Ukraine Falls into Oblivion while Russian Patriots Ignore Halloween. Russian Media Monitoring Report
Period: 30 October-5 November 2023. Last week, Russian media showed considerably less interest in the military operations in Ukraine than usual which may be due to the lack of Russian victories in Ukraine or the kick-off of Putin's election campaign.
Follow the trending topics of Russian disinformation on our interactive dashboard “Disinformation about the War in Ukraine”
Instead, the propagandist media focused on the growth of the Russian economy, exploiting loopholes in the anti-Russian sanctions and finding alternatives to Western imports. The Russian Ministry of Defense also accused the Americans of developing biological weapons based on experiments in Nigeria while the propagandists went on a crusade against Halloween.
This monitoring report covers these and other topics of the disinformation spread by Russian state media and online parajournalists to manipulate public opinion.
Russian Media Avoid Talking about the War in Ukraine
Last week, Russian media's interest in the military operations in Ukraine was unusually low. Our analysts noted the absence of news about the victories of the Russian army on the Ukrainian front among the top ten stories covered by the Russian disinformation media — for the first time since the beginning of the war. Similarly, the reports on Ukraine committing war crimes and shelling peaceful towns and villages were not included in summary reports which was quite surprising.
Such absence may be related to the lackluster performance of the Russian army. Another possible reason is the launch of Putin's election campaign in Russia.
On 8 November, there was an news report on “Meduza” which quoted the media's sources claiming that during the presidential campaign, the state propaganda machine would pay less attention to the war in Ukraine shifting focus to the confrontation with the West.
Our future monitoring reports are yet to confirm the credibility of this statement.
The coverage of the war in Ukraine was rather toned down except for the quotations of the Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya. His claim that “from February 2022 to September 2023, the DPR territory alone suffered from more than 25,000 artillery and missile strikes launched by the Armed Forces of Ukraine” was published by many Russian media. He further said that “during that time, 4,712 civilians were killed in the territory of the republic including 139 children”.
Of course, Nebenzya conveniently avoided naming the reason for such losses being Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. According to the statistic provided by the Office of the President of Ukraine, “twenty-seven civilians died in Donbas in 2019. Eight civilians died in 2020, and fifteen more — in 2021”. In other words, Russia's unprovoked aggression led to a rapid increase in casualties in Donbas which Moscow had promised to protect and bring peace and prosperity to.
Many of last week's publications on Russian media were dedicated to economic achievements.
For example, they predicted Russia's GDP to grow by 2.8-3% according to 2023 results: “Analysts expect economic growth in Russia which contradicts President Biden's words about the Russian economy being “in shambles”, said the press secretary for the Russian president Dmitry Peskov”.
Although Vladimir Putin is seemingly happy with the forecasts, he never misses the opportunity to stress that Russia is clearly ahead of the West in terms of economic growth: “We expect our GDP to grow 2.8-2.9% or even 3% this year. This is a stark contrast from Europe's leading economies which are shrinking. Not by much, but still not growing. The problems are real and so is the suffering. We are not gloating — just calling a spade a spade”. He also added that “wages are staying well ahead of the inflation” and that “according to the head of state, unemployment has also remained consistently low”.
At the same time, regional media drew attention to local budget shortfalls and the increasing workforce shortages.
Russian propaganda appears to have missed yet another beat. Despite all the declarations regarding the success of import substitution from Russia’s leadership, the Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev lashed out at the Russian industries for their reliance on Western technology and reluctance to develop their own: “The wide availability of parallel imports has given Russian companies a false sense of security causing to opt for purchasing foreign goods instead of investing into research and development and taking advantage of “Russia’s domestic scientific and technical potential”. In other words, it appears that even Russia’s top officials are refuting the tales about successful import substitution.
Makhachkala: “Pardon Impossible to Execute”
On 29 October, anti-Semitic riots broke out at the Makhachkala airport. The arrival of a flight from Tel Aviv amid calls to expel Jews from the region prompted a mass protest attended by many local Muslims.
The riots were a bolt from the blue for Russian propagandists who constantly talk about Nazism in Ukraine. Some media used the term “protest” while others preferred the softer and broader term “unrest”.
As usual, they placed the blame on Ukraine which had allegedly instigated the riots via Telegram channels.
In the first days following the riots, Russian propagandists tried to steer clear of the subject. It was only last week that the topic finally emerged among the main news on Russian media. However, no efforts were made to analyze the problem or try to trace its roots and explain why there are so many anti-Semites in Russia. Instead, Russian media called to punish the guilty: “An investigation has been launched into seven protesters. Some of them already had a criminal record. The protesters will are facing charges for inciting hatred”.
Russian propagandists wanted to demonstrate that the Russian authorities are in control of the situation and continue to maintain the monopoly on violence which is essential to the functioning of the state.
Still, some propagandists seemed to be unconvinced by the official position. For example, Kremlin political scientist Sergey Markov stated that “many Russians are outraged by the lax punishment of those who took part in the anti-Semitic pogroms in Makhachkala. Only 10 arrested? Just 15 days in jail? Is that an invitation to another pogrom? Are the authorities afraid of a powerful and radical protest movement? Or is it currying favor?”
Radicals demanded brutal punishment for the rioters to prevent the whole event to play right into the hands of the President of Ukraine: “Zelenskiy must be applauding to the superlax punishment of the rioters. Who else can be behind the attack on the airport? Now Zelenskiy will certainly use it as pretext to whine that Russian authorities encourage anti-Semitic pogroms and stand together with Hamas in their hearts”.
Also in the News
Once again, Russian propagandists claimed that the United States is developing bioweapons: “The program is to “ensure technological sovereignty in the field of biomanufacturing and get ahead of the strategic rivals”.
This time, they accused Washington of conducing clandestine operations collecting disease samples in Nigeria: “The Russian Ministry of Defense observed an increase in the consumption of American pharmaceuticals which do not have an actual therapeutic effect in Nigeria”, “The Pentagon collected samples of infectious agents and their vectors in Nigeria under the guise of conducting health relief efforts”.
The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation continued to claim that “the American administration retains control over some Ukrainian biological facilities expecting to resume their activities after the end of the conflict”.
They insisted that Ukraine was planning provocations involving biological weapons to blame the innocent Russia: “There are reasons to believe that SBU and the National Police of Ukraine are considering provocations using biological weapons”.
Russian propaganda also started a war against Halloween: “State Duma deputy from the nationalist liberal democrats (LDPR) Yaroslav Nilov suggested renaming Halloween in Russia into “The Day of Creepy Myths and Tales”. The holiday was called an element of pro-Western propaganda: “For many decades, children have been indoctrinated with this occult tradition from the early years”.
The so-called experts insisted that the celebration was test for patriotism since “true patriots of Russia do not celebrate it”. Those who do are traitors of Mother Russia: “Tonight, the people of Russia will show their true colors. Those who favor the West will adorn their clothes with demonic signs and sway to infernal rhythms. However, the true patriots of Russia will calmly make the sign of the Cross to protect themselves, their family and the entire Holy Russia”.
To monitor the information published on disinformation websites, we analyzed approximately 410,000 news reports collected from ~ 1000 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 quotes from paragraphs referring to each topic.