Ukraine is Haunted by Cancer Phantom. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 4-10 September 2023

There has been a considerable increase in the number of sources being analyzed. For example, this monitoring report contains the results of the automatic processing of approximately 400,000 news items.

Last week, Russian disinformation media shocked their readership with stories about cancerous diseases caused by the use of depleted uranium munitions in Ukraine. It seems that the propagandists still have not learned to stick to the same story while reporting on the AFU achievements. According to the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia (SVR) headed by Sergey Naryshkin, who is notorious for his penchant for conspirology, the United States is planning to assassinate the leadership of Niger. The president of Turkey Tayyip Erdoğan visited Russia to meet Putin, but the whole affair looked like a rehearsal of a cheesy Russo-Turkish TV show tentatively titled “From Love to Hate and Back”.


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Robotyne: the Bone of Contention

The village of Robotyne is a small township in Zaporizhzhia oblast which had been engulfed in fierce fighting. At the end of August, the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine announced that it had been liberated. As Russian troops were forced to retreat, their propaganda stumbled — just like it had during the more massive retreats of the Russian army in the past.

The loss of the village was acknowledged by the head of the local occupation administration Yevhen Balytskyi. He said that the Russians had fallen back to the hills since holding onto the village no longer offered any tactical advantages: “Russian Armed Forces withdrew from Rabotino for tactical reasons” stressing that “the Russian army still controls the commanding heights while the AFU are locked in a “bottleneck” below”.

Other propagandists presented the advancing of the Ukrainian forces as their defeat: “According to Rogov, the village of Rabotino had become a kill zone for the advancing Ukrainian troops”.

However, the Russian Ministry of Defence was not at all supportive of such a cheery version. Such disagreement was a stark contrast to the playbook which allowed different Russian speakers to present various versions, but demanded sticking to the same basic message. In this case, the messages were different. The Russian MoD claimed Robotyne to be under their control and denied any advances of the AFU.

New Defense Minister in the House

Russian propagandists went wild juggling the facts surrounding the recent resignation of defense minister Reznikov to prove that Ukraine was under external control. They have been promoting this narrative, which we first registered almost five years ago in our first Russian disinformation monitoring reports, for many years.

On 4 September, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the resignation of the Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov naming Rustem Umerov as his replacement. Two days later, the parliament approved the changes making the changes official.

The popular propagandist and self-proclaimed political scientist Sergey Markov claimed that it was the USA that had insisted on firing Reznikov to prove the president's commitment to fighting corruption: “Reznikov’s sacrificial resignation is a ploy to convince the USA that Zelenskiy is on a crusade against corruption. Zelenskiy is a just a puppet. …To keep the taxpayers’ money flowing into Ukraine and lining their own pockets, the Americans needed to get rid of Reznikov who had become a symbol of corruption”.

Some so-called experts interpreted the personnel changes as a sign of the intention of the United States to talk peace with Russia: “Today’s resignation of the Minister of Defense of Ukraine Aleksey Reznikov and the upcoming appointment of Rustem Umerov, the protégé of the U.S. Department of State, as his replacement, hints at the desire of the West to reconsider the possibility of peace talks with Russia. Umerov is known for his ties with Turkey which is to play a key role in the process”.

Turkey. “From Love to Hate and back” Saga

On 4 September, Vladimir Putin and the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met in Sochi. The event received the full attention of Russian propagandist machine.

Russian media attempted to prove that the Russian leader is not such a pariah as Western politicians and media claim. The propagandists use any contact of the Russian president with foreign officials to prove that Vladimir Putin is still a top player in the international arena.

The meeting was presented as a diplomatic breakthrough: “Our president single-handedly convinced Turkey to side with Russia bucking all the skeptics in the West . Just think about it: the leader of a NATO country is not afraid of meeting the president of Russia”. They savored every little detail of the event and stressed the Russian hospitality: “While the details of the menu were not disclosed, it clearly delighted the presidents”.

However, the tone of the publications on Turkey on Russian media a few months ago was quite different. In July this year, president Erdoğan authorized the release of five Azov commanders to Ukraine who were supposed to be held in Turkey till the end of the war as agreed with Russia.

