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The Delta threat, pondering Zelensky impeachment, new utility tariffs. Disinformation monitor #86

  • New coronavirus threats
  • Speculating on Zelensky impeachment
  • Foreseeing Ukraine’s “agrodegradation”
  • Accusing the British of "provocations" in the Black Sea
  • SSU’s changing sanctions against Russian entertainers
  • Learn how different topics raised by Russian disinformation have evolved over time with our interactive visualization

Period: June 28 — July 4, 2021

Disinfo topics

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

What’s new in disinformation?

This week, disinformers wrote on a variety of topics, starting with the threat of a new variant of coronavirus and ending with the future of agriculture in Ukraine. As for the coronavirus, they threatened with the new Delta variant, which is supposed to come to Ukraine from Turkey, and praised the Russian vaccines. Disinformers also predicted re-elections and a "revolution" that would oust Zelensky and limit the power of presidents in Ukraine. In the economic sphere, disinformers tried, despite all the facts, to prove that agriculture in Ukraine is declining. As for gas issues, they threaten rising gas prices in Ukraine and fuel shortages in the middle of the heating season.

Quote of the week

How can one fit almost all the main propaganda theses in one paragraph on a Russian site focused on Ukrainian issues? Here’s how:

Everything that happens on the border is a matter of Russia's national security. But it's not just about physical security. Putin emphasizes that the same Russian people live on the territory of Ukraine as in Russia, and that what is happening is the centuries-old technology of splitting and weakening Russia. In Putin's words, one can feel the sincere pain of realizing the tragedy of the situation of the Ukrainian population. The country is under complete external control, and the essence of this control is the destruction of the state. Zelensky, as much as Poroshenko, and all sorts of other so-called patriots only hide behind nationalist slogans, but in fact they are carrying out the scenario of the liquidation of Ukraine. That is why Putin reiterates that Medvedchuk is the main Ukrainian nationalist”.

The threat of the Delta variant and murderous vaccines for Ukraine

The topic of coronavirus returns to our monitoring together with the threat of the Delta variant and a new wave of cases. But while Ukrainian clickbait sites simply speculate that "new strains are guaranteed to be brought to Ukraine from Turkey, where, contrary to logic and common sense, Russians were allowed to enter the other day," Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues have returned to old habits. They described how Russia saves the Donbas with its vaccine ("ready to help the republics, because there is no one else to do it"), complained about the West which "tries to restrain us" (and therefore does not recognize the effectiveness of Sputnik V), and blamed Kyiv, which distributes anti-Russian narratives and "anti-Sputnik" videos.

Criticism of Western vaccines has been renewed: Pfizer allegedly causes deaths ("even if a third of the country dies from Pfizer, this vaccine will continue to be shot"), and only British AstraZeneca is being recognized by Russian propagandists. Disinformers wrote especially much a lot about a case of a Ukrainian who died a few hours after being vaccinated with Pfizer ("The American vaccine began to kill Ukrainians") and immediately rejected all the counter-arguments and refutations: "The case in Ukraine was promised to be investigated, but it is already clear that they would silence it and say it has nothing to do with the vaccine”.

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Zelensky impeachment, rumors of early elections, threats of violence

Ukrainian clickbaits have speculated about how "stupid" Zelensky is, or how "the country is screwed and Zelensky's friends are greased." And they discussed with themselves: will Zelensky participate in the early elections? Meanwhile, Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues went even further thinking about how to organize a revolution in Ukraine that "could lead to Zelensky impeachment and amendments to the Constitution, according to which the president will be elected in parliament and his powers will be limited to representative functions." And to their theses they added emotional descriptions of the protest on June 28 (organized because of Zelensky's statement about Wagner's case, which he made in an interview with “1+1” TV channel). They wrote that it was "loudly calling for the overthrow of the regime and violence over the president," and that its members were threatening to "carry out a coup and hang Zelensky on the very first chestnut tree on Bankova street." [the street where the President’s Office is].

Ukraine's "agrodegradation" and "forecasts" for a cold winter

This week, disinformers wrote a lot about the Ukrainian economy and especially the agricultural sector. They argued that because of "uncontrolled imports and unequal competitive conditions, Ukrainian food producers are on the verge of extinction" and praised Russia, which is struggling with sanctions on agricultural products. It will be recalled that Russia has imposed most restrictions on agricultural products against itself. Disinformers call this strange phenomenon "strengthening Russia's food security." As for Ukrainian agriculture, it continues to develop regardless of estimates from Russia.

In addition to agriculture, disinformers have again begun to intimidate Ukraine with gas shortages and rising utility tariffs. They manipulated the gas issue, accusing Ukraine of "stealing" Russian gas and calling for a "fair" price for gas, which should be lower than the market price. “After all, nobody cares about the fact that two-thirds of the gas consumed by Ukraine is produced on its territory, and another third is taken from Russian transit.”

