current events by quoting Potoshenko’s criticism of the CoviShield vaccine, which was convenient for disinformers, and ridiculing Zelensky who was vaccinated with this vaccine. Disinformers mentioned that Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal had been in office for a year and accused him of "anti-social policies" and trying to sell Ukrainian state-owned companies to Western corporations. As for the war in eastern Ukraine, the production of a new batch of Turkish drones for Ukraine and Ukraine's military cooperation with Turkey were actively discussed this week, and the Democrats who came to power in the United States were blamed for the escalation.

PR of the week: the Mayan calendar speaks about Oksana Marchenko

Ukrainian manipulative media continue to promote Oksana Marchenko (Medvedchuk's wife who began a political career in the OPFL party after the sanctions). And if two weeks ago she was called Jeanne d'Arc, this time clickbaits turned to the legacy of the Mayan civilization: “Having analyzed the life of Oksana Marchenko according to the Mayan calendar, we asked ourselves only one question: why this woman, who has such a strong energy and a predisposition to a "peace war", did not come to Ukrainian politics earlier?

Zelensky: a dictator, a puppet, or an underachiever?

Russian sites continue to fantasize about how Zelensky "turned from a public favorite into a dictator." He is compared to Ceaușescu (hinting that he is in for a "tribunal and execution"), then to Napoleon: "Strikes with sanctions against the opposition, closes TV channels, does everything to finally break historical ties with Russia." However, even the accusations of dictatorship end with a conclusion about the curators and the puppet position: "Should he be allowed to burn Moscow in order to finally give him a good kick and send him out of sight to the island of St. Helena?".

Ukrainian manipulative media also make vivid comparisons, but they focus on domestic political failures. For example, the website zhitomir-online.com compared Zelensky to an underachiever student "with all his inherent attributes, the main of which is his misunderstanding of the level of his ignorance, which is known in science as the Dunning-Krueger effect." Even in the texts which begin with approval of Zelensky's actions, they still come to the conclusion of his alleged selfishness and his lack of strategic thinking: “So far, his decisive actions to curb Medvedchuk and attacks on Poroshenko are aimed at increasing attention to himself, interest in his actions and, ultimately, at increasing the rating of trust, and not at solving the country's cardinal problems, such as fighting poverty, strengthening the country's defense, radical political reforms and the fight against the elite corruption".

Criticizing CoviShield. Ukrainians are "Russians who need help"

Ukrainian manipulative sites continue to criticize the CoviShield vaccine, comparing Ukrainians to guinea pigs. Distrust of the vaccine is shown as a result of distrust of the government (opposition between the people and the government is a constant leitmotif of Russian disinfo). Manipulators criticize the vaccination of Zelensky ("Nothing will help: neither threats, nor persuasion, nor propaganda, nor Zelensky’s nude pics") and constantly hint at a corruption component during the purchase of the vaccine (recall that the CoviShield vaccine was purchased and delivered to Ukraine by Crown Agents, which has a good international reputation, cooperates with the UN, the European Commission and purchased directly from the manufacturer).

Russian sites writing about Ukraine have also focused on criticizing CoviShield. To the unsubstantiated accusations of corruption ("the state budget on CoviShield showed a certain amount and the authorities began to push it to their people'') and dependence on Western curators, propagandists added fakes about how "Ukraine silences the servicemen in an attempt to hide their serious condition after vaccination against coronavirus with the Indian CoviShield vaccine”. There are also confusing theses, which on the one hand should pump up the assumptions about the artificial pandemic, and on the other hand once again discredit the purchased vaccine. "The increase in morbidity is artificial, which is due to the extremely low level of vaccination and the mass refusal to use the Indian vaccine."

In our opinion, the criticism of CoviShield's is spread only because this vaccine arrived in Ukraine. If there was another vaccine in its place, it would also be devalued and there would be pseudo-arguments that the public was supposed to like. The goal is to disrupt vaccination if it leads to even more deaths, and at the same time to show the failure of the Ukrainian authorities. And just like with the vaccine, the name of the President and Prime Minister of Ukraine does not matter. It’s enough that they are Ukrainian leaders, and therefore they must be destroyed.

As expected, a lot of attention was paid to Petro Poroshenko, who harshly criticized the Indian vaccine. TEXTY.org.ua have already written about our attitude to this statement. From a factual point of view his statement is untrue, and from a political point of view it is a gross mistake. The latter is confirmed by the mass spread of his quote on Russian sites, which instantly turned Poroshenko's statement into a universal proof of their (anti-Ukrainian) rightness.

