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“The West” gets ready to stage mass mortality from Sputnik V. Disinformation monitor #72

  • Warning that the West would stage deaths from the Russian vaccine.
  • Accusing Ukraine of spreading fakes about a possible Russian offensive in the Donbas
  • Zelensky is trying to earn the "benevolence" of the American president
  • Russia claims it is looking for allies, not new territories
  • The National Security and Defense Council is becoming an instrument of seizing power in Ukraine
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization

Perios: March 8—14, 2021

Disinfo topics

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

What’s new?

Citing an anonymous source from the Kremlin, disibformers claimed that "it is planned to stage mass mortality of people allegedly as a result of the use of Sputnik V". The lie here is that someone allegedly used Sputnik, and did this en masse. In fact, Sputnik V is used very little, even in Russia itself, because there is no capacity for its production. Disinformers also stressed that the National Security and Defense Council is becoming a tool for Zelensky "to intimidate his opponents bypassing all legal procedures," through the mechanism of sanctions. And the news about the center of counteraction of disinformation in Ukraine was reacted to by accusing Ukraine itself of propaganda and disinformation. Zelensky was accused of fake vaccination, and quite unexpectedly the President of Ukraine aroused a sort of jealousy: "he showed his naked torso, hoping to show himself in the best way, creating competition for Russian President Vladimir Putin." Aging Putin has not posed with a naked torso for a long time, so the feeling can be understood.

Coronavirus. Western fakes and "poor junkies" in Ukraine

While Ukrainian manipulative sites continue to quote Boyko who criticizes the government and reproduces his favorite thesis about the total crisis as "the result of the ongoing so-called Poroshenko-Suprun medical reform," Russian sites criticize the CoviShield vaccine at every opportunity. Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues reiterate that Ukraine is "confidently becoming a third world country," this time through the use of CoviShield.

Along with the criticism, there is a steady stream of texts advertising the Russian vaccine. The American magazine The National Interest is quoted as recommending that Kyiv "agree to buy Russia's Sputnik V to save people" (however, the magazine itself is well known for its pro-Russian stance, for example, in 2017 it published an interview with Lavrov who reproduced the main Russian propaganda theses. And last year we mentioned the magazine in our monitoring when the quotes from the magazine became a confirmation of apocalyptic forecasts for Ukraine due to the pandemic).

The rejection of the Russian vaccine among most European countries has been turned by Russian sites into "anti-Russian rhetoric destroying Europeans," and the criticism of the vaccine has been explained by the phrase "from powerless malice."

It is proudly stated that “Several million Russians have been inoculated with Sputnik (...) and there are no reports of deaths and very few serious consequences." Instead, in the real world, about 3 million people a day are vaccinated in the United States alone. Thus, the propaganda itself unknowingly confirms Russia's inability to produce a sufficient amount of vaccine even for its own needs.

Zelensky "gets ever more scandalous" and wants to show his obedience to the US

This week, clickbaits wrote about the announced Bellingcat film about the operation to detain mercenaries of the private military company Wagner, who fought in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Read more about this story here. In general, disinformers wrote that "the leadership of Ukraine is either a mess or traitors, and most likely both at the same time." They also claimed without any evidence that "the United States had explicitly imposed one condition on Zelensky, namely to dismiss Yermak silently and immediately."

Clickbaits have not forgotten about Zelensky's statements about "fighting" with the oligarchs. However, they saw the actions of the "West" as the real reason: "The oligarchs grabbed assets off the people, and now the West is taking it away from the oligarchs." Usually disinformers write that the oligarchs control all power in Ukraine and lead to "impoverishment." But this time they set out to defend the oligarchs against “the West”.

Russian websites targeting Ukraine have focused on criticizing the president. They wrote about Zelensky: "The Ukrainian president is becoming more and more scandalous, and Zelensky's behavior is beginning to resemble Saakashvili's behavior in his best years." He was accused of "fighting" with the Opposition Platform - For Life (OPFL) party, and not with Petro Poroshenko, the fight to which, as we wrote in last year's monitoring, Russian disinformation and agents of influence pushed Zelensky unsuccessfully. In their interpretation, the reason for this change is "the geopolitical situation has been superimposed on Zelensky's personal fears" and the desire to earn the "benevolence of the new American president."

Leading Russian websites continue to write about the law on "collaborators" proposed by the European Solidarity Party and later the Servants of the People. "According to the new draft law, any citizen of Ukraine advocating for a 'bad peace' with Russia can be called a collaborator." The proposed bill allegedly demonstrates "the desire to continue fighting in the Donbas." At the same time, disinformers frightened Ukraine with the fate of Georgia and Armenia. The former fell victim to Russian aggression in 2008, the latter lost a war and lost control of a part of neighboring Azerbaijan.

