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Lockdown at the point of a gun. Disinformation monitor #63

  • Dreaming of “Europe’s death” and extolling the Russian vaccine
  • Fueling emotions on the lockdown
  • Claiming “slow fraud” in the local elections
  • Finding another candidate to overthrow Zelensky
  • Blaming embassies of “external governance”
  • See how disinformation topics have been changing over the year in our interactive visualization

Period: November 16—22, 2020

Disinfo topics

% of news related to the topic among all mews from the group of sites

Manipulation of the week

Here is a brief example of how Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues select arguments for theses of Russian propaganda: “Let me remind you that Ukraine is in a rather difficult situation with the coronavirus pandemic. And what is the government doing instead of putting things in order? It approves coats of arms with penises

Vaccine war and “Europe’s death”

The appearance of various vaccines against coronavirus is covered by Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues exclusively as a "vaccine war". Although one manufacturer cannot provide everyone with the vaccine, and in the current situation, the more manufacturers, the better. At the same time, the West is accused of monopolizing its market: "The United States and the EU can only behave like an elephant in a crockery shop, i.e. to promote their vaccine through sanctions and direct political pressure." The aggressive advancement of the Russian vaccine is supported by the image of how Russia is allegedly overcoming the epidemic: “Russia with its population of 145 million has fewer deaths from COVID-19 than France (67 million) while Great Britain (66 million) and Spain (47 million) are confidently catching up. Russia is far behind most European countries in terms of the spread of coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants". It will be recalled that Russia is lying about the reality of its outbreak and underestimating the statistics of cases and deaths.

Russia's imperial ambitions was complemented with reflections about "Europe's death": “The global pandemic of 2020 has shown that the West's claims to civilizational leadership are no longer adequate to reality." For “Europe reveals its weakness time after time, and time after time Europe is the first to ask for a conversation with Moscow when it feels needy. A striking example is the August calls with Vladimir Putin on the crisis in Belarus”.

But writing about the realities of the epidemic in Ukraine, Russian sites do not spare negative emotions. Based on scary stories about overcrowded hospitals (“I think we have long since surpassed Italy. And it will only get worse”) they build up their manipulations (“In the spring, we had isolated cases of coronavirus, and now millions are sick”), are horrified by a single Telegram gossip about the return of Suprun (and “Suprun-ization of healthcare”) and continue to spread the thesis about Ukraine the failed state: “As a result, now reality is faced with a fictitious state, which manifests itself in all its glory. Everyone in Ukraine is on one’s own, everyone copes with the problem as best one can on one’s own (...) The only people who still have illusions about Ukraine are Ukrainians themselves”.

Russia's leading websites advertised their vaccine to Ukrainians, citing a "cry of the soul" of a Ukrainian member of the academy of science. However, in their news, "the first vice-president of the Academy of Economic Sciences of Ukraine'' became the expert in the medical field.

Soldiers to "promote lockdown", "hunger Maidan" prepared in Ukraine

Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues reported that Ukrainian authorities had decided to use front fighters to "promote" lockdown. Disinformers did not provide any arguments or evidence and referred to anonymous Telegram channels (here’s what’s wrong with them). They threatened that “videos featuring soldiers have not only a warning, but also a threatening meaning. Like, the army can turn weapons against lockdown violators”.

Ukrainian fighters are to "threaten" those regions that do not agree with the tougher quarantine conditions required by the government. This fits into the Russian narrative of the "revolt" of the regions, which concerns both misunderstandings about quarantine and the results of local elections. Disinformers are working hard to discredit decentralization, which is yielding positive results, and people are seeing the local environment change. On the other hand, disinformers incite even more distrust in the state's policy to combat the epidemic and write: "Lockdown is an attempt to extinguish a cigarette with a nuclear bomb." With the epidemic, they are in an extremely advantageous position. Any development regardless of the actions of the authorities will always be a possible illustration of the "collapse of the country."

As for the entrepreneurs who protested against the expansion of the requirements for cash registers for small businesses, they wrote: "Quarantine, according to the protesters, is nothing but the "destruction" and "genocide" of private enterprise." At the same time, the propagandists did not even specify that the main topic of the protests was greater control of small business, and tried to cover everything as if there was a strong protest movement in Ukraine against quarantine, which they call ... "the hunger Maidan".

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Mythical "recounts" in the local elections

The process of announcing the results of local elections in Ukraine has traditionally been delayed, and disinformers have been paying considerable attention to them for a month. In the first weeks, they usually wrote about the "feudalization" of the country and complained that in many regions, local political projects won. Read about the results of the local elections in our project.

This week, the focus was shifted to the counting process. “Behind the screen of endless recounts of votes lies the struggle for decisive mandates, on which depends what the deputy majority will be and who will control it”. It is typical for disinformers to try and sow distrust of and frustration in the Ukrainian government. However, independent observers assessed the election as competitive and in line with the law. We will remind you that in Russia, free elections in general are impossible.