By the way, Medvedchuk is not forgotten on Russian sites either. They constantly remind of his attempts to save Ukraine by placing an order for "the world's best vaccine, the Russian Sputnik V." And now the mistakes of the authorities, which refused the Russian vaccine, are confirmed by the "influx of Ukrainian citizens" who want to get vaccinated in Russia.

In spite of everything, we take care of our relatives because they are relatives! Everything Russian is too little, everything Russian needs to be preserved, treated, and protected”. In other words, the propagandists reiterated their thesis that Ukrainians do not exist. This fits into their mainstream narrative that Ukraine is actually a part of Russia occupied by the West.

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Russia sells Sputnik V and wants to negotiate "the political future of Ukraine" with the US

This week, disinformers wrote a lot about international relations. The clickbaits wrote about the "joke" of the Slovak prime minister, who promised to "give" Transcarpathia to Russia in exchange for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine: "Ukraine should not ignore the problems of Transcarpathia, so that in the future it does not repeat the fate of Crimea." They also quoted "experts" as saying that "Ukraine's nervous reaction to this nonsense does not add solidity and shows its sore thumbs."

Russian sites targeting Ukraine write that on the issue of the war in eastern Ukraine, “Zelensky's office is now dreaming of the Nagorno-Karabakh plan." They also repeat the usual narratives of Russian propaganda in Ukraine: "the conflict in the Donbas is imposed by America" in order to "change the state system and take control of power in Russia." Ukraine is being assigned the role of "agent provocateur" in this "conflict".

Propagandists emphasize Ukraine's "non-self-governance" and its dependence on Western partners. And the solution is to hold "open and transparent talks between Washington and Moscow on a viable scenario for Ukraine's political future." They see the future for Ukraine quite specifically as "a neutral territory where the interests of Russia and the West can coexist." Of course, there is no place for any interests of Ukraine itself and its citizens.

Russian websites were worried about future US sanctions against Russia and wrote that "the United States will always consider as enemies those countries that can compete with them in any area. Respectively, deterring Russia is the main goal of Washington." Note that this is just a dream. The recently published interim US National Security Strategy states that Russia "plays a subversive role", but China "is the only competitor."

Also this week:

Sternenko. Ever less about the suit, ever more about the family

Russian websites that write about Ukraine continue to use publications of the Russian mouthpiece in Ukraine, Strana.ua. In the previous monitoring issue, we have already mentioned how, for the sake of emotional reactions, they quoted the comment of a teacher of Sternenko ("Rogue, drug addict, murderer"). This time they write about threats to those who supported Sternenko's negative image: "his family staged a real harassment and hunt for those who told the truth about Serhiy." It should be noted that publications such as "what fellow villagers of the Nazi assassin Sternenko say" do not in any way relate to the verdict or the court itself, but are intended only to reinforce the relevant image of Sternenko. Since Strana.ua does not identify specific people but writes abstractly, for example: "my nephew was called by a friend of his parents who is also called "Hutsul" in the village, and "friends of Sternenko’s father", it is extremely difficult to verify these allegations.

In addition, Sternenko's verdict continues to be explained by the influence of external government ("Americans no longer need right-wing radicals") and interpreted as a warning to other radicals: "Ukrainian security forces have files, huge folders (cases) on each of the national chauvinists."

Ukraine plans to "fight with drones" and prepares an offensive

In the Minsk talks, Russian officials continue to accuse Ukraine of the escalation in the East. Meanwhile, Russian-controlled militants have freely stated that they will violate the ceasefire and shoot at the Ukrainian military. Disinformers accuse Ukraine of preparing an offensive for "April or May". Although after the summer of 2014, the Ukrainian military did not try any offensives in the occupied territories. Instead, Russian troops and militants under their control periodically went on the offensive. For example, they attacked and seized Debaltseve in 2015.

Disinformers explained the "aggressiveness" of Ukraine's plans by military-technical cooperation: "Ukraine is supported not only by the United States, but also by Turkey, which has recently deployed a number of military equipment there."

Clickbait sites quote pro-Russian experts who explicitly state that Russia financially and militarily sustains the militants in the occupied territories of Ukraine: "Russia will continue to provide the necessary assistance and support to compatriots of the people's republics of the Donbas and will not leave them to the dismemberment by Ukrainian nationalists."

Russian websites targeting Ukraine have found an even more absurd explanation for the recent escalation: "The main reason for the aggravation in the Donbas is the coming to power of Democrats in the United States."

Telegram channels wrote about Ukraine's intentions "to fight by drones in the Donbas": “Now we have special units of unmanned forces being secretly trained. After the Karabakh conflict, the unmanned case has become the main one, but the LDPR is also preparing to "fight" against the drones”.

