Russia Welcomes the Pope onto its Bandwagon, Predicts Gloom for Europe. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 22-28 August

Last week, Pope Francis was the darling of Russian propagandists who claimed that the Pope was tired of President Zelenskyy and ready to be Europe's first heavyweight to side with Russia. This monitoring report debunks these and other lies spread by Russian state media and online parajournalists to manipulate public opinion.

Referendum, Anyone?

The war is getting less and less attention from the Russian media. As of today, the reports on Russian-Ukrainian war on Russian media resources amount to slightly more than 20% of the news feed. The rest of the news items are represented by sports news, celebrity gossip, local affairs etc.

While reporting on the war in Ukraine last week, Russian media writers mostly focused on how life is getting back to normal in contested areas in the east and south of Ukraine. Such news reports made up 40% of the entire bulk of news on the war, economic sanctions, and the threats posed by NATO and the USA. As usual, the movements of Russian occupation forces were kept under tight wraps to maintain the image of long-distance warfare.

That being said, it was the preparation for the imminent ‘referendums on reunification’ that got the full attention of Russian media. Russian propagandist resources mostly published upbeat reports about the formation of ‘election commissions’ and ‘Bankova’s spiteful attempts to throw a spanner in the works’.

However, some political observers from Russia shared discreet warnings about the potential risks of holding the referendums: “The attitude to the Russian military and the reintegration process in Donbas it quite different from what is happening in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts … the majority of Donetsk oblast chose to be a part of the Russian Federation. This sentiment is largely shared in Zaporizhzhia oblast whereas Kherson oblast is clearly lagging behind. There are many supporters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who sizzle with hate at the sight of Russian troops while many locals are sitting on the fence fearful that Ukraine will soon regain control of the territory”.

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Further reading: Crimea Shudders from a “Boom” while Russians Complain about Persecution. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 15-21 August

The Good Pope

Not often does the Pope come up on our reports on Russian disinformation, but today is special indeed. Last week, Russian news media spread the information about the discontent of Vatican (and Pope Francis in particular) by Ukraine's President’s actions and public statements: “Pope Francis expressed utter discontent with the political pressure exerted by President Zelenskyy to secure support for Kyiv”, “Vatican has grown tired of Zelenskyy who is clearly mad thinking that he in a position to tell heads of EU states and religious leaders what to do”, “Ukraine’s arguments are falling on closed ears of some of the Western leaders. And Vatican is no exception ... the state has neither money nor weapons and, therefore, is of little interest to Kyiv”.

They stressed that the Pope dislikes the policy pursued by Zelenskyy who “dares to consider himself equal to the Pope. He's got so high headed that he is trying to twist the Pope's arm".

It is in this context that Russian news writers are giving their own angle on Vatican's stand. According to one of the versions, Pope Francis is the real peacemaker devoid of false pretenses: “Unlike European politicians, he has no hate for the Russian people. Being an embodiment of moderation, the Pope has always called for peace and stressed that he prays for both Ukraine and Russia”.

On the other hand, Pope Francis seems to pursue his own geopolitical agenda: “Vatican will not support Vladimir Zelenskyy, president of independent Ukraine, for religious reasons. Ukraine is of little to no importance to Pope Francis for being largely orthodox”, "Zelenskyy comes knocking on the Pope's door seeking ideological and spiritual support. However, Vatican will provide neither of those for one simple reason: Vatican's view of the world is highly polarized: you are either a friend or a foe", “Ukraine has never been its true friend ... so there is no reason to expect any serious support”.

Russian mass media claim that the Pope is keeping a close eye on the progress of the war and, according to them, the Pope's impartiality is due to his recognition of Russia's success: “Vatican has the largest and the oldest intelligence network in the world. Their awareness leaves Mossad and MI6 far behind ... Vatican always has the ENTIRE picture ... whereas we only see tiny fragments presented by the propagandists and the mass media. Vatican cannot afford to play games.

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Beware! Illia Kiva Speaks!

Former people's deputy turned collaborationist after fleeing Ukraine, Illia Kiva has long established himself as a pillar of anti-Ukrainian propaganda on Russian mass media. Last week, he repeated the hackneyed lines about the West's plans of forcing Ukraine’s president to step down. “In his opinion, the potential replacements could include CinC AF Valerii Zaluzhnyi, ex-president Petro Poroshenko, former Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov or Kyiv Mayor Vitalii Klychko, said the collaborationist. It is just another attempt to cause a rift with the political and military leadership of our country. This one, however, was somewhat unusual: Zaluzhnyi was mentioned alongside Poroshenko and Klychko who had never shied from their presidential ambitions before the war. These ambitions did not go unnoticed by Zelenskyy who considers them political rivals. The propagandists are trying to project this rivalry onto Zaluzhnyi by simply using his name in the same sentence.

