Swedes Protest Against NATO while Germans Want Cheap Russian Energy Back. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 17-23 April 2023

Russian media keep saying that the Ukrainian counteroffensive is doomed. Last week, the propagandists claimed that Russian army excels at defensive warfare. The disinformation media tried to exonerate Wagner PMC after the testimony of former mercenaries sharing grim details of murders of Ukrainian civilians and the disobedient Russian servicemen had gone viral.

Russian media ran numerous stories about the traitors of Russia who discredit the armed forces and praised the snitches who report them to the authorities. 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”


Russian Army’s Impenetrable Defenses

Russian propagandists continue to claim that the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive is not going to bring victory to Ukraine: “The heavily fortified positions will be a tough nut to crack for the advancing Ukrainian units. According to the former member of the Royal Engineers Gannel, without air support, the lead elements of the advancing Ukrainian troops become easy prey for the Russian air force”.

Russian media even published excerpts from an earlier ISW assessment: “According to the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the Russian General Staff is taking the potential threat of the Ukrainian counteroffensive seriously. The most critical paths and areas have been reinforced with elite paratroopers”. Russian media rely on the ISW analytics only when there is a chance to quote out of context to manipulate the facts and make propagandist stories sound more positive and convincing. However, a less selective approach to reading the ISW assessments would have revealed that “Ukrainian forces are in a “strong” position to retake captured territory in their upcoming counteroffensive”. Had they done so, the tone of the stories would be quite different.

Russian media further claim that their troops will have the upper hand in the defense: “Russian troops outperform the Ukrainian forces in building fortifications since Moscow has always relied on defensive engineering as a key element of military success while Ukrainian generals have largely ignored it”. However, the experience of the recent hostilities belies those claims as the defensive fortifications which had been built by Ukrainian troops after the front line had effectively been frozen in 2016-2017 held a full-scale Russian offensive for many months. Some of those defenses still defy Russian efforts.

Russian propagandists claim that “Ukraine’s intention to restore its territorial integrity within the 1991 borders is nothing but wishful thinking as it undermines world stability and overtaxes Ukraine's donors of weapons and money — hence, it is safe to expect a diplomatic resolution of the military conflict by the end of this year”.

Some disinformation media even assume that the whole counteroffensive hype is just Ukraine’s ruse to fool the Russian command and make it focus on digging rather than advancing: “We should not exclude the possibility of a smaller tactical goal: to make the Russian troops “grow tired from waiting”.

Wagner PMC also became the focus of attention of Russian media last week. The attention was caused by the testimony of two former members of Wagner PMC admitting to killing Ukrainian civilians and Russian servicemen who had disobeyed orders.

The propagandists hurried to exonerate the PMC and claimed that the interviewer had extorted the confessions from the former mercenaries: “Osechkin (the leader of Gulagu.net project who presented the testimony — editor’s note) threatened Savichev with publishing a video recoded during his prison time the same way as he had threatened the other person mentioned in the fake confession, Azamat Uldarov. In that video, the former inmate was being abused in colony No. 2 of Perm territory “White Swan”, “Osechkin blackmailed him into discrediting the private military company”.

They promise severe punishment for Gulagu.net project: “The owner of Wagner PMC Yevheniy Prihozhin said an inquiry into the management of Gulagu.net management had been opened following the publication of a video with fake confessions of the company members to “executions of Russians”.

The people who were interviewed are already facing threats and harrassment: “The former commander of Wagner PMC Azamat Uldarov who had shared details about the killings of children in Bakhmut and Soledar as well as other inmates who had disobeyed orders was detained”.

Europe Rebels

Russian propagandists are giving a lot of media attention to every protest event in Europe: from thousands of people protesting against the pension reform in France to a few dozens waving banners elsewhere — regardless of the matter. Such approach dates back to Soviet news reporting on television.

Any protests against NATO, the USA or the anti-Russian sanctions are the primary focus.

Last week's stories reported about the protests of the British people against the supplies of depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine: “There has been a rally against the supplies of ammunition with depleted uranium cores to the Kyiv regime held at 10 Downing Street”.

They also reported on the thousands of Germans who oppose the idea of NATO membership and demand cheap Russian energy: “Thousands of people in 70 cities of Germany took to the streets protesting against the supplies of armaments to Kyiv. The activities carried posters and banners which said “The USA and NATO, get out of Ukraine!” and “No to Pointless Sanctions, Yes to Cheap Energy Now!