Xi Goes to Moscow while Moscow's Nukes Go to Belarus. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 20-26 March 2023

Last week's news about the possibility of Ukraine getting depleted uranium projectiles for its upcoming offensive made Russian media lose sleep.

The propagandists suddenly grew anxious about Ukraine’s environment and even warned about the risks of mutations in children who live in the affected areas. Russian media savored every detail of the visit of China’s leader Xi Jinping to the Russian Federation. Russian television ran Xi's quotes round the clock while news outlets said the new brotherly friendship would last ages.

This monitoring report covers these and other topics of the disinformation spread by Russian state media and online parajournalists to manipulate public opinion.

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

Waiting for Ukrainian Offensive

Last week’s reports on the progress of military operations on Russian media were meek and rather dry. Without any meaningful victories to report on, the disinformation mongers had to praise the fortitude of Russian soldiers: “Over the last five days, the Russian forces have repelled two attempts of the Ukrainians to break through their defenses”, “the members of the “West” group of forces denied the deployment of the AFU reserves in Kupyansk area and prevented the rotation of Ukrainian units on the front lines”.


The Russian media could not overlook the visit of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Bakhmut to meet the defenders on the front lines. However, some of the propagandists questioned the fact altogether: “There is no reliable evidence of the visit except a short video. Even if it did take place, the locals are absolutely certain that he did not travel to the city and stayed somewhere safe”.

Others claimed that the president’s visit was only possible due to the arrangements on his safety with the Russian army which the Ukrainians treacherously betrayed and even attempted a counter-attack near Bakhmut: “The attempted AFU counter-attack near Artyomovsk (this is what the Russians still call Bakhmut — editor's note) was made possible by the visit of the Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelenskiy to the region which, according to some reports, resulted in a temporary cease-fire on the Russian side”.

Over the last few weeks, the propagandist media have been trying to explain the painstakingly slow progress of their forces by grave factors at play: from a concentration of Ukrainian troops: “The AFU have amassed over 80,000 troops around Bakhmut-Artyomovsk” to the deployment of new Western weapon systems to the outskirts of the city: “The first German-built Leopard tanks have been spotted around Artyomovsk (Bakhmut — editor's note”. Although there has been no direct proof of Leopard tanks being used near Bakhmut, Russian propagandist media have been reporting them in the area since February.

That being said, the propagandists predict that the Ukrainian forces will soon commence an offensive. They claim that it is the United States that is pushing them into battle: “Washington is basically ordering the AFU to take the offensive”. According to the disinformation media, Russian troops are looking forward to the offensive as they are eager to kill something Western-made: “And now this tough man from Siberia cannot wait for his chance to shoot at tanks built in the West, which are being brought to Ukraine in large numbers, and see them burn”.

Although some reporters did admit that the Ukrainian offensive may have certain success, all such statements were toned down. In any case, they all agreed the AFU had no chance of “taking” Crimea: “Even if the Ukrainians do manage to break through the layered defenses of the AFRF in Zaporozhye steppes and make a non-stop charge towards Crimea, they will still have to penetrate the Crimean fortified area where they will be met by a fresh group of Russian forces while their flanks are exposed to the battle groups from Novaya Kahovka and Berdyansk”. The Russians clearly intend to avoid an information fiasco like the one during the September AFU offensive near Kharkiv.

Russian media claim that even if the Ukrainians manage to break through the Russian defenses, the AFU will suffer a painful defeat: “No matter how daring, such “offensive” will hardly hold for more than three days of celebrations to be followed by an inevitable catastrophe”. The propagandist media quoted Putin’s statement on boosting the production of tanks in Russia: “The Russian army will have three times as many tanks as the AFU”, “Thanks to the commitment and dedication of the workers of the Russian military industrial complex Russia will have many, many more tanks than the West can provide Ukraine with”. In reality, however, the Russian command is forced to demothball obsolete equipment which the Russian propaganda is carefully avoiding to report.

Propaganda with Care about Ukraine's Environment

Last week, Russian propagandist media gave a lot of attention to all things nuclear as the reasons were plenty. Firstly, Deputy Head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmytro Medvedev once again threatened to launch a nuclear strike if Ukraine attempts to liberate Crimea: “The Deputy Head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev told Russian media ... that any attempt to capture Crimean territory by the Kyiv regime will cause Russia to respond with all its military might, no holds barred”.

Secondly, Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus: “The President of Russia Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow and Minsk had agreed on the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus”.

That being said, Russian media still accused the West of pushing the world to a nuclear apocalypse: “According to deputy foreign minister of Russia Ryabkov, the probability of a nuclear conflict today is higher than ever. ... He added that the United States “is playing with fire”.

The British defense minister's announcement of the delivery of armor-piercing ammunition containing depleted uranium to Ukraine gave the Russian propagandists yet another reason to talk about nuclear escalation.

