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Attacking vaccination in Ukraine, accusations of planned aggression, fresh fakes. Russian disinformation monitoring #74

  • Rejoicing at the slow vaccination in Ukraine
  • Discrediting “Western instructors”
  • Naming Russia a “peacekeeper” instead of aggressor
  • Frightening with the “death of industry” in Ukraine
  • Rejoicing at forceful conscription of the “opportunist residents” into the ranks of militants
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization

Period: March 29 — April 4, 2021

Disinfo topics

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

What’s new in disinformation?

Ukraine is preparing to attack Russia. This message sounded like a refrain in most of the topics about which disinformers wrote. They accused Zelensky of trying to start a war with Russia in order to distract the population from the problems and its own failed policy. They added another "coronavirus" topic, the prospects of creating vaccination passports and the loss by the majority of the population of their civil rights and visa-free travel with the EU. The training of Ukrainian soldiers by instructors from partner countries was criticized. They wrote that it was expensive, inefficient, and that soldiers who had received Western training became mercenaries.

Zelensky the ungrateful dictator

Ukrainian manipulative sites continue to characterize Zelensky as a dictator. So, for example, on the website mignews.com.ua, through quotes of the head of the youth wing of OPFL, the opinion was broadcast that "leaders of European countries" cooled down "to Zelensky because of its toxicity". Allegedly, European leaders do not need "a train of friendship with the dictator who closes mouths to journalists, persecutes the opposition, and takes away businesses."

Russian websites writing about Ukraine continued to broadcast the criticism of Zelensky using quotes from Azarov. This time, under the headline "Gang of robbers, not the state": Azarov criticized Zelensky sharply, saying that the president does not know the Constitution”.

Telegram channels added unreliability and ingratitude to dictatorial traits. For example, the anonymous channel ZeRada wrote that "The main principle of Zelensky's work is to abandon everyone who helped him, and Yermak's new plan to transform the image of the President is designed to deceive the 73% of voters who supported him 2 years ago."

Slow vaccination: Zelensky reduces population

Ukrainian manipulative media add to the already tragic situation regarding coronavirus vaccination in Ukraine their emotional texts with expressions such as "The cemetery will cure us all in Ukraine." Medvedchuk, who gave an interview to Russia-1 channel and constantly reminds about the fake about the production of the Russian vaccine in Kharkiv, has enough of his star time: "already in May, Ukraine could have its own vaccine against COVID-19, but instead it has a catastrophe." To Medvedchuk's quotes, Ukrainian clickbaits add quotes from the developers of Sputnik V ("Russia can provide the whole world with this drug") and Medvedchuk's pseudo-experts, who invent theories about how “the government led by Zelensky failed vaccination because in fact, it solves two tasks, namely to reduce the population and to conquer the market for Western pharmaceutical companies."

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues reproduced the Bloomberg material which states that "Ukraine will need at least 10 years to achieve the vaccination level necessary for the herd immunity." This sad but somewhat "mechanical" news (because the situation with vaccine production in the world is changing dynamically, new facilities are being introduced, and with the end of vaccination in rich countries others will start receiving it faster, and therefore the vaccination rate will increase) was presented with their interpretations and comments.

Manipulators wrote about the Ukrainian "unitary way with an amendment to "maybe we’re lucky"", about how "due to lack of vaccines Ukrainians will be injected with whatever", contemplated about the "underground market of vaccines and vaccination certificates" and how "the people close to power and all sorts of swindlers will get quite rich using the pandemic. " However, most of the fantasies were in the texts about covid-passports in Ukraine, where without any facts or arguments, they said that it would "in practice deprive the vast majority of Ukrainians of their civil rights," or that the “covid-19 vaccination document would become mandatory to get a job within the country." And they simply openly rejoiced at the de facto abolition of visa-free travel due to the need for a vaccination passport for travel in Europe.

In addition to anti-Ukrainian theses, Russian sites have not forgotten to glorify Russia in the geopolitical arena ("Putin's liquid weapon not only scares Europe, but can save its people") and ridiculed Russian critics: "They say that both our country and China seek to influence to the world community with a coronavirus vaccine. Allegedly, we are imposing, attacking, reshaping the consciousness of Europeans, offering our help."

Russia has vaccinated about 5% of its citizens, and Poland, for example, about 8%. Therefore it is not possible to speak about any vaccine advantage of Russia. Russia is not even in the top 20 countries that are most successful in vaccinating because it lacks the capacity for mass production of the vaccine.

