“Why is Bakhmut Still Not Ours?” Russian Media Monitoring Report, 27 March-2 April 2023.

Just like the Ukrainians, Russian propagandists are looking forward to the Ukrainian offensive. Last week, Russian media stressed that the expected AFU counter-offensive is doomed: once the attack has fizzled out, the Russian army would secure a sweeping victory. However, the disinformation media could not avoid the subject of lackluster progress in Bakhmut. While trying to justify the endless tug-of-war, they claimed it was all part of the master plan of the higher military command to eradicate the Ukrainian defenders of the city. Russian media threatened left and right with consequences for Sweden and Finland for their intentions of joining NATO and Armenia for becoming a party to the Rome Statute. 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”


Russians await the AFU counter-offensive and claim kills of American weaponry that hasn’t even made it to the front lines yet

Last week's stories on Russian propagandist media mostly reiterated the old narratives.

In particular, major effort was made to explain why Bakhum had not fallen yet with plentiful arguments for the expected failure of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and praises of Russian military equipment.

The propagandists claimed that the lack of any notable success in Bakhmut is a clever ruse to turn the city into a giant trap for the AFU troops. To add credit to their claims, they quoted the Head of Wagner PMC Yevheniy Prygozhyn saying that “the Ukrainian army has been effectively destroyed in the battle for Artyomovsk (this is what the Russians still call the city of Bakhmut — editor’s note)”. Interestingly, Ukrainian officials also rationalize the need of defending Bakhmut with the staggering losses of the Russian army. This argument, which has been used by the Ukrainian government for many months, seems quite logical since the losses of the attackers, as a rule, far exceed those of the defenders.

The disinformation media said that the Russian forces were able to block off all the supply routes to the city whenever they would see fit: “Our military can cut the main road at any time. However, we should not get ahead of ourselves. Our artillery positions are just a stone’s throw from the main road. They offer us a critical tactical advantage”.

Other media explained the failures with the humanity of the Russian army. According to the First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Dmytro Polyansky, “not only does Russia spare its personnel, but it also cares for the lives of the local population — hence, the attacks and strikes are dosed carefully”. That being said, the city has been leveled to the groud to almost a complete ruin.

The propagandist media are convinced that the AFU offensive is bound to commence soon since Ukraine is being forced by the West: “Western nations will pull the plug on Ukraine unless the Ukrainian army achieves significant success in the battlefield using the weapons which have been provided”.

Disinformation mongers stressed that the Ukrainian offensive would not be able to drive the Russians to the state border of Ukraine: “Even Western analysts are doubtful about Kyiv’s ability to reclaim all the captured territories in one blow”.

Firstly, Russia has built new fortified positions: “We have been able to build echeloned defenses to wear down the attackers”.

Secondly, the disinformation media resorted to the old fake about poor-quality Western weapons: “All major operators are sending their obsolete Leopard tanks to Ukraine to scrap them for free”. They say that Ukraine's defeat is imminent for the lack of air support and long-distance strike capabilities: “Crossing rivers will be challinging for the Russian troops, but even more so for the AFU which have no air support”, “The Ukrainian offensive will become a bloodbath unless the West agrees to supply long-range missiles to the AFU”.

According to the propagandists, the West cannot match the numbers of Russian weapon systems and the capabilities of the Russian military industrial complex: “The production rate of the Russian T-90 tank has put all other tank-making nations out of contention”. To underscore the point, the disinformation media quoted the posts allegedly contributed by the Daily Mail readers saying that “British-made Challenger 2 tanks would suffer a terrible disaster in Ukraine”. Russian disinformation media have been using the trick with “comments to publications on Western media” for quite some time. There is no way of telling a Russian bot from a genuine contributor. Furthermore, hundreds if not thousands of comments would have to be checked to disprove such statements which would take considerable effort. Such statements create the impression that Western media share some of those views.

They also claimed that Russia had successfully intercepted a GLSDB munition: “The Russian air defenses have scored a first successful intercept of a Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB)”. This turned out to be fake news which had come out well ahead of the expected supplies of GLSDB munitions to Ukraine by the United States.