But the propagandists did not confine themselves to trying to sow distrust. They turned to mythologizing and their favorite theme of "the land". As the reform of the land market (largely due to misinformation) is not very popular among the citizens of Ukraine, it is often mentioned to discredit some other phenomena. Regarding the election, they wrote: "By signing a decree on the transfer of agricultural land from state to communal ownership, President Zelensky showed a candy not to the regions, but to Western partners, who will be able to privatize these lands without much noise." And they continued to develop the idea that local elections are almost a screen behind which an attempt to "divide the land" is hidden. Earlier, the land theme was used to discredit the "anti-Kolomoisky" law on the non-return of nationalized banks. Read more in one of our previous issues.

Also this week:

Zelensky wants to "hijack" the Constitutional Court via his "agents of influence"

Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues wrote that Zelensky conspired with former Constitutional Court Chairman Shevchuk to seize the Constitutional Court. “Key rhetoric of the guarantor of the constitution goes as follows: there is no fair trial, trust in the judiciary is equal to zero, so it is necessary to draft a new judicial reform and to correct the mistakes of predecessors”.

And they “warn”: “The restoration of the former head of the Constitutional Court Stanislav Shevchuk, who is recommended to the president by external agents, is, by and large, a disguised version of Zelensky's removal from power”. Thus, Shevchuk is being added to the list of those people who, according to disinformers, would remove Zelensky from power. This list already includes Poroshenko, Kolomoisky, Avakov, Razumkov, as well as Western financiers, American politicians and others. Shevchuk himself claims that a criminal case has been opened against him in Russia.

Tales of Ukraine’s “external governance” through embassies

On Ukrainian sites targeting Ukrainian issues, Oleg Tsarev, ex member of Party of Regions, was allowed to brag about his lies in the Rada: “Exactly seven years ago, from the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada, I accused the US Embassy of preparing a coup in Ukraine. Nationalists screamed much so that I could not hear myself”.

They wrote that Ukraine is being ruled by "overseas forces in order to confront Russia." And they drew parallels with Russian history. Allegedly, in Ukraine there is a "seven-embassy rule" by analogy with the "seven-boyar rule" (this is a period in the history of the Moscow Tsarism when the great aristocratic landowners had a significant influence on the state). But even during the "seven-embassy rule", disinformers still stubbornly saw the "hand of the United States": “But in the matter of pacifying Ukraine and subordinating it to the collective West, everyone is subordinate to the chieftain, Kristina Kvien” (acting US ambassador to Ukraine. It will be recalled that the US Ambassador officially approved has not been to the embassy for more than a year - Texty.org.ua)

"Big steal" in construction

It was written that large-scale construction was accompanied by large-scale embezzlement. It was claimed that the government spent “tens of billions, in the midst of the epidemic and corona crisis, and it took the money away from health funds. This is madness. But even worse is the fact that some of this money is simply being stolen.” And there is some truth to this. But, of course, not even Zelensky is to blame, Poroshenko is: “The major program for the reconstruction of Ukrainian infrastructure was adopted back in 2017, under Poroshenko and Groisman”.

They even concluded that “Umansky launched the narrative that under Poroshenko they stole from the army, and under Zelensky they steal from the coronavirus fund and road construction”.

Most of the news about roads and embezzlement began with interviews and statements by the ex-advisor to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Ihor Umansky. In this topic, it is important to distinguish between the Ukrainian narrative against corruption, on one hand, and disinformation, on the other. The topic of construction was adopted by disinformers. For them, it illustrates a country on the verge of collapse and dysfunctions of the Ukrainian state.

Maidan anniversary

For Russian disinformation, this is a very tragic date, for which, as at the times of Maidan itself, fakes are being spread, and disinformers speculate about those (not) guilty of violence against protesters, they write about external influences and a sharp decline in living standards (which occurred due to Russian aggression and Yanukovych government policy. By the way, the level of income of Ukrainians as of 2019 has recovered and continued to grow. This year, posts about Zelensky's the “Maidanite'' were added to the traditional topics listed above.

Summary

In parallel with the large number of patients with coronavirus, we are witnessing a new round of Russian disinformation on this topic. As in the spring, one of the most cynical theses is the threat of famine. The epidemic makes it possible to criticize all measures adopted to combat the virus and the economic downturn at the same time, both in terms of the number of patients and against the weekend lockdown.

Year after year, in November and February, in the month of the beginning and culmination of the Maidan, we witness greater and more aggressive anti-Ukrainian propaganda, discrediting the Revolution of Dignity and the reforms that followed it. Now Zelensky is also included in the "Maidan government", as he no longer enjoys last year's popularity.

Announcing the results of Ukrainian local elections, in particular the long count, gave the propagandists a path to sow doubts about the results of the elections. Pro-Russian political forces who wanted even more votes linked the local elections not only to decentralization (which means federalization in their minds), but also to the launching of the land market. That is, they tried to present the heart of Ukrainian democracy, the elections, as another step towards the "sale of the country."

Methodology

We searched for topics in 18102 materials in the Russian language from:

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.

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:

In the first and second groups of news, the materials were selected by the AI classifier of manipulative news.

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