The Blowing-Up of the Kakhovska HPP and Ukraine's Counteroffensive. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 5-11 June 2023.

The blowing-up of the Kakhovska HPP by Russian forces left the Russian media scrambling for versions which could exonerate Russia with the main narrarative “It was Ukraine, not us!!”. Russian propaganda came up with a flurry of explanations why Ukraine had blown up the HPP denying Russia’s involvement. Russian disinformation media are finally able to report on Ukraine’s actual counteroffensive. Now that the operation is underway, the propagandists have been reporting on Ukraine's colossal losses and the power of Russian weapons.

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

The disinformation media are claiming that Ukraine has not been able to make any significant progress while Moscow is waiting for the perfect time to deal a crushing blow. This monitoring report covers these and other topics of the disinformation spread by Russian state media and online parajournalists to manipulate public opinion.

Ukraine's Counteroffensive

Ukraine's counteroffensive” was the hottest topic on Russian propagandist media last week. There was no doubt that the operation had actually started as even Putin himself confirmed that Ukraine's counteroffensive had begun while commenting on the progress of the hostilities: “The commencement of the AFU counteroffensive was also confirmed by the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on 9 June. The President stressed that Ukraine had not been able to achieve any meaningful success”

The disinformation media are reporting on Ukraine’s staggering losses and the invincible Russian weapons which put NATO systems to shame. Russian media claim that the Ukrainian ranks have been swept by panic due to poor planning: “Based on radio intercepts, some enemy units simply refuse to fight to avoid being slaughtered”. The propagandists claim that Russia is not revealing its hand because holding off the AFU has been a walk in the park so far: “Russian army did not even consider using any of its “trump cards and surprises” as it has been successful in holding off the enemy with limited assets”.

Russian media also reported that Russia had wiped out Ukraine's entire air force: “Our forces are knocking out the last remnants of the Ukrainian Air Force”. However, such claims have been made with regularity since day one of the full-scale invasion.

According to the so-called experts, the time is definitely on Russia’s side: “The time is on our side while the window of “counteroffensive opportunity” is closing fast for the AFU” which is why all you need to do is wait a little until the victory is ours.

The propagandists warn that should Ukraine's defenses collapse, the West may put its own boots on the ground. And, of course, it will be Warsaw that will spearhead the process: “Secondly, if such intervention is ever to happen, it will only happen when the hours of the Ukrainian state are counted, and they will have to do something about it before it ceases to exist. … and Poland is the best candidate for the job”.

Such a scenario seems perfectly logical as the propagandists are convinced that Poland is already actively involved in the hostilities: “The AFU militants attempted a break by conducting reconnaissance in force near the Vremevka Bulge in Zaporozhye front. The regular AFU units were reinforced by Polish mercenaries”. The fake about “Polish mercenaries” has been appearing on Russian propaganda since before the full-scale invasion.

The Kakhovska HPP: No Water for Crimea

Based on the available information and the damage assessment by the Ukrainian engineers who service the Dnieper dams, on 6 June Russia blew up the Kakhovska HPP dam. The disaster has affected a great number of people and caused the risk of catastrophic flooding for more than 80 towns and villages.

Russian propagandists chose a number of strategies to spin the event.

One of them was to downplay the consequences of the intentional explosion. For example, they denied the reports on the tragedy in the Nova Kakhovka zoo where all the animals except ducks and swans had drowned. To spare the reader from the sad news, the disinformation mongers claimed that the zoo had been empty or that the animals had been moved to Crimea. Therefore, they claimed all the news about the tragedy were fake: “Only goats and peacocks were there”, “The animals that used to live in “Kazkova Dibrova” zoo had been evacuated in 2022”.

The Ukrainian collaborationist Saldo also helped the propagandists to exonerate Russia. In particular, the Moscow-installed head of the temporarily occupied Kherson oblast Volodymyr Saldo made a statement claiming that “people are going about their business as usual”. “Novaya Kakhovka and all the towns downstream — Oleshki, Golaya Pristan, Kherson and other localities — are fine. People are walking the streets, and life goes on”. In the video, however, Saldo stood against the sunken administration buildings in Nova Kakhovka which contradicted the occupiers’ words.

Another strategy was to blame Ukraine for the blowing of the hydroelectric power plant. To justify the claim, the propagandists invented arguments to prove that it was Kyiv that reaped the benefits of the disaster.

According to one version, Ukraine was planning a springboard for capturing the Zaporizhia NPP: “Which is part of Kyiv's plan to take control of the Zaporizhia NPP”.

Another version was that Kyiv had blown up the dam out of fear of Russia's offensive in Kherson oblast: “Shoigu: Kyiv committed a terror attack by destroying the Kakhovska HPP to prevent the advance of the Russian army”.

Some propagandists argued that Ukraine was planning an attack on Crimea: “The blowing up of the Kakhovka dam is part of the preparations for the AFU attack on Crimea”.

Others claimed that Ukraine had destroyed the dam to leave the peninsula dry: “Dmitry Peskov called the events at the HPP an act of sabotage committed by Ukraine to cut off water supply to Crimea”.

Russian media also pushed the narrative that Ukraine had blown up the Kakhovska HPP to attract international attention: “Kyiv blew up the Kakhovska HPP to keep the West, which had got utterly tired of Ukraine, focused on its problems”.

This dazzling array of contradictory claims boiled down to the single message “It was Ukraine, not us!” — a typical Russian cover-up strategy. The idea is to flood the reader with a plethora of various interpretations of the events which all, however different, lead to the same conclusion.

This technique was well-explained in this video by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

Also in the News:

Last week, the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau announced the planned seizure of the Russian An-124 Ruslan cargo plane, which is believed to be owned by a subsidiary of Volga-Dnepr Airlines LLC and Volga-Dnepr Group, to be given to Ukraine. The Russian propagandists exploded with furious comments: “The launch of Russia’s SMO made the West lose its civilized veneer in the blink of an eye. We are seeing the ugly face of the predatory capitalism that Karl Marx warned us about a long time ago.” The ambassador of the Russian Federation to Canada Oleg Stepanov called the decision “common theft”.

The An-124 in question landed in Canada on 27 February 2022 carrying a load of COVID-19 tests from China. However, the plane was immediately grounded as on that day Omar Alghabra, Transport Minister of Canada, announced that Canada’s airspace would be closed to all Russian aircraft operators.

On 8 June, the former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that some Alliance members might agree to the sending of their troops to Ukraine if other North Atlantic Alliance members including the USA refused to provide security guarantees to Kyiv at the upcoming Vilnus summit.

The statement was met with threats of hypothetical strikes on Europe which came from the notorious expert in verbal warfare Dmitry Medvedev: “Europe is within reach of our hypersonic missiles — is that what you want? What would Uncle Same say to that? Aren't they worried about their precious assets?” According to the Deputy Head of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Rasmussen is suffering from “doctrinaire dementia”.

Meanwhile, a local Russian political observer argued that Rasmussen had been consulting Volodymyr Zelenskyy and was being paid handsomely for advocating Ukraine’s ascension to NATO: “Rasmussen, who has been on Ukraine’s payroll for quite some time, is working hard to get a sweet bonus if Ukraine joins NATO in whatever format that might be”.

As usual, Russian media continued to hurl mud at the LGBT community claiming its harmful influence on the Russian society: “The civil society is facing “a global attack by the LGBT community” which has been imposing its values on the Russian society in an aggressive manner”.

The recent spike in negative remarks may be related to the newest legislative initiatives of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. In particular, there was a bill introduced on 30 May which prohibits changes of the gender marker in legal documents and “medical treatment related to gender transition”.

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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