IMF is to blame for the high tariffs, Ukraine does not develop its industry

This week, disinformers continue to mystify the issue of utility tariffs and accuse the IMF of being almost the main reason for their increase. In fact, the IMF demands not tariff increases but anti-corruption policy, stable finances, which provides for a market price for gas. and a judicial reform.

They also attacked the Great Construction of the road repair and construction program: "Ukrainian authorities are hiding priority issues of the country's economic development behind the expansion of the road infrastructure program." Instead, they proposed to "develop" mechanical engineering.

In Ukraine, there are periodic calls to "support" its own production, both through restrictions on imports and preferences for local production in procurement. How can there be problems with this? Read here. More information about what the problems of Ukrainian machine building are and how to overcome them can be found in our analytical article.

JFO: military action and occupation

This week, disinformers wrote about the military escalation in the east of the country. They painted a cynical picture of Ukraine's strategy to regain control of the occupied territories: "it is no secret that Ukraine does not need people, it is only interested in the land." And they continued to paint vivid pictures of "dissatisfaction with the authorities" in Ukraine: "For Kyiv, not only the republics of the Donbas, but also the whole south-east of Ukraine is the enemy of the regime."

Zelensky's judicial reform is "the protection of Western investment"

Manipulators also wrote about judicial reform, which has long been talked about by experts and Western partners of Ukraine and which was recently announced by President Zelensky. However, propagandists see this reform in a quite peculiar way. Russian sites targeting Ukraine wrote: "by reforming the judiciary system, they mean (and understand all this perfectly) an even greater total control by the US embassy." It should be noted that any attempts at reform in Ukraine immediately fall under the targeted criticism of the Russian disinfo, which is aimed at destroying any attempts to change the situation for the better.

We did not conduct our own assessment of Zelensky's judicial reform.

Telegram channels wrote that "they are trying to tell us that the West is worried about fair / honest Ukrainian courts, but in reality no one cares about ordinary Ukrainians, it is important to control the elite and protect their investments." A significant part of foreign investment in Ukraine is in fact the return of money of Ukraine’s own oligarchs, Western businesses invest very little in Ukraine. In recent years, Western investors have largely bought government debt.

A year of "Shmyhal's incompetent and irresponsible government"

This week, Shmyhal's government was actively criticized. “Another year of complete incompetence in governing the country, deliberate anti-social policies, impoverishment of Ukrainians and the collapse of the economy, failure in the fight against coronavirus”.

Russian websites targeting Ukraine did not ignore the bill of the Cabinet of Ministers on the possibility of selling some shares of large state-owned companies (Ukrzaliznytsia, Ukrposhta and others): “The state has officially recognized that it is not able to manage its own state-owned enterprises. And it gives them into the hands of Western corporations”. The idea of the bill is to attract Western investment in these companies and improve their management.

To sum up, disinformers wrote: "The resignation of the incompetent and irresponsible government of Shmyhal is an important step in this direction."

"Dekulakization" of Kolomoisky

Russian websites targeting Ukraine wrote about the "dekulakization" of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky: "this is not about de-oligarchization, but about reformatting our oligarchic landscape." And they predicted "tons of material compromising Zelensky that Kolomoisky had accumulated during the many years of their fruitful cooperation." On the other hand, they claimed: "If Zelensky does not surrender (Kolomoisky - Texty.org.ua) Washington will begin to actively shake the situation inside Ukraine, preparing for an early departure of Zelensky."

Traditionally, no changes

Crimea still does not know what to do with the water shortage, but propagandists assure that the occupation of the peninsula by Russia is forever. On the issue of Nord Stream 2, disinformers hope that the new administration in the United States will not effectively oppose its construction. They continue to think that the Ukrainian language "does not favor career prospects." They are also defending Shariy, who was recently declared wanted.

Summary

During the week, disinformers continued to attack the CoviShield vaccine which is used by developed countries and, unlike Sputnik V, has passed all stages of testing and is certified in the EU. Russia continues to use its own product (Sputnik V) as a tool for political manipulation and support for pro-Russian politicians abroad.

In addition to the vaccine, dissatisfaction with utility tariffs continued to be pumped up this week. Note that this is a common trend in disinformation in winter and early spring. This week, the government of Denis Shmyhal (who recently spent a year in office) was found guilty first of all. Zelensky was described as a puppet of the oligarchs and the West. The judicial reform initiated by him is supposed to lead to the control by "external management" over the Ukrainian courts. In fact, judicial "reform" is likely to leave the system under the control of corrupt officials and political interests.

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 21571 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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