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Information campaigns of the week. Russian Media Monitoring Report, May 20-26, 2024

Last week, Russian media intensified information campaigns aimed at the Ukrainian audience. Thus, the political leadership is accused of indifference to its military, who are in Russian captivity. The military leadership is accused of failing to train the mobilised and sending them straight from military registration and enlistment offices to the front. Ukrainians are being urged to flee abroad, surrender, and disobey orders from their superiors. Disinformers promise that there will be no consequences for this. And even if there is, it is better to wait out the war in prison. Zelenskyy is accused of usurping power. The French president also received his share of hatred. Emmanuel Macron is being called a war criminal because of Paris' actions in New Caledonia.

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Read about this and more in the new issue of our monitoring of Russian state media and manipulative websites that target Russian disinformation.

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Anti-Ukrainian information campaigns

Analysing the Russian information space last week, we noticed three key themes that Russian propaganda is pushing at this stage of the war.

Undermining the mobilisation campaign in Ukraine

On 18 May, a new law on mobilisation in Ukraine came into force. This gave a new impetus to the Russian propaganda machine.

The Kremlin's information service calls on Ukrainians to disobey the law, hide from the military and police, and travel abroad by any means necessary.

The propaganda assures that newly mobilised people do not receive any training and that they are sent to the front immediately after registration at military commissariats.

The mobilised are urged to lay down their arms and surrender, because "it is better and safer in Russian captivity than in the Ukrainian army."

If a Ukrainian refuses to fight, the disinformers assure, he or she will not be punished: "There is a phenomenon in the Ukrainian Armed Forces called AWOL (absence without leave), and their command turns a blind eye to it because there is no one to replace the soldiers." They argue that it is better to stay in prison than to fight against Russia, which is also making progress on all military fronts: "How long is that prison (for refusing to fight - Ed.)? Three years? Is that all?"

The pseudo-lawyers claim that after the adoption of the law, it is now even easier to disobey orders and regulations.

Accusing the Ukrainian leadership of neglecting the fate of Ukrainian soldiers in Russian captivity

On 22 May, RT head and top propagandist Margarita Simonyan said that Kyiv had been refusing to exchange prisoners of war for four months: "I have full lists of 500 Ukrainian prisoners of war whom Kyiv has been refusing to exchange for four months. Zelenskyy has selected 38 people - Azov and others - and is ready to take only them. Ukraine does not need the rest of the Ukrainian soldiers." Soon after, she posted a list of 500 such prisoners of war.

The news began to be actively replicated in the Russian information environment. The Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova also joined in: "Russia has not been able to get Ukraine to take its prisoners in exchange for several months", "According to her, the process of exchanging prisoners of war is being delayed due to the double standards of Kyiv, which strikes out privates and sergeants from the exchange lists, while deliberately recording many fighters as missing."

This "information bomb" is aimed at Ukrainian society. It is important for propaganda to show that the military and political leadership of Ukraine does not care about the fate of ordinary soldiers but exchanges prisoners only for political purposes.

The coordinator of the Information Resistance group, Oleksiі Kopytko, notes that Russia can generate as many such "list" as it wants because there are many of our people in captivity, and there is a constant struggle to get them out. The information was confirmed by Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, who said that Russia is slowing down the exchange process.

The goal is to sow internal discord and instability. It is no secret that in Ukraine, relatives of military personnel held in Russian captivity can take to the streets demanding that every effort be made to free them. The "Simonyan list" may be used to incite these people.

Another goal of Kremlin propaganda, according to Kopytko, is to discredit Ukraine's position before the summit in Switzerland. One of the points of our “peace formula” is the release of all prisoners and deportees (including children stolen by the Russians), so Moscow is trying to knock down this point in advance.

Discrediting Ukraine's top leadership

Last week, the Russian media began to spread the theme of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's illegitimacy.

Margarita Simonyan wrote: "The editorial staff is debating how to title Zelensky now. I propose overdue..." She added that other options include “former president of Ukraine,” “illegitimate president,” and “self-proclaimed.”

On 24 May, Putin said that Zelenskyy's legitimacy had ended.

According to the Constitution of Ukraine, Zelenskyy's term of office, elected in 2019, was supposed to expire five years after he took office. But there was no election of a new head of state in March. Due to the Russian invasion, martial law was imposed in Ukraine, which legally prohibits any elections. So Zelenskyy remains president until a new one is elected.

The nuance is that the Ukrainian Constitution clearly prohibits holding parliamentary elections in times of war, but it does not mention the prohibition of presidential elections. Propaganda is using this to accuse Zelenskyy of illegitimacy and call him a "usurper."

These attacks are aimed at undermining domestic political stability in Ukraine, provoking conflicts, creating an artificial crisis, and weakening Ukraine's foreign policy positions.

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Macron is a beast, a war criminal

French President Emmanuel Macron has once again been included in our monitoring. We have repeatedly written that he is being targeted by Russian propaganda for his pro-Ukrainian statements and statements about the possible sending of troops to Ukraine. You can read about it here and here.

Last week, disinformers used a new pretext - the unrest in New Caledonia, France's overseas territory. Back on 5 May, Paris declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia to strengthen police powers as unrest broke out there amidst the French authorities' electoral reforms. It is planned to grant the right to vote on the island territory to French people who have lived there for at least ten years. Local activists fear that the reform will reduce the influence of indigenous people on decision-making.

Russian propaganda has stated that "the sunset is finally coming for the remaining empire in France. The indivisible republic is falling apart."

Macron is accused of incompetence. They warn that he will go down in French history as the man under whom Paris will lose the last vestiges of its greatness: "The wayward French President Emmanuel Macron is once again slipping through the cracks. Just two weeks before the European Parliamentary elections, the country was hit by a wave of crimes with ethnic overtones."

France's attempts to restore order were called a punitive operation by the "French military", "which is trying to impose a colonial regime on the freedom-loving Canadians."

And the Kremlin's pocket political analyst Sergei Markov concludes that all of Macron's actions are manifestations of war crimes: "Macron has arrived in New Caledonia. To personally lead punitive actions against the Kanak uprising? Or to put out the fire of the Kanak anti-colonial war with a compromise? A beast. A war criminal."

The Methodology

To monitor the information published on disinformation websites, we analyzed approximately 500,000 news reports collected from ~ 1,000 Russian websites. The data for the analysis was collected and 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.

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This article was originally written in Ukrainian. It has been translated into English using AI tools such as DeepL, ChatGPT, and Grammarly. If you encounter an error that requires immediate attention, please inform us via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Your understanding and support are appreciated.

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