Hot topics of Russian disinfo: “Zelensky speaks like Poroshenko”, May 9, and US biolabs in Ukraine. Issue #36
- Disinformers tried to inflate the scale of the May 9 celebrations in Ukraine and forgot to mention its implications during the epidemic.
- They play on the annoyance of quarantine supporters and their opponents, pushing them against each other.
- Disinformers try to twist decentralization into "federalization" and write about "undermined trust" in the central government.
- They disseminate propaganda about "an American colony" and about Russia, which allegedly became a "superpower" and "challenged the United States".
- They undermine the trust in medical reform through emotional manipulation, and they shift all responsibility for problems in healthcare to the previous team of the Ministry of Health.
Period: May 4—10, 2020
"Real anti-Ukrainian orgy" on May 9
As predicted by Russian sites on the eve of May 9, "during the day, on the channels of Putin's nepot Viktor Medvedchuk, we shall witness a real anti-Ukrainian orgy." Indeed, pro-Russian forces voiced Russian theses, lobbied for a bill “to lift the ban on the ribbon of Saint George”, made statements such as "we shall not let anyone rewrite history" or "we shall protect veterans," organized rallies, and under the leadership of OPFL leaders they totally neglected lockdown.
One of Ukraine's leading pro-Russian media reported the May 9 celebrations as a mass celebration, although this was not the case, writing of "holiday events organized by the opposition" during the lockdown: "People gathered at the Eternal Flame in Kyiv and other cities even more than for Easter". The massive events were described mostly in a positive way: "The main thing that happened today was that the Ukrainians took to the streets and went to lay flowers, despite the lockdown”, forgetting to mention the epidemic implications of such mass celebrations. On the contrary, they complained that the authorities "tried to make it as difficult as possible for them to pass to the alleys of glory," and that “endless disinfections were done specifically to repel the urge to come here”.
The manipulators paid a lot of attention to Zelensky's video address. His speech was characterized "with an amendment to the individuality of the president, quite Poroshenko-like", and they cited as a disadvantage the fact that "throughout Zelensky’s speech, not a word about the Red Army."
Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues also wrote about the ideological split between the government and the people, as the authorities celebrated May 8 - "the so-called Day of Reconciliation and Remembrance, established in Ukraine by the post-Maidan authorities, not without the goal of ousting May 9." The commemoration of the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation was connected with the theme of Ukrainian fascism, which once again "raises its head, feeling impunity because it is supported by the authorities."
“Since 2014, celebrating Victory Day in Ukraine has become simply dangerous. The ribbon of Saint George was declared the “symbol of terrorists”, and the nationalist deputies openly stated on television that it was “very dangerous to life and health” to wear it.”
"To lockdown or not to lockdown"
“If Poroshenko’s entourage profiteered the war, the current president’s entourage profiteers on the lockdown” is the way the Ukrainian manipulators reiterate the same theses for another week, mentioning impoverishment, medical reform, the Epicenter hypermarket not locked down, strengthened protest moods, and the riot of “picnics and bazaars”
Russian websites targeting Ukrainian topics, take on these words and make them stronger, often placing opposite theses together. For example, last week they wrote that lockdown is only lifted “under the pressure of the street”, and at the same time that "the number of infected people keeps growing and the risk of an outbreak in the country remains almost as high as it was two months ago."
At the same time, they stressed that the coronavirus epidemic "has not gone anywhere yet, and may intensify" and spread the idea of a low epidemic threat due to the "virus that deceived everyone." They were particularly pleased with the unrealized pessimistic predictions ("the spread of the disease was tens and hundreds of times slower than predicted on the basis of Chinese data") and used this as an argument to discredit quarantine measures and as evidence that quarantine was introduced for political purposes: “Ukrainian forecasters got the wrong sow by the ear. And it’s good if this is a mistake made in good faith, not the result of panic or a political order. Does this mean that Ukraine might have dispensed with the lockdown?”
At the same time, Russian disinformers are once again trying to undermine the credibility of anyone in the political arena: “the “velors” lacked the brains to implement the quarantine policy, the opposition went to far in criticizing and in the template counter-propaganda of the ridiculous “tele-leaders”, and the locals take advantage of the situation and want to “ride the wave”. And it is not the first time that we notice how Russian disinformers are gradually "flowing" from the topic of lockdown to the topic of local elections, assuming that "The ones who will lead the society after the quarantine will receive the largest electoral dividends" and promoting the demarche of mayors.
“Among the mayors, a contest seems to have begun, as to who will make Zelensky sc**w off more efficiently”
"Party of mayors" to cause "federalization"
Clickbait sites continue developing the topic of the conflict between the center and the regions: "the central government has completely lost its authority in a year." They also compile a list of potential candidates for the "party of mayors": “Cherkasy, Ivano-Frankivsk, Mukachevo, Dnipro... Kharkiv, and Odesa”.