In fact, the price of gas has risen in European markets and is therefore also rising in Ukraine. Last but not least, the rise in prices was influenced by Gazprom's intervention. In Ukraine, the government currently provides gas subsidies to low-income citizens, but keeps the market price of gas for other consumers. Read why Ukraine’s own gas cannot cost 1 hryvnia and how the price of gas for consumers is formed.

"Provocations" in the Black Sea

Russian sites targeting Ukraine wrote about "provocations" in the Black Sea when a British destroyer ship sailed past Crimea. “The British and, probably, their NATO allies wanted to check how decisively the Russian command would act in a situation when a warship of another country enters its (Russian) territorial waters near Crimea”. It will be remembered that the Crimea and its territorial waters are the Ukrainian territory and Ukraine allowed the British ship to pass there. However, disinformers regarded the maneuvers in the Black Sea as "an attempt to exert informational and psychological pressure on Russia."

Another topic that is periodically promoted by disinformers and pro-Russian speakers is "lost NATO equipment": "Ukraine can use NATO-donated equipment at its own discretion, for example, send it to the Donbas." They fantasize that NATO troops may "forget" some of their equipment after training in Ukraine. International military exercises "Sea Breeze 2021" are currently taking place in Ukraine and Russia is trying to discredit them in every possible way.

Telegram channels quoted Putin’s words that the Allies had a military presence in Ukraine: "We are concerned that Ukraine's military development has begun - and although there can be no foreign military bases under the Ukrainian constitution, they can set up training centers or use other forms." Joint military exercises and training with foreign instructors help make the Armed Forces more capable. Therefore, Russia uses official and unofficial channels to discredit such cooperation and, if possible, to stop it.

The "Kirkorovics" go on

The inconsistent behavior of the Security Service of Ukraine over the situation with the entry ban for Russian singer Filip Kirkorov has led disinformers to explode with dozens of manipulative and distorted messages on the subject. Ukrainian clickbait dumpsters, manipulative Telegram channels, and Russian internet sites have unanimously promoted conspiracy theories about the personal conflict between Kirkorov and Zelensky.

“Behind the decision on Filya Kirkorov, there’s not only his friendship with Zelensky, but also the monetary interest of the latter”

In addition, disinformers tried in every way to devalue and humiliate the long-term efforts of the Ukrainian authorities in the fight against Russian aggression.

It is impossible to fight against internal oligarchs, corruption and resist in the war with the Russian Federation, especially if you cannot refuse an old friend and publicly break the rules for his sake.”

Football as a pretext to raise the language issue

Disinformers wrote about the controversy over the players of the national team, who spoke Russian at a press conference after the match. Finding contradictions to inflate and to deepen them is a common tactic of Russian disinformation. It is especially often used in cultural matters. Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues took the opportunity to say that "after the Euromaidan in Ukraine, a course was taken to finally oust the Russian language from public life, enshrined in the laws on education and ‘total Ukrainization’." They also told Russian fans not to support the Ukrainian national team at Euro 2020: “this is the national team of a country that calls Russia an ‘aggressor state’ and declares that it is in a state of war with us”.

Also this week:

The scandal over the marching of women on high heels was picked up and fanned: “The sight of female cadets in uniform and on high heels excites the elderly military leader”.

Any mention of Medvedchuk by foreign media continues to be quoted, albeit by the American (but very pro-Russian) The National Interest, albeit by a Pakistani site unknown in Ukraine.

Disinformers quoted theses on the Russian world from Putin ("Ukrainians and Russians are one people") and how he criticizes the "Nazi law" on indigenous peoples adopted in Ukraine, which allegedly only "deepens the division in Ukrainian society."

It was habitually described that Ukraine was under "external governance" of the United States and pursued an "anti-Russian policy," and they ridiculed the army and especially the Ukrainian navy, which had suffered heavy losses due to the occupation of Crimea. They also quoted the words of the self-proclaimed president of Belarus about the ‘melting’ sovereignty of Ukraine". It will be recalled that Alexander Lukashenko rigged the election, suppressed protests in the country and retained power with Russian support. And he is now completely dependent on his eastern neighbor.

Summary

This week, disinformers moved away from the topic of international relations and wrote more about other areas. They tried to convince their readers that Ukrainian agriculture was declining, even though it is one of the most dynamic areas of the economy. At the same time, they praised Russia for "skillfully coping" with the food sanctions it had imposed on itself.

They also attacked Zelensky and fantasized about provoking his impeachment. Russian sites targeting Ukraine continued to discuss the passage of a British destroyer off the coast of Crimea and joint military exercises with NATO countries. They repeated the thesis that had been raised several times during the spring escalation that the United States could secretly "forget" some weapons on the territory of Ukraine during the exercises. Finally, disinformers used every pretext to promote the Russian language in 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 17328 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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