Telegram channels wrote that “the Ukrainian president had allegedly surpassed his predecessor in brutality against the Donbas”, and prophesied the replacement of the head of the President's Office by Kyrylo Tymoshenko, whose task would be to "dedicate himself entirely to restoring popular confidence in Zelensky." Earlier, Tymoshenko was described as a person who "purges" the media and anonymous Telegram channels from negativity.

They also wrote that very specific "methods of persuasion" were used against members of parliament "controlled" by Ihor Kolomoisky: “An insider in the Servant of the People faction reports that the people's deputies who are part of the Kolomoisky group will no longer receive their salaries in envelopes”.

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Russia looks for allies not "subjects of the federation", the US seek an understanding with Germany

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues asserted that Russia does not seek to absorb Belarus: "It is more profitable for Russia to have a sovereign ally than another subject of the federation."

Disinformers also put forward strange theories that Ukrainian politicians "palpated the opportunity to build relations with the new US administration with the help of Bartholomew." They did not explain how the Orthodox clergy leader was associated with the US administration.

They also argued that "the States would seek allied relations with Europe, and thus make concessions, first and foremost, to Germany," that is, they would agree with Germany's desire to complete Nord Stream 2.

Disinformers are trying to put the responsibility and dissatisfaction with high gas prices on the Ukrainian government, which has refused direct gas purchases from Russia. It will be recalled that until 2014, Ukraine has had an entire history of "gas wars" and yearly blackmail by Russia, which was the monopolist in gas supplies.

Leading Russian websites comment on the possibility of new sanctions against Russia as follows: "sanctions from hell, pushing Ukraine to war in the Donbas and increasing army units in Poland and other NATO countries that border Russia." They continue to develop the narrative that the United States is pushing Ukraine to war with Russia.

Also this week:

The repressive state: the cases of Medvedchuk and Shariy

Ukrainian manipulative media do not tire of contemplating how Medvedchuk's closed channels are a "prelude to more serious repressions" and to praise Medvedchuk at every opportunity (this time, for example, they thought that the appearance at the SSU interrogation "causes respect" "because the politician did not try to avoid coming to the SSU and calmly came for interrogation")

Russian websites continue to reflect on the "tasks set by Western curators" and to consider the "internal" reasons for the closure of the channels "from personal revenge to the redistribution of advertising revenue."

Shariy's case is added to this rhetoric. Russian sites that write about Ukraine also call the case against Shariy repression. And Ukrainian clickbaits write that it is personally "Volodymyr Zelensky who instructed to close the Shariy Party in any possible way," adding quotes of the blogger himself: "Zelensky, you are a coward and scum."

Ukraine prepares an offensive and sustains its aggressive fantasies about the Donbas

Russian websites actively responded to statements by Ukrainian officials about Ukraine's readiness to mirror the increase in Russian forces in the Donbas. However, they reacted in the usual manner, denying everything and continuing to blame Ukraine for the escalation of the conflict.

Clickbait websites quoted statements by Maria Zakharova (a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry) that Ukraine was "trying to shift responsibility to Russia" and to "distance itself from resolving the domestic political crisis", or her calls to "abandon aggressive fantasies about the Donbas."

And Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues once again disseminate the same theses we noted last week, namely that Ukraine is allegedly preparing an offensive, and "the aggravation in the Donbas is an inevitable and pre-predicted consequence of Biden's appointment as president." Note the word "appointment". The President of the United States is not appointed, but elected. The "appointment" in this case refers to Trump's rhetoric that the US election was rigged.

At the same time, they continued to contemplate "one of the means of this destruction is to provoke war within the Russian majority of Ukrainian citizens and to try to turn this majority into something anti-Russian." And all the reactions to the build-up of Russian forces turned into accusations that "Ukrainian propaganda joined the cause of spreading a threatening fake about Russia's impending offensive."

Dubinsky loses his power and self-advertises

Oleksandr Dubinsky, who was dismissed from the post of head of the Kyiv regional branch of the Servant of the People party on March 14, became one of the heroes of Russian websites, Ukrainian junk sites, and anonymous Telegram channels last week. They distributed texts under the headlines such as "Dubinsky accused the leadership of the Servants of the People of fraud" or "Dubinsky called the congress of the regional organization Servants of the People false." At the same time, only Dubinsky's side and his accusation that "this conference was organized by swindlers" were presented in the texts.

NSDC "creates preconditions for a forceful takeover in the country"

Mani[ulators wrote that the National Security and Defense Council was an opportunity for Zelensky to "bypass all legal procedures and intimidate his opponents" through the mechanism of sanctions imposed on Viktor Medvedchuk and the channels under his control. And the possibility of persecution of the deputies who allowed to prolong the stay of the Black Sea fleet of the Russian Federation in Ukraine caused violent reaction: "the illegitimate decisions create preconditions for a forceful seizure of the power in the country".