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"Western instructors" lead Ukraine to war, Russia "peacefully" accumulates military forces at the border

This week, disinformers and mainstream websites wrote a lot about the escalation at the frontline and the possible full-scale Russian offensive against Ukraine. But unlike the honest media, the general mood of most publications is to shift the responsibility for the aggravation to Ukraine. Cickbaits write about military cooperation with Turkey as a sign that Ukraine is "preparing for war." "It is known that at least two Qatari Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster military transport aircraft delivered cargo from Turkey on Sunday this week."

The tendency to write about Ukraine's "alliance" with Turkey intensified in the late summer of 2020, after the conflict in Karabakh. There, Azerbaijan actively used Turkish drones against Armenian troops. Ukraine bought the same drones from Turkey in 2018. In addition, at the end of last year, it ordered the construction of 4 warships by Turkish companies and is negotiating the joint production of various military equipment.

Russian websites targeting Ukraine focused on Ukraine's cooperation with Western countries. They write that the Ukrainian military is being trained by "instructors" from the United States, Britain, and Canada: “As the captured Ukrainian militants told the employees of the reconnaissance units of the People's Republics, at least some of them underwent a course for a young fighter under the guidance of foreign instructors at the Yavorivsky and Shirokiy Lan firing grounds, where they were taught to shoot from AKs, RPGs, throw grenades, and make Molotov cocktails”. They did not explain the point of using experienced foreign instructors for a "young fighter's course." It is quite possible to be organized by the Armed Forces of Ukraine themselves. As for "Molotov cocktails", they are not regular weapons and are not effective in combat, but "Molotov cocktails" and Western instructors refer to the Russian narrative that the Revolution of Dignity was inspired by Western intelligence, and therefore Russia is now in a just war for the liberation of Ukraine from Western encroachment.

At the same time, they accuse the Ukrainian army command of wasting money on "foreign instructors." In reality, most training is funded by American (or other) military aid. Read more about how this training takes place, who conducts it and for whom.

In addition, they spread fakes that soldiers who were engaged with foreign colleagues or studied in the United States go from the army to private military companies: "The reason for this flight was the following circumstance: after undergoing retraining according to American standards, Ukrainian militants gained a serious advantage in the "labor market" of mercenaries of American and British PMCs”. Experienced soldiers and veterans really leave the armed forces after the end of their contracts, we wrote about this in our article. But there is no evidence that they then join private military companies, especially foreign ones.

Disinformers admit on Russia's leading websites that so many troops and weapons have already been accumulated in the occupied territories that "in the event of a large-scale offensive by the Ukrainian army in the Donbas, Russia will not use its Armed Forces, including ground forces." Despite this, Russia is openly accumulating even greater forces on the border with Ukraine.

Russia "not a party but a guarantor" of negotiations in the Tripartite Contact Group

Regarding the talks in the Tripartite Contact Group, disinformers wrote that if Ukraine “terminates [the Minskt talks] unilaterally, starting hostilities, then it automatically becomes the guilty party and unties the hands not of the participant, but of the guarantor of the observance of the Minsk agreements, i.e the Russian Federation”. This is the typical Russian narrative that it is an outside observer, a "peacemaker," not a party to the conflict. In the real world, there is ample evidence that Russia has provoked, supported, and pumped the military conflict in eastern Ukraine. And it completely controls and equips the militants.

Russia's leading websites spread news about talks between the leaders of Russia, France, and Germany on the escalation on the Ukrainian border. They quote the words of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is called "opposition leader": “Kyiv has not fulfilled the conditions for the next meeting in the "Normandy format", and on the other hand, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, and Emmanuel Macron have a sufficient number of important topics for personal discussion concerning current events in the world”. Russia has tried to present these talks in a convenient light. Disinformers write that European leaders share Russia's "vision" of the conflict and its resolution through direct talks between Ukraine and the occupation administration. However, such theses appear only in the statements of Russian officials, not the press services of Macron and Merkel.

Telegram channels wrote that Ukraine wants “to please American curators”, that it “intimidates the residents of the Donbas”, and the government wants to “blame on the external enemy the disappointment of Ukrainians with failures in the economic and social policy of the President of the country”. And they summarize: “we are dealing with a combination of these factors, which again turns official Kiev into an "ape with a grenade”.