The statement was used to justify the Russian plans to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus: “Putin ... said that Russia will be forced to respond accordingly to the use of the nuclear component by the collective West".

However, ammunition containing depleted urainium has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Depleted uranium (DU) is the material left after most of the highly radioactive form of uranium (U-235) is removed from the natural uranium ore. Ammunition containing DU is used by many nations of the world including Russia. Depleted urainium mainly emits alpha particles which do not have enough energy to penetrate human skin. As a result, exposure to the outside of the body is not considered a serious hazard.

It is highly unlikely that Russian propagandists are not aware of these facts. Still, they did not hesitate to scare the unsuspected audiences with the word ‘uranium’ hoping that while the societies targeted by the manipulation are busy refuting, the others will become too scared to keep helping Ukraine.

The disinformation mongers also predicted an imminent environmental and economic disaster for Ukraine: “The use of projectiles with DU penetrators is bound to “cause colossal economic losses to Ukraine’s agroindustrial complex” and make the export of agricultural produce from its territores a thing of the past for many decades if not centuries”. This statement sounds extremely cynical considering the fact that a substantial part of Ukraine's fields are riddled with Russian mines and munitions. They also wrote about mutations in Ukrainian children: “The risks of cancerous diseases and mutations in children would grow many-fold”, “The constant presence of a source of alpha and gamma particles inside the body causes genetic malfunctions and results in deformities”.


Xi in the Kremlin

On 20-22 March Xi Jinping made an official visit to Moscow. The leader of China even made it to the second place among the foreign politicians who were most often mentioned by Russian media with Volodymyr Zelenskyy still holding the lead.

Kremlin’s media lackeys took pleasure in stating the West's discontent at the visit of China’s leader to Moscow: “The joint stand of Russia and China makes their Western counterparts extremely uneasy. Washington and its partners consider the Moscow-Beijing duo a “potentially powerful adversary”, “The introductory words of the President of Russia and the leader of China before the Moscow talks made the Western regimes go ballistic. It was a mixed bag of envy, anger, and even jealousy”.

The disinformation media were exalted by Xi’s calling Putin a “dear friend” which was presented as a milestone achievement that could change the global balance of power. They diligently quoted Xi Jinping who had said that “Putin leads the Russian people going to prosperity and strength”.

At the same time, the information regarding the agenda of the visit was mostly limited to “forever brothers” and building a new alliance to counter the United States: “Russia and China are the largest strategic and military adversaries of the United States, and the Russo-Chinese alliance can be a global game changer”, “According to an expert, the collaboration of China and Russia is “an anchor of stability” in a constantly changing world”.

The disinformation media convinced that China would be able to replace European consumers of Russian energy resources. Furthermore, the collective strength of the Chinese yuan and the Russian ruble would outweigh the dollar and put an end to its hegemony: “China and Moscow should work together “to dethrone” the dollar as the world’s reserve currency”, “If Russia switches to yuans in the settlements with other nations, it will cause a collapse of the dollar and an economic crisis in the United States”

Obviously, the Russian propaganda cannot hide Russia’s dependence on China. This is why certain journalists wrote about the advantages of being a Beijing’s vassal: “There are two simple reasons why Russia should become the vassal of China, not the United States. Russia is weary. It is surrounded by enemies and unevenly populated. It isn’t particularly good at private and informal this or high-tech that. It is a country that needs a reliable ally and a friend that has a common enemy. .. Firstly, unlike the United States, China is eager to gain access to our resources, but has no claims on our identity”.

The Methodology

We have built a comprehensive corpus of all the materials from Russian websites and those maintained by the occupation force (approximately 34,000 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 contain quotes from paragraphs referring to each topic.

We used materials from lenta.ru, tass.ru, riafan.ru, russian.rt.com, regnum.ru, iz.ru, life.ru, trmzk.ru, vz.ru, donbasstoday.ru, novosibirsk-news.net, ura.news, newizv.ru, news-front.info, aif.ru, slovodel.com, nakanune.ru, kommersant.ru, ruinformer.com, rosbalt.ru, polit.info, sevastopol.su, ng.ru, expert.ru, dni.ru, kafanews.com, antifashist.com, dnr-pravda.ru, naspravdi.info, kerch.fm, anna-news.info, dan-news.info, tehnowar.ru, aurora.network, gorlovka-pravda.com, lugansk1.info, c-inform.info, 3652.ru, politnavigator.net, rusdnepr.ru, politobzor.net, doneck-news.com, mir-lug.info, odnarodyna.org, vsednr.ru, nefakt.info, novosti.icu, time-news.net, xvesti.ru, comitet.su, sobytiya.info, denis-pushilin.ru, dnr24.com, meridian.in.ua.


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