This week, they have a new sub-topic. Poroshenko is assembling a new "party of regions": "Poroshenko intends to invest $150 million in the project, uniting the mayors of Western and Central Ukraine." At the same time, they continue to accuse Zelensky of collaborating with the previous president of Ukraine and threaten that Poroshenko will "outplay" Zelensky.
Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues write more about the reactions of the President's Office to the crises of recent weeks: “the tactics of the presidential office: get dirty and hide. Maybe things will resolve themselves". They also announce the creation of a "party of mayors" and at the same time announce a list of other "parties" that they themselves came up with earlier: ”Again, a party is being created, only this time not from the “children of Soros”, gays, Sentsov with a jar, and Honcharuk, but from the mayors of the cities”.
Manipulators also emember another of their permanent narratives, federalization. For the past few years, they have been trying to push the term into Ukrainian public debate and replace decentralization with it. For example, "there is no" United Country" (another euphemism for Ukraine from propagandists, a slogan that was popular in Ukraine in 2014 - Texty.org.ua), and only federalization can save the state." And they are looking for and inventing new splits that can be pressed, such as the "tendency to independence" of Galicia.
Russia's leading media write that the president wants the title of "the victor of the coronavirus" and allegedly jealously defends it from other candidates. And they say that Zelensky will be forced to "suppress" mayors and local authorities by force.
Medical reform: "authorities shed most important social responsibilities"
Clickbait sites do not stop attacking the "genocidal", by their definition, law on medical guarantees, which began medical reform. Taking advantage of the complexity of medical reform, they invent lots of horror stories. In particular, they write that "there will not be enough money for healthcare in the whole country and this will lead to state and communal medical institutions going bankrupt and being destroyed." And the private medical business will allegedly "benefit" from this.
The main topic promoted by the manipulators is the "layoffs of medical workers". They scare readers with doctors leaving hospitals to go and work abroad. At the same time, they continue to accuse Uliana Suprun (a Ukrainian who was born in the United States), who has not headed the Ministry of Health for almost a year. "She is not afraid of responsibility... Because she is protected by some known embassies that run our country." They combine the topic of "external governance" with fears about healthcare reform, which are supported by some Ukrainian politicians and heads of large hospitals.
Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues write a lot about the "elimination" of tuberculosis dispensaries and psychiatric hospitals. Their myths are dispelled by Oleg Petrenko, the first head of the National Health Service, in a recent interview. Manipulators also describe in a very peculiar way the motives for medical reformers: "by reducing the number of hospitals under the pretext of 'fighting corruption', the authorities decided to shed the most important social obligations they had inherited from the Soviet Union."
Specifically, the principle of "money follows the patient" was criticized: "only each treated case is paid for, and under the conditions of the epidemic their number has decreased by 75%" so the hospitals are allegedly underfunded. In fact, the tariff for second-tier hospitals consists of 4 components and only one of them is "money per patient". The system of financing the second-level hospitals provides for payments not only for the services provided, but also for the preparedness to provide these services. But to make money, health facilities must be efficient and take steps to meet patients’ needs.
Major Russian websites write that "Ukrainian healthcare system is currently not just vulnerable, but in fact is on the verge of a coma." They recall a protest by doctors in Kyiv who complained about salary cuts during the epidemic.
Ukraine, a "colony" of the US subject to experiments
Clickbait sites continue to spread a rude fake of OPFL deputies about American biolaboratories in Ukraine: "The head of the OPFL political council nailed it with his request, stirring up the American nest." They are trying to promote the "bio-gate" that is supposed to happen in Ukraine. And all refutations "only confirm the biological experiments being conducted by the Pentagon in Ukraine." The topic of laboratories is not new, it is mentioned on the eve of the expiration of the agreement between the United States and Ukraine on cooperation in combating biological weapons.
Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues write about the appointment of a new US ambassador to Ukraine: "The wait-and-see attitude did not contribute to the effective management of the colony, as the IMF, a backup communication channel, had to be used." Now that the ambassador is a retired US military man who is familiar with the situation in the region, they are writing about the restoration of the "system of external governance in full."
And disinformers call Ukraine a "colony" dependent on the United States. In this way, they continue their usual narrative of "external governance." According to the narrative, Ukraine is not independent and is in fact under the control of: corporations, George Soros, the US government, the world shadow government, or Masonic lodges. Everyone can find an option to their liking.