Disinformers resorted to incorrect historical parallels and wrote that: "Even Bohdan Khmelnytsky, if it is desired, can be convicted of treason for the Pereyaslav Treaty, the ex-speaker believes." Bohdan Khmelnytsky is a person of a time long gone, instead the people who signed and ratified the "Kharkiv agreements" actually handed Crimea over to the Russian military.

Crimean platform doesn't function, Crimean problems are due to "Ukrainian legacy"

Russian websites targeting Ukraine called the military occupation of Crimea in 2014 "a solution in a democratic way and in full compliance with international law and the UN Charter." And the problems of Crimea (for example water shortages) were blamed on local officials and "the Ukrainian legacy of Crimea". Although there were no water problems there when Crimea was efficiently part of Ukraine. Interestingly, the center of the accusatory campaign were the collaborators who were involved in the occupation by Russia. In principle, this is a common practice for the Russian Empire - then the USSR - then Russia. For example, some communist leaders who worked with the USSR to take control of their own countries in Central Europe after World War II were killed or imprisoned.

They explained Ukraine's efforts to create the "Crimean platform" as one of the tools of deoccupation as follows: "Ukraine is in dire need not of Crimea, but of Western support and of maintaining itself at the forefront of the conflict between Russia and the West."

Centre for counter-disinformation

Statements that a center for countering Russian disinformation will appear in Ukraine have provoked a reaction on Russian sites targeting Ukraine. Disinformers decided that the best defense would be an attack and accused Ukraine itself of propaganda: "the best response to Ukrainian propaganda is not to produce our own propaganda content similar to Ukrainian, that is, to respond to their lies with our lies, but to tell the truth about what is happening."

Pro-Russian Telegram channels have begun to spread theories about who will be the target of the center. “It is worth emphasizing that the media, Facebook, and YouTube are not the main threat to the authorities, it is namely the POLITICALl Telegram channels, as the Telegran is out of control and has not cooperated with governments, unlike other social media." In our article (also translated into English), we explored how Russia, through the controlled Telegram channels, is trying to influence the views and decisions of the ruling party.

Motor Sich and the problems with "the investment climate in Ukraine"

Regarding the nationalization of Motor Sich (the company that builds aircraft engines), the clickbaits wrote: "The peculiarity of the nationalization of Motor Sich is that it will hit hard on the investment climate in Ukraine." The decision to nationalize the company was explained by the "Instructions from the Washington regional party committee." Why would Washington wish the nationalization of the enterprise? Disinformers explain: "Their policy towards Ukraine is that it loses most of its sources of income and depends as much as possible on foreign handouts." Read more about this story here.

Traditionally, no changes

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues continue to incite hostility over the language issue and "Ukrainian identity" ("a concept that is not fully understood or explained even by supporters of the celebration of this identity"). This time they even used Taras Shevchenko's birthday to promote their theses. Shevchenko for them "speaks Russian", stands for the "Slavic Brotherhood" and lives in the "capital of the empire, where the cultural intelligentsia lived at the time." They do not tell the second part of the story that a wave of interest in Ukrainian identity began through Shevchenko, which led to an official ban on the use of Ukrainian language. Another common topic was attacks on the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

For several weeks in a row, disinformers have been attacking the Ukrainian language and identity. The essence of the attacks can be reduced to "When a Ukrainian gets smarter, he becomes Russian." They argue that Ukrainian identity and the language as its element cannot exist without a "destructive component aimed at cultivating a sense of hostility to the neighboring state." In their picture of the world, "salvation" is the renunciation of one's own identity and complete Russification.

Summary

Russian propagandists are ever more often accusing Ukraine and the abstract West of spreading fakes. This thesis has become a convenient weapon in their hands. It is actively used to justify the increase of Russian forces in the Donbas. It aims to turn a blind eye to the lack of information about the Russian vaccine, its effectiveness and safety. And it helps to ridicule and discredit the idea of creating a Center for Countering Disinformation.

Here it is difficult not to mention Peter Pomerantsev's warning about the paradox of countering misinformation: "Don’t we reinforce the language of Kremlin's information warfare by pointing at it?”* Are we not intensifying Russian propaganda (and what Pomerantsev calls the "Kremlin worldview") by responding to it? Because virtually all projects created to combat disinformation also create a convenient framework for the disinformers themselves, who already include their holy war with the West in this framework and turn the study of disinformation into its creation and promotion in the post-Soviet space.

In order not to play up to Russian disinformation, one must act faster than it does. Limit the means by which it conveys its messages, communicate effectively on socially important issues, and increase the level of trust in society. Disinformers will always find a social problem that can be inflated and can turn any topic into a weapon. But if they do not have space, they will not be able to promote their theses.

* quote from: Peter Pomerantsev. This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (a double translation back from the Ukrainian translation might have changed the wording)

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 19331 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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