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Justifying Lukashenko, abusing the Ukrainian army, a new wave of criticism of the land market. Disinfomation monitor #81

  • The start of the land market provokes disinformers to write about the sale of Ukrainian black solils
  • Zelensky taken hostage by Ukrainian nationalists
  • Belarusian journalist Roman rotasevich is “a Nazi”
  • Zelensky diverts attention from his failures with “national resistance”
  • Learn how different topics raised by Russian disinformation have evolved over time with our interactive visualization

Period: May 24—30, 2021

Disinfo topics

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

What’s new in disinformation?

Disinformers wrote a lot about Lukashenko and his decision to hijack an airplane flying over Belarus in order to arrest one of the passengers, Roman Protasevich, an opposition journalist. Their rhetoric was reduced to attempts to discredit the journalist and accuse Western countries of hypocrisy, because they allegedly did the same (spoiler: not true).

For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, coronavirus has disappeared as a separate topic in our monitoring. There are only texts with morbidity statistics left, in Ukraine, separately in the Crimea, or the so-called L/DPR. And only Russian mainstream sites add to the news with dry statistical information a more emotionally colored "In Ukraine, more than 1.4 thousand complications after vaccination from COVID-19", while continuing to pretend that the Russian vaccine has no side effects.

They also wrote a lot about the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Disinformers tried to convince that the army was incompetent and corrupt. And the "national resistance" offered by Zelensky is "fiction."

Pseudo-experts

This week we checked what is written in the materials featuring pseudo-experts from our database. We will conduct such reviews on a monthly basis in subsequent monitoring issues.

Pseudo-experts wrote about several topics this month. They mentioned the march in honor of the SS Halychyna division (we wrote about it here) and used it as an excuse to accuse Ukraine of Nazism. But most attention was paid to the confrontation with Russia in the international arena. It was speculated that the proof of Russia's role in the international arena is the "invitation" to the climate summit and the planned meeting with the US president. It was written that the "West" demands the resignation of Andriy Yermak from Zelensky and does not provide real support. Pseudo-experts also ridiculed Zelensky's "struggle" with the oligarchs and wrote that he "imitates the struggle for his own ends."

Protasevich the "Nazi", the "West" also downs airplanes

Disinformers did not try to justify Lukashenko, but instead tried to legitimize this practice by referring to previous precedents: Ukraine's plan to detain Wagnerians (this did not happen and it is not known for sure whether there were such plans), the delay of the Belarusian plane with Armen Martirosyan (the plane took off from Kyiv and did not fly over Ukraine in transit and the detainee was released almost immediately), refusing to let the plane of former Bolivian President Evo Morales (it was not a passenger plane and it was not forced to land, but only passed through the territory of several countries) and even referred to the case when the plane from Lithuania to Britain was accompanied by fighter jets (the airplane was scheduled to land in Britain in any case).

Russian media offered to "exchange" journalist Roman Protasevich for journalist Julian Assange." Perhaps the Russian authorities are taking this option quite seriously. At the same time, Protasevich himself was attacked, with disinformers accusing him that the journalist "got into a ready project (opposition telegram channel NEXTA - Texty.org.ua), got funding and then declared that he has achieved everything by himsef." They tried to accuse him of participating in the war in eastern Ukraine, calling him an "extremist and a Nazi" and a "provocateur" who organized street rallies. It is comical that, from the point of view of Russian propagandists, organizing rallies is one of the most serious accusations that can be made against a person.

Another important component of this topic is the reaction to sanctions against Belarus. Disinformers write that “Belarus is a real gift for Russia. The Belarusian economy is in working order, its population is very loyal, and the current Western sanctions against Minsk push President Alexander Lukashenko in a single direction." And Ukraine's sanctions against Belarus "harm the population."

Russian websites write that due to the sanctions against Belarus, Ukrainians "will have to pay dearly for visiting relatives and friends in the Baltic states." In reality, the flight range will hardly change, as Belarus can easily be bypassed through Poland. And the decision of the Russian authorities not to let through airplanes flying around Belarus is explained in Telegram channels by concern for "the safety of the Russian citizens who shouldn't fly over Ukraine and the Baltic countries". We will remind you that, together with Protasevich, the Belarusian authorities detained a citizen of Russia, Sofia Sapega.