Moreover, they try to convince that "Nenka" [“nenka” means "mother" in Ukrainian, the phrase "Ukraine-nenka" is used in pathetic songs and poetry. Russian disinformation sometimes uses Ukrainian words in Russian transliterations, it is read as contempt - texty.org.ua] Nenka in America has become synonymous with a poor loser like Honduras.” At the same time, Trump "is trying to repeat the method of "concentration of Russia" (ie, a temporary abandonment of active foreign policy to address the top domestic challenges - Texty.org.ua), adapting it to American interests."
May 9 is an important date for legitimizing the current Russian regime. Every year these days, Russia tries to impose its holiday model on Ukraine. Among other things, it envisages the marginalization of Ukrainian insurgents who fought against both Nazi Germany and the USSR.
This week, disinformers used May 9 as usual in order to create an image of mass support for the Soviet interpretation of World War II history. They need this in order to tie Ukraine to a single symbolic space with Russia. But a recent poll suggests that most citizens are abandoning Soviet myths about the war, partly blaming the Soviet Union, and supporting the May 8 Day of Reconciliation.
Quarantine is another notable topic. Manipulative sites do not believe that it should stand in the way of celebrating May 9 (mass events have been postponed in Russia itself). At the same time, they ridicule the softening of the lockdown. They are trying to undermine trust in the state among both supporters and opponents of quarantine. The new government is accused of "profiteering on the lockdown" as the previous one was accused of "war profiteering". And they want to show the demarche of some mayors against quarantine restrictions as a support for "federalization", another fictional thesis that they have been promoting for many years.
Biolaboratories, an outright fake. Russia hasn’t been using the spread of absolute lies in a long time. As a rule, Russia twisted and distorted the real facts. This week, disinformers actively spread fictional disinformation about American biolabs in Ukraine. The last time that direct lies on a similar scale were used was in 2014 during the hot phase of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the East.
Undermining trust in state institutions, Western allies, and the reform process is an important goal for disinformers. This week, they continued to discredit healthcare reform, taking advantage of the fact that its new important phase coincided with both the epidemic and political turbulence.
Examples of headlines
"Real anti-Ukrainian orgy" on May 9
In victorious step. Ukrainians come out to celebrate May 9 regardless of lockdown | strana.ua
Post-Soviet mentality of today’s Ukrainian authorities drags it away from Brussels towards Moscow - Herashchenko | kordon.org.ua
Official Berlin: “Germany not USSR started the war. Poroshenko and Viatrovych should better shut up” | vremya.com.ua
Lessons in National Memory. How Ukrainian citizens are taught to celebrate the Victory Day | ukraina.ru
"To lockdown or not to lockdown"
Coronavirus loses its stamina - Onishchenko | rusvesna.su
The virus that deceived everyone. Scary forecasts and unique Swedish experiment | ukraina.ru
Mayors versus the president. “Emergency rule masked as lockdown” failed in Ukraine | e-news.su
Keep safe. Ukrainian authorities failed the lockdown | naspravdi.info
“Lockdown canceled under the pressure of the street”. Social media on the softening of self-isolation regime in Ukraine | ukraina.ru
Sazonov: people say that while Poroshenko’s entourage profiteered in the war, current president’s entourage profiteers in the lockdown | finoboz.net
“To lockdown or not to lockdown” - Vladimir Zavgorodniy | spektrnews.in.ua
"Party of mayors" to cause "federalization"
“The county’s authorities are news but they use the old methods”. Mayor of Cherkasy claims that people don’t want to be used by amateurs | finoboz.net
The Cherkasy riot. Rational but is it ruthless? | e-news.su
Weak authorities and a naked king. Experts on Zelensky’s conflict with the disobedient mayors | ukraina.ru
Poroshenko decided to reconstruct the “Party of regions” party | nk.org.ua
The “too wise” option failed. Zelensky before the choice of how to elect | ukraina.ru
Medical reform: "authorities shed most important social obligations"
The covid star: The songs of sick Slavs | naspravdi.info
“It’s sabotage”. Zelensky criticizes the medical reform (VIDEO) | rusvesna.su
Boyko: there was no healthcare reform, there was a destruction of healthcare | antifashist.com
“How many lies is enough?” Ukrainian medical workers riot | bbcccnn.com.ua
In Ukraine, in a hospital responsible for the COVID-19 fight, wages are being cut, medical staff laid off | front-novorossii.ru
Ukraine, a "colony" of the US subject to "experiments"
Vladimir Mulyk: State Department’s nervous reaction to the debunking of biolabs means that the US have failed to make saves three times in a row | from-ua.com
Zubchenko: The “bio-gate” started by Medvedchuk goes global | from-ua.com
The American Gauleiter | rusdnepr.ru
New US ambassador ready to sacrifice Ukraine for the sake of opposing Russia - Suslov | politnavigator.net
Whether or not China is responsible for the coronavirus, it will emerge the winner - expert | ukraina.ru
Limitations of the study:
In this study, we only regarded the topics which are in line with Russian disinformation campaigns. Most of them are based on real events, as disinformation works more effectively this way. Topic names reflect manipulations used in the topic. Accordingly, news stories on Ukrainian mainstream sites on the same topic may have completely different content from that of manipulative materials.