The event infuriated certain propagandists who called for retaliation by banning Russian tourists from visiting Turkey, throwing all Turkish and Azerbaijani businesses out from Russia, providing military aid to Kurds and even ‘liberating Tsargrad’ (a Slavic name for the city of Constantinople).

This wasn’t the first time Turkish actions were met with such harsh criticism. The waves of fury rise and subside much like in 1984 novel by George Orwell in which the totalitarian regime alternated between calls to deadly hatred and eternal friendship toward the neighbor state.

Last week, president Erdoğan even made it to the Top 10 politicians mentioned on Russian media.

The Grain Deal

One of the main reasons of president Erdoğan’s visit to Russia was brokering the revival of the so-called ‘grain deal’. However, the president of Turkey left Russia empty-handed.

The propagandists presented Putin's refusal as his unfaltering resilience to the pressure of the treacherous West: “Everybody expected Russia to budge and resume the grain deal. Putin, however, stuck to his guns and made it very clear what is non-negotiable for Russia”.

Russian media insisted that Erdoğan's visit to Russia shows that the West and NATO are weak: “The world is changing, and Turkey has decided to join our side... while the West has nothing to offer except wacky democracy and hysterical calls. This alliance has no capabilities nor resources to keep their vassals tame like dogs on a leash”.

Depleted Uranium Strikes Again

At the beginning of September this year, the U.S. Ministry of Defense announced a new package of additional U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. Among other things, the package will contain depleted uranium munitions for the American-made Abrams tanks.

The official Russian propaganda responded in its typical style by spreading fakes — just like after the delivery of similar munitions by Britain.

According to Russian media, the West intends to make the territories captured by Russia uninhabitable since they firmly believe in Ukraine's inability to reclaim them. “The West has already written off Donbass, Zaporozhye and Kherson oblasts as lost territories and now they want to make them uninhabitable”.

The Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova complained about “a multiple increase in cancerous diseases in the areas where depleted uranium munitions were used. NATO personnel — first and foremost the Italian military — were the first to have a taste of those effects during the aggression of the North Atlantic alliance againts Yugoslavia”.

To support the propagandist version, Russian media insisted that Serbian people continue to suffer from the consequences of the battlefield use of such munitions: “According to the information from the Ministry of Health of Serbia, there is an increase of cancerous diseases, male infertility, pathological pregnancy complications and mental disorders in children.

This is a lie. Cancer is indeed relatively common in many Serbian children according to the statistical data. However, the facts presented in “Childhood cancer inequalities in the WHO European Region 2022” tell a different story:

“Overall age-adjusted incidence rates for malignant tumors were highest in Croatia and Serbia. A statistically significant increase in age-adjusted incidence rates was observed in Bulgaria, while significant decreases were seen in Belarus, Croatia, Cyprus and Serbia”. In other words, the incidence rates for malignant tumors among Serbian children are approximately the same as the neighboring Croatia where depleted uranium munitions were never used.

In 2015, the “Serbian News” portal published a story titled “Experts See no Connection between NATO Bombardments and a Growth of Cancerous Diseases in Serbia”. In the article, the director of Serbian Institute of Oncology and Radiology stated that the level of cancerous diseases in Serbia does not provide evidence and may not be related to the aftermath of Kosovo bombardment with depleted uranium munitions used during the 1999 NATO operation in the south of Serbia.

Alarm! The USA Is Targeting African Leaders!

Last week, the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia was on a roll. They claimed that “the U.S. government is considering assassination of the leaders of the military coup in Niger”. Russian media hurried to spread those statements. “According to the service spokesperson, representatives of American special services are in direct talks with their partners regarding the potential assets that could pull the trigger in the potential assassinations”.

The propagandists keep spreading the narrative on the desire of the United States and Europe to control the former African colonies “with an iron hand”.

The Kremlin’s information minions stressed that the peoples of Africa want to be free while the “colonizers” are ready to resort to any methods to get rid of those who dare to protest: “The fact that the options of using such methods against a particular leader are on the table means they are unable to change the regime through other methods. As the leaders of the military coup in Niger enjoy nationwide support of the people, the “color revolution” playbook is absolutely useless”.

The Methodology

To monitor the information published on disinformation websites, we analyzed approximately 410,000 news reports collected from 952 Russian and occupation websites. The data for the analysis was provided by SemanticForce

Each paragraph was processed using an 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 examples of paragraphs referring to each topic.


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