Parliamentary scandals, booting "fervent Lukashenkoist" Shevchenko from the faction

Ukrainian clickbait sites, along with Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues, discussed the expulsion of Yevhen Shevchenko from the Servant of the People faction. He was quoted as saying that he was "going to fight Ukrainian nationalists, creating a power bloc of former Berkut fighters," or that he "wanted to leave this political force for a long time."

And anonymous Telegram channels added even more emotion and conspiracy theories under the guise of "insider news": "Shevchenko for Zelensky had to play the same role as Medvedchuk played for Poroshenko. A connection. But Yevhen [Shevchenko] did not succeed, for he was too fond of sucking on the candies made to order for the presidential administration."

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Land market: "motherland is not for sale" or "how to rob Ukrainian Papuans of their land"

The key bill signed by Zelensky for the opening of the land market, as expected, caused a wave of manipulations around the "sale of Ukrainian black soils." Ukrainian manipulative publications promoted OPFL and Batkivshchyna parties via criticism of the reform. The former emotionally reasoned that this was a "cynical sale of the last strategic resource in the interests of agrarian oligarchs and transnational corporations." The latter promoted “Yulia Tymoshenko's land referendum", which is "mega important in the conditions of the impending catastrophe."

All this was accompanied by manipulative generalizations ("Ukrainians demand a referendum against the sale of black soils", although the text refers to the demands of one party), vivid metaphors ("rob the Ukrainian Papuans of their land") and the use of the words "ripoff", "total sale" and "foreigners" in almost every publication. Because of their metaphor, these texts sometimes became similar to school works. Instead of exploring the potential weaknesses of the bill, they tried to evoke sympathy for "our uniquely fertile soil."

And Russian sites, disseminating the same quotes from OPFL and Tymoshenko, added even more absurd conspiracy theories. As, for example, that "Ukrainian peasants will be expelled from the country, replaced by African guest workers" and all this will lead to "conflict of interest" and ("given the conservatism and xenophobia of the Ukrainian countryside") would cause racial conflicts.

Russia waits for Biden's "wishes"

The topic of foreign relations is almost exclusively occupied by the expectations of Biden's talks with Putin and their impact on the fate of Nord Stream 2. Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues write that the decision to limit sanctions against the pipeline "is not a permanent, once and for all decision." And they are waiting for the announcement of the list of "wishes" of the West at the meeting with Biden. In general, they are skeptical about the possibility of serious agreements between Biden and Putin. Instead, the United States is accused of wanting to force the European Union to buy American gas.

To make Europe more accommodating and reduce the attractiveness of the Russian proposal, the United States has been actively destabilizing the situation in Ukraine for a decade and a half.”

Another notable topic was "Anti-Russia", a term disinformers picked up from one of Putin's speeches: "Russia, for 25 years of Ukraine's independence, did not pay attention to it, condescendingly laughing at the "Khohkols" [derogative for Ukraininans] with their pig fat eating and thefts of gas." They claim that the money which "the west is spending" in Ukraine will pay off by "looting" Russia.

"Offhand" national resistance

This week, disinformers renewed their attempts to discredit the combat capability of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The army is accused of mass "alcohol and drug use" on the front lines, as well as corruption, "constant corruption scandals, total theft, banal money laundering and, as a consequence, a poor demoralized army, in the ranks of which everyone earns as they can." It will be recalled that for many years now the people of Ukraine have trusted the army the most of all institutions, and the country's ability to resist Russian aggression depends on it the most.

Another topic that was written about on Russian websites targeting Ukraine is the "national resistance" which was recently proposed by Volodymyr Zelensky in his bill. Disinformers write that "the President of Ukraine proposes to create a nationwide resistance offhand, while it is unclear who should resist what". In fact, "national resistance" is the development of the idea of territorial defense, which has been developing since the moment of Russian aggression in Crimea.