We take the topics of Russian propaganda in Ukraine from the following groups of materials:
- manipulative news from the Russian online publications which write on Ukrainian topics, for the population of the occupied territories
- manipulative news from those Ukrainian sites where a significant amount of manipulative news has been spotted. This second category is targeted at Ukrainian audiences and publishes a lot of manipulative news of different ideological orientation
- all news from mainstream Ukrainian publications
- all materials from mainstream Russian news sites
In the first and second groups of news, the materials were selected by the AI classifier of manipulative news.
We searched for topics in 10959 materials in the Russian language from:
- 68 Russian sites (manipulative materials only) targeting Ukrainian topics: 3652.ru, 3654.ru, 8692.ru, anna-news.info, antifashist.com, antimaydan.info, c-inform.info, comitet.su, crisis.in.ua, delovoydonbass.ru, dnr-lnr.info, dnr-pravda.ru, dnr24.com, dnr24.su, donbasstoday.ru, doneck-news.com, dontimes.ru, dosie.su, e-gorlovka.com.ua, e-news.su, evening-crimea.com, free-news.su, fresh.org.ua, fromdonetsk.net, front-novorossii.ru, gorlovka.today, jankoy.org.ua, kafanews.com, komtv.org, kv-journal.su, lgt.su, luga1news.ru, lugansk1.info, meridian.in.ua, metayogg.com, miaistok.su, mir-lug.info, mnyug.com, mozaika.dn.ua, nahnews.org, naspravdi.info, newc.info, news-front.info, newsland.com, nk.org.ua, novorosinform.org, novorossiy.info, novosti.icu, on-line.lg.ua, patriot-donetsk.ru, pohnews.org, politnavigator.net, pravdanews.info, ruinformer.com, rusdnepr.ru, rusnext.ru, russian-vesna.ru, rusvesna.su, sevastopol.su, sevnews.info, sobytiya.info, svodki24.ru, time-news.net, ukraina.ru, voenkor.info, voskhodinfo.su, vsednr.ru, xvesti.ru
- 70 Ukrainian online publications where over 10% of all news about Ukraine have been spotted as being manipulative (manipulative materials only): 112.ua, agrimpasa.com, aif.ua, akcenty.com.ua, antikor.com.ua, baza-pravda.in.ua, bbcccnn.com.ua, begemot.media, bessarabiainform.com, censoru.net, dialog.ua, expres.life, finoboz.net, fraza.ua, from-ua.com, glavcom.life, glavk.info, glavred.info, glavred.life, golos.ua, hpib.life, hyser.com.ua, inforesist.org, inform-ua.info, informator.news, ivasi.news, jizn.info, khersonline.net, kompromat1.info, kompromat1.news, kordon.org.ua, korr.com.ua, kyiv.press, lifedon.com.ua, mignews.com.ua, newnews.in.ua, news247.com.ua, newsmir.info, onpress.info, podrobnosti.ua, politeka.net, politica.com.ua, pravda.rv.ua, prioritet.org, proua.com.ua, replyua.net, rupor.info, sharij.net, skelet-info.org, spektrnews.in.ua, spichka.news, spzh.news, strana.ua, t.ks.ua, timer-odessa.net, ua24ua.net, ukr.life, ukrainianwall.com, ukranews.com, ukranews.life, ukrrudprom.ua, vesti-ukr.com, vesti.ua, voi.com.ua, vremya.com.ua, vybor.ua, vz.ua, xn--j1aidcn.org, zik.ua, znaj.ua
- 17 major Ukrainian online publications (all materials): 24tv.ua, bykvu.com, censor.net.ua, fakty.com.ua, fakty.ua, gordonua.com, interfax.com.ua, lb.ua, liga.net, nv.ua, pravda.com.ua, rbc.ua, segodnya.ua, tsn.ua, ukrinform.ru, unian.net, zn.ua
- 16 major Russian publications (all materials): aif.ru, dni.ru, kommersant.ru, kp.ru, lenta.ru, lentainform.com, life.ru, newsru.com, pravda.ru, regnum.ru, riafan.ru, russian.rt.com, slovodel.com, svpressa.ru, tass.ru, vz.ru
Manipulation in news was singled out by our improved AI classifier developed in the project We’ve got bad news. In the monitoring, we only regarded materials about social and political life which are about Ukraine.