Oil Price Cap Puts Russia in Jeopardy. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 5-11 December 2022

The new sanctions which target Russia’s energy sector are making Russian economy suffer. With no battlefield success to report, Russian propagandists have been gloating about the discomfort caused by the recent blackouts in Ukraine and once again attempting to sow the seeds of discord among the Ukrainian people.

This monitoring report covers these and other topics of the disinformation spread by Russian state media and online parajournalists to manipulate public opinion.

Follow the trending topics of Russian disinformation on our interactive dashboard “Disinformation about the War in Ukraine”

Here we go again: Russians predict “riots” in Ukraine over the “energy crisis”

Last week, Russian media paid a keen attention to the state of Ukraine's energy infrastructure. “Ukrainian officials report damage to more than 50% of the country's critical infrastructure”, “Kyiv re-introduces the emergency power shutdown schedule” — such were the headlines that dominated the news feeds of leading Russian media. The manipulators did quote the actual statements and commentaries from Ukrainian officials while forgetting to mention what exactly had caused such calamity. Unfortunately, this way of presenting news, which borders of schizophrenia, has long become the norm for the Russia of today. Some of the disinformation media went one step further calling the consequences of Russia's terror attacks “an energy crisis” pretending that the Ukrainian energy system had reached such awful state of decay all by itself.

In line with this narrative, Russian disinformation media have been claiming that social tensions are one the rise in Ukraine. The playbook remains the same: drive a wedge between the people and the elites: “Urban residents who haven’t had power, heat and water for days, are starting to suspect that not everyone is having to go through the same hardships. So far it was only street cars and trolleybuses that were blocked in protest, but the people are already talking about the elite neighborhoods reserved for the officials, the members of parliament and the high-ranking military which are well-lit and heated... Ukrainian experts have been talking about the risks of class struggle evolving into street riots or even a full-scale uprising”.

The southern cities of Odessa and Mykolayiv were given a particular attention. Some weeks ago, Russian agents instigated street protests in Odessa allegedly caused by blackouts. Following up on this subject, they published a fake interview with “an activist of Nikolayev underground movement” last week. The picture it painted was quite gloomy: “Each day, each week and each month the city is sinking deeper into chaos and disarray. Water supply is a thing of the past, and there are fewer and fewer drinking water distribution points remaining. Bread is distributed once in three days while canned meat — only once a week. The bread [...] is stale and tasteless, you would never eat that … “the people are beginning to grumble and raise their voices”, the residents of the neighboring oblasts stand ready to support the underground movement. “Our supporters in Kherson and Odessa have been asking how they can help”.

Again, the propagandists are conveniently avoiding the reasons for the water shortages which were caused by Russian bombardments of the water supply system.

Kremlin: “The war chest is running low”

Amid the news about the introduction of an embargo and oil price cap, the Kremlin propagandists are going through distinctive stages.

1. Denial. Russian media claimed that the US and Europe would not be able to implement new sanctions and, contrary to the public statements, would continue importing Russian oil and gas: “Many Western states will be forced to arrange parallel imports of Russian gas to circumvent the self-imposed restrictions which have turned out to be extremely counterproductive”. Europe is trying to reduce its dependence on Russian energy resources, but, as Russian media keep claiming, nothing will come out of it. “Berlin is desperately seeking to substitute Russian energy resources — the gas, in particular, but so far those efforts have remained futile”, “Europe has failed to stockpile fuel for the winter of 2023-2024”.

Interestingly, the propagandists have updated their forecasts as to when disaster is finally to break out in Europe. We have already posted numerous reports on the gloomy predictions on Russian media for EU freezing over without Russian oil and gas. Now it looks like the apocalypse has been re-scheduled for the winter of 2023-2024: “While still being plentiful, Europe's energy supplies will have finally run dry by next winter. That being said, the effects of the energy crisis in the EU in the coming months may not be as dramatic as some might expect”, “Next year’s energy crisis will be much more severe for Europe than this year’s one”, “In other words, the Europeans are going to be left without gas and heat causing their industries to come to a grinding halt”.

2. Anger. Russian bureaucrats keep screaming about Europe and the US “biting the hand the feeds them” and claiming that “Europe risks sinking into a massive energy crisis as they are not able to stomach the sanctions nor push Kyiv into a peaceful settlement — not to mention getting rid of their dependence on Washington”, “All the attempts to introduce an oil price cap will send ripples throughout the oil industry and it will be consumers in Europe and the US who will be the first to pay the heavy price”.

Furthermore, Kremlin’s information lackeys promise decisive symmetric sanctions and counter blows: “While commenting the decision and the upcoming embargo, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Aleksandr Novak said that Russia would not accept the oil price cap even if that would mean reducing oil production”, “Moscow will not export oil to countries which agree to the price cap”, “Moscow will re-route the exports to the “market-minded partners” or reduce oil production”, “government officials are developing a mechanism for banning the application of Russian oil price cap”.

3. Bargaining. The so-called experts speaking on Russian media have been soothing the public by saying that the new sanctions will not affect the energy sector as Russia will simply sell to other countries. Their hopes are with certain EU states which have remained loyal to Russia: “Hungary considers the Druzhba pipeline, which has remained its main source of oil for years, quite irreplaceable since other sources and routes lack throughput” as well as with India and China which claim to be Russia’s allies, but in fact have their own agenda: “The bilateral cooperation between Moscow and Beijing has always been mutually beneficial and based on the principles of mutual respect”, “Moscow is ready to meet all of its contractual obligations specific to supplying energy resources to PRC and collaborate on new large-scale energy projects”, “Gazprom has pumped a record amount of gas to China via the Sila Sibiri pipeline”, “Russia’s oil supplies to India have reached an all-time high”, “India has zero concerns about the effect of the West's oil price cap on the supplies of Russian oil”.