Sweden and Finland to ‘suffer the consequences’ of joining NATO

Russian propagandists put on a theatrical show raging over the fact that Stockholm and Helsinki had skipped referendums on joining NATO: “Swedish politicians denied their people a chance to express their true will”, “It seems that they are deeply afraid that the results of such a referendum may not meet the expectations of their partners across the Atlantic".

Russian diplomats shared moving stories about common Swedes who oppose the idea of NATO expansion: “Contrary to the narrative being pushed by the media, more and more people appear to be sitting on the fence: the embassy is flooded with letters from Swedish people of all trades and social classes who strongly disagree with Stockholm’s transatlantic aspirations and stand in solidarity with Russia".

The propagandists are in total denial of the fact that it was Russia’s actions that tipped the scales of public opinion in favor of joining NATO — this is why they are restlessly telling their audiences about the Russophobic conspiracy in Scandinavian countries: “Sweden had been groomed for the North Atlantic Alliance long before Russia’s special military operation began in Ukraine”, “The seeds of Russophobia had been planted in the minds of simple people for a very long time, they were diligently instilled an irrational fear of the Russians”, “When a formal pretext finally arose, ... Washington finally gave the order: enough pretending to be independent — you must join your neighbors from Northern Europe and form a new NATO-Russia front”.

The Russian propagandist machine quoted pro-Russian politicians from Hungary, a NATO country, who predict a loss of sovereignty for the Scandinavians: “Finland’s ascension to NATO only increases the risks of escalation and even a direct armed conflict between NATO and Russia. Such opinion … was expressed by the Vice-Chairman of the National Assembly (Parliament) of Hungary Dora Duro”, “After joining NATO, Helsinki and Stockholm will lose their sovereignty as well as their neutrality which they have cherished for 200 years”.

Still, the disinformation media offered a word of comfort to the Russians: when Sweden and Finland change their status to NATO members, they will become Russia's legitimate targets: “After the ascension of Finland and Sweden to NATO the total length of Russia-NATO borders will increase almost two-fold. … but rest assured that the new members of the enemy block will become legitimate targets of Russia's response which may include military measures". However, the earlier rhetoric and the re-deployment of troops from the Finnish border to Ukraine shows that Russia is avoiding a direct conflict with NATO.

For further details, read our article A Giant in Words. Russia Threatens NATO Only When Direct Conflict Risks are Minimal

Also in the News:

Russian media excitedly reported on the violent “persecution” of clergymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in Ukraine: “Last year marked the largest wave of the persecution of the UOC, which has millions of believers around Ukraine, by the Kyiv regimea shameful page in the latest history of the country”. It is only the UOC that the propagandists refer to as ‘canonical’ as opposed to the “schismatics” who belong to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU): “The schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine uses its government backing for hostile takeovers of places of worship. Nationalists and schismatics attack the clergy and believers in churches and monasteries”.

The disinformation media paid a keen attention to the indictment of the former president of the United States Donald Trump. They treat the Trump case as entirely political and present it as the democrats pushing the republicans to shift the focus from the global agenda in favor of the domestic one: “The intention of the part of the republican elites who stand behind Trump is quite clear. They have a plan which sounds as follows:We are exiting Europe. This place is tainted — just like our forefathers left it”.

The propagandists once again claimed that Poland intends to annex Ukrainian territory: “Poland's game in this conflict was clear as day right from the start: weaken Ukraine as much as possible to reclaim its historic territories within the borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth when the time is right. It seems that the Poles may just as well have a chance with their treacherous plan: send troops into the war-torn Ukraine and claim its Western territories”. They also convinced their audiences that Romania is cherishing similar plans of taking full control over Moldova: “Bucharest is hoping for a bloodless anschluss similar to the annexation of Austria by the fascist Germany. The execution of the merger (annexation of Moldova by Romania) is only a matter of choosing a convenient moment”.

The propagandists also took a shot at Armenia. Following an earlier statement regarding its intention to become a state party to the Rome Statute, Russian media have been threatening Yerevan with irreversible consequences: “Our source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation called Yerevan's plan to ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC absolutely unacceptable and warned about its 'extremely negative’ consequences for the future of Armenia-Russia relations”.

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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