Also this week:

Economic problems in Ukraine

Ukrainian manipulative media continue to produce emotional texts about the cost of utilities, examine in detail the declarations of politicians (for example, writing what kitchen furniture Poroshenko has) and criticize the 8 thousand hryvnias of small business assistance from the state: "in Kyiv, the average salary is twice as high as the state aid" . Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues also join this emotional flow. They mass-produce texts under headlines such as "Ukraine's industry chooses environmental death" and say that due to new bans on imports of goods from Russia, "wheat will go through Belarus, and newspapers will die."

Life under occupation: Ukrainian military suffer losses but are accused of atrocities

Russian-targeted sites strongly accuse the Ukrainian army of shelling. Meanwhile, it is the losses of the Ukrainian military that are growing every day. Leading Russian websites are spreading a dubious story about a child killed by a "drone bomb". They do not provide any facts, and the death occurred (according to the information provided by the militants) far from the front line and any military facilities. Read a detailed analysis of this fake.

Ukraine the "anti-Russian fist" of the US

Disinformers write that: "The United States has confirmed the previously taken course to turn Ukraine not just into its submissive border, but into a monolithic, well-mobilized anti-Russian fist, ready to do anything to meet the US interests." And they see Biden's call to Zelensky as a preparation for an offensive by Ukraine. What is the point of Ukraine attacking Russia, a country with one of the largest and most capable armies in the world? Disinformers do not explain this and are unlikely to be able to explain.

Conscription of the "opportunist residents" in the occupied territories

Disinformers write that Ukraine has a "slave-owning system" concerning people in the military register and at the same time rejoice "conscription" into military formations of the militants. The need for a "conscription" is explained as follows: "in recent years there have been too many opportunist residents who, permanently or periodically living in the republics, treat them with contempt." Regarding Ukraine, it should be noted that the recent law on conscription of reservists without declaring martial law has caused many questions from experts.

Ukraine attacks and members of parliament "flee the country"

Clickbait sites and Russian sites targeting Ukraine comment a lot on the speech of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Khomchak in the Verkhovna Rada. However, the reactions to this speech were quite heterogeneous. While some began to openly declare that Ukraine was going on the offensive, others used it as an opportunity to once again throw in the already familiar narrative of manipulative resources about moral disorder in the Armed Forces. "How do mothers give their sons to defend their homeland if drugs are circulating there and alcohol is pouring in rivers?"

They could not overlook the scandal about the Servant of the People parliament member Anna Kolesnik, that happened against the background of Khomchak's speech. Mass media distributed a screenshot of her correspondence where the MP wrote she wanted to “flee the country”.

Ousting Russians from Crimea and suing Ukraine for the "water siege"

This time, Alexei Reznikov, minister for the temporarily occupied territories, called for the expulsion of Russian citizens who had illegally arrived in Crimea after its occupation by Russia. This claim caused “anger and hysteria”. We are talking about those people (primarily the military) who illegally came to the Crimea bypassing the territory of Ukraine and have no right to be there.

Another popular topic on manipulative sites was a new round of the story with the "water siege" of Crimea by Ukraine. "Nazis, get ready to step on the scaffold!" is the way they comment on the statement of the chairman of the Crimean parliament Vladimir Konstantinov that representatives of Crimea will file a lawsuit to three citizens of Ukraine who are responsible for the "water siege" of the peninsula. Here it would be appropriate to quote the already mentioned Oleksiy Reznikov, who also commented on the legal prospects of this issue. He reminded that under international law, the occupier is responsible for the civilian population in the occupied territories.

Traditionally, no changes

Ukrainian manipulative media continue to publicize OPFL and Shariy, accusing the authorities of repression, dreaming of pro-Russian parties coming to power, and, together with Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues, claiming alleged terror against the Ukrainian opposition by the Security Service of Ukraine. At the same time, they are defending the oligarchs ("it will be easier for the West to govern Ukraine if the oligarchs disappear in the country") and inventing various reasons why Ukraine does not need to fight them.

And any events in parliament and political life are accompanied by clickbait publications that show the victory of pro-Russian forces and the incredible chaos in Ukraine.

Summary

This week, in at least half of the topics, they mentioned Ukraine's "intentions" to "go on the offensive." This is probably the way to prepare for a new major Russian invasion of Ukraine. After all, in order to start a war, Russia needs an excuse in the eyes of its population and arguments for its agents of influence in different countries. The bombing with disinformation about Ukraine’s preparation for the attack on the Donbas serves these purposes.

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 25861 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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