Russian leaders have even been talking about the possibility of forming “a tripartite gas alliance between Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan”, “According to president Putin, the tripartite gas alliance has a formidable potential and may lay the groundwork for a future energy alliance”. However, Uzbekistan immediately denied any involvement in such projects touted by Russia and called them ‘playing politics’.

4. Self-reassurance. Russian media have been actively spreading such narratives as “the Russian oil price cap imposed by the West will have no impact on the federal budget”, “According to president Putin, the implementation of the price cap will inevitably cause oil prices to skyrocket”. In fact, Russian oil prices have fallen well below the cap implemented by the international Price Cap Coalition. That being said, the prices of other crude grades have remained stable.

Some propagandists, however, went as far as to say that the price cap might have a certain “slight effect” on the budget targets: “the oil and gas revenues of the Federal Budget in November fell slightly below target”, “On Monday, president Putin signed the law on the Federal Budget in 2023 and the targets for the planning period of 2024-2025. The budget is based on the basic scenario for the socio-economic development of the country for the next three years which assumes a gradual reduction of Urals export grade prices (from USD 80 per barrel in 2022 to USD 65 per barrel in 2025)”.

The propagandists further claimed that “not only is Russia’s economy strong enough to sustain the burden of the special military operation — it is basically immune to the price cap” while completely ignoring the fact that the welfare of the Russian people is bound to take a serious hit if the war continues.

Angela Merkel is no angel

Last week's spotlight of Russian propaganda was, among other things, on Germany.

The reports about the arrest of conspirators who were planning a coup d’etat were among the biggest newsmakers: “Twenty-five people have been arrested in Germany on the accusations of plotting a coup, said a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office. The plotters, who totaled 52, are said to include members of the Reichsbürger movement. The accused are being investigated for their connections with the Russian government since some of the detained are Russian citizens”.

Some experts hurried to point fingers at the culprits of the crisis. Not surprisingly, those were not the plotters, but the powers that keep Germany in the reins of external control: “this so-called coup has demonstrated the impotence and desperation of the German nation which was almost crushed by its exploiters in the post-war period. The German nation seems to have been emasculated far too much — to the extreme. The passionate people that used to make history turned into a consumer society that does not dare peek its nose out the stable”. They suggest that such events are directly related to Berlin’s policy of today: “The attempted coup is a horrible wake-up call for Germany”.

Dmitry Medvedev, a representative of the “deep Russian people” stated that Germany is being governed by “deeply-rooted American agents”: “The German government has no sovereign control of its territory as all the crucial decisions in the country are made by a shadow cabinet run from Washington”.

It isn't only Germany's current policy that infuriates the Russians: they also hold a deep grudge against Angela Merkel “who said that the Minsk Accords had been signed to win time for Ukraine”, “and which time was used by Kyiv to build the military power it is now using against Russia”.

The Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova even “said that Merkel’s confession may be grounds for tribunal”.

Russian propagandists latched onto the former Chancellor's words to once again shift the responsibility for the war onto the authors of the Minsk Accords while completely ignoring the fact that Vladimir Putin was one of them: “We leave the events which are taking place in the territory of Ukraine to the conscience of Angela Merkel and other “guarantors” of the Minsk Accords — in particular, the president of France. If those accords had been implemented, the conflict would have never taken place. This is why we are so saddened by Frau Merkel's insincerity”, “The West played for time deliberately to arm Ukraine to the teeth and provide the equipment to counter Russia”, “It turns out that European politicians were well aware of the US and NATO's plans to prepare Ukraine for war with Russia. Not only didn’t they object — they facilitated it! The only thing they did not expect was Moscow's preemptive strike that laid waste to all their aggressive plans. They wanted to re-enact the events of June 1941, but it never happened: it isn’t Russia that is suffering colossal losses, but their miserable proxy — Ukraine”.

To add insult to injury, the Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov claimed that it was the Minsk Accords signed in 2014-2015 that ignited the fuse of the 2022 war: “the countries of the West decided to exact vengeance on Russia only for the fact that Moscow had been swallowing the blatant sabotage of the Minsk Accords by Ukraine”.

The Medodology

We have built a corpus of all the materials from Russian websites and those maintained by the occupation force (almost 22,000 news items) for our weekly disinformation monitoring report. Each paragraph was processed by the 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.

We used materials from lenta.ru, tass.ru, riafan.ru, russian.rt.com, regnum.ru, iz.ru, life.ru, trmzk.ru, vz.ru, donbasstoday.ru, novosibirsk-news.net, ura.news, newizv.ru, news-front.info, aif.ru, slovodel.com, nakanune.ru, kommersant.ru, ruinformer.com, rosbalt.ru, polit.info, sevastopol.su, ng.ru, expert.ru, dni.ru, kafanews.com, antifashist.com, dnr-pravda.ru, naspravdi.info, kerch.fm, anna-news.info, dan-news.info, tehnowar.ru, aurora.network, gorlovka-pravda.com, lugansk1.info, c-inform.info, 3652.ru, politnavigator.net, rusdnepr.ru, politobzor.net, doneck-news.com, mir-lug.info, odnarodyna.org, vsednr.ru, nefakt.info, novosti.icu, time-news.net, xvesti.ru, comitet.su, sobytiya.info, denis-pushilin.ru, dnr24.com, meridian.in.ua.

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