Our earlier monitoring reports included numerous mentions of “full-scale preparations for pulling the plug on Zelenskyy by drawing media attention to his blunders and disgraceful behavior”.

Last week, this fake was fueled by foreign publications on Valerii Zaluzhnyi. “There has been a lot of speculation about Zaluzhnyi being groomed to replace Zelenskyy and the conflicts between the two since the beginning of war. Now the Western media are promoting the Commander-in-Chief with no holds barred. Polish media put a close-up photo of the general’ on a front page captioned “Chief Ataman” whereas Germany’s Bild published a feature on CinC AF titled “Valerii the Mighty: a Ray of Hope for Ukraine”.

Russian mass media continue to persuade their readership that Ukraine is in for a coup endorsed by the West: “Kyiv is on the brink of a military coup. Here is all you need to know about Valerii Zaluzhnyi who is being groomed to replace President Vladimir Zelenskyy”.

According to disinformation media, the move is due to Ukraine’s imminent defeat: “despite having lost touch with reality and their brutal methods, the Kyiv comedians realize that the war is lost and game-changing weapons are never coming. They are done and their days are counted before the West pulls the plug without waiting for the winter”. Although such doomsday forecasts have been appearing on Russian media for half a year, they still remain nothing but scare tales. So far it looks like the propagandists are trying to lull themselves into believing their own story.

Europe Must Brace for Disaster

While the actual state of Russian economy is nothing to write home about, Russian propagandists are gloating at high energy prices in some of the Western countries once again predicting “disastrous power outages”. Russian leadership used to convince the world that Russia has a lot more to offer than energy resources, but today Russian propagandists are not even trying to pretend to be anything but a giant petrol station.

Russian media claim that EU’s falling out with Russia will “cripple its economy and cause social and economic instability in Europe in the upcoming winter” since “no European country is able to survive this energy crisis with the gas prices at the all-time high”.

They also speculate about “Russia's ability to suspend gas supply to the EU for a period of time without any negative consequences. Such a move won't even leave a chink in its armor for its economy is very strong”. The propagandists even resort to open threats: “Should the EU stick to its plans to speed up replacement of Russian gas with other sources, such volatility of gas markets is to continue for up to three years and, therefore, there is no reason to expect any major reduction of gas prices any time soon”.

All the blame for severing economic ties with Russia is being put on European leaders who “have long lost control of the situation, but are still putting a good face”: “never did Europe fall so low in terms of intellectual and functional capacity”. The propagandists are also trying to convince their readership that sooner or later European politicians will have to crawl back to Russia: “when things start to get wild after the European elites dismantle their economies and social welfare under American instructions, many “white” Europeans will crawl back to Russia begging to help bring their lives back”.

Also in the News:

Russian propagandists wept and wailed at the death of their fellow comrade Darya Dugina: “In fact, she died a martyr, and her demise should be a wake-up call for the public. Politics and ideology should concern everybody and not just the public figures that are actively engaged in the respective processes and support the state information policy in an open manner. She sacrificed herself for a great cause, and it is our mission to pick up the banner”.

They ridiculed at the festivities on Ukraine’s Independence Day: “On 24 August Ukraine celebrates independence. The entire concept is as much of a joke as Ukraine is — a perfect example of a failed state. The territory of Ukraine as we know it today is a patchwork quilt of land gifted by Russian rulers Lenin and Stalin”.

Follow the trending topics of Russian disinformation on our interactive dashboard “Disinformation about the War in Ukraine”

The Methodology

We have built a corpus of all the materials from Russian websites and those maintained by the occupation force (almost 22,000 news items) for our weekly disinformation monitoring report. Each paragraph was processed by the algorithm which defines its topic automatically. The resulting topics (i.e. groups with similar content) were short-listed by the topics relating to the war or its consequences for Russia. The number of mentions of a certain topic was then counted for each publication. Our conclusions are based on the respective findings and the quotes from paragraphs referring to each topic.

We used materials from tass.ru, riafan.ru, lenta.ru, russian.rt.com, aif.ru, life.ru, slovodel.com, news-front.info, kommersant.ru, ruinformer.com, politnavigator.net, donbasstoday.ru, sevastopol.su, politobzor.net, naspravdi.info, antifashist.com, kafanews.com, anna-news.info, lugansk1.info, c-inform.info, dnr-pravda.ru, dni.ru, rusdnepr.ru, 3652.ru, comitet.su, odnarodyna.org, vsednr.ru, time-news.net, xvesti.ru, sobytiya.info, doneck-news.com, meridian.in.ua, dnr24.com

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