In addition to the Armed Forces, disinformers commented on the death of the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Viktor Hvozd. They uncompromisingly write that "this is murder, because the coincidence in this story was too unlikely." And they put forward various conspiracy theories about the role of Western intelligence services and the possible staging of death.

Leading Russian sites write that joint Ukrainian exercises with partners and the presence of NATO ships in the Black Sea is a "probing" of Russia. And also openly manipulate the fact that Ukraine allegedly spends more on defense than Russia. In fact, Russia has one of the highest levels of military spending which has always been higher than in Ukraine.

Zelensky is an "errand boy" hostage to nationalists

Disinformers actively discussed Zelensky's press conference. The location was especially popular: "Landscapes in the background of the site, an unfinished plane without wings and the Ukrainian miracle “Dream” airplane without engines perfectly illustrate the whole policy of Zelensky." In their texts, Zelensky himself appeared as a boy who "has long been taken hostage by nationalist groups," who "does not learn from his mistakes," and is completely under the control of external curators: "Someone ordered Zelensky to do something, and he is like an errand boy, yessir, he said and ran to perform”. Even completely abstract and meaningless psychological portraits were featured: "Zelensky may forget that his status is temporary, that he only performs the functions of president, is not "essentially" the president, that he represents the state, but is not the state himself."

Russian language in Ukraine. "Banderization, Ukrainization, Borschtezation"

Texts about the persecution of Russian-speakers in Ukraine do not stop. Ukrainian manipulative media, together with Russian sites focused on Ukrainian issues, discussed Oleh Skrypka's criticism of Russian-speaking Ukrainian showbiz people ("Oleg Skrypka denied Russian-speakers the right to be Ukrainians"), reflected on the "banderization" and "borschtezation" of Ukraine and quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry, which "called the situation with nationalism in Ukraine a disgrace to Europe."

Crimea: dreaming of water and "second-class Crimeans"

As for Crimea, disinformers traditionally complained about the non-recognition of the occupation of the peninsula by most countries and accused the EU of "considering Crimean people second-class people because of their choice to reunite Crimea with Russia." The propagandists also boasted about the pace of construction on the peninsula and described the objects they want to build: "the Opera and Ballet Theater, the museum complex, the exhibition complex at Cape Crystal with landscaping around, with new pedestrian and bicycle paths, with embankments." At the same time, they could not explain where they would get drinking water for the peninsula and made vague comments about "the construction of new water intakes, the search for fresh water under the Sea of ​​Azov and desalination." It will be recalled that the peninsula had no water problems before it was occupied and militarized by Russia.

Also this week

Medvedchuk continues to be a victim of political repression. Disinformers add to his image of a martyr that he is a "hardened politician" and therefore will be able to resist pressure. They write that "Ukraine has not the leadership, but the mafia, bandits", but for some reason Medvedchuk is not identified with this characteristic. As for Nord Stream 2, they have continued to fuel disbelief and frustration, "Ukraine is deceived, Kyiv is turning into a gas dead end" and scare readers that sanctions against Belarus will increase the cost of utilities.

Summary

This week, most attention was focused on international relations. The two main topics are the reaction to the illegal interception of a passenger plane in Belarus and preparations for Putin's upcoming meeting with Biden. As for Belarus, disinformers have chosen the usual strategy: to convince the West is even worse and have already landed planes to arrest people (examples we have found relate to other situations) and to brand the arrested journalist as a "Nazi."

Russian propagandists reacted with restraint to the meeting with Biden. They wrote that they expected from the American president “wishes” for Russia regarding Ukraine, Belarus, and other areas. It is noteworthy that for several weeks disinformers have been writing in this context about Ukraine as "Anti-Russia", for which the "West" uses money to later "loot" Russia.

The topic of the land market has returned into domestic politics and this has also caused an explosion of interest in the topic on the part of disinformers. They responded, habitually spreading conspiracy theories and delusions in the style of such allegations: "Ukrainian peasants will be squeezed out of the country, replaced by African guest workers."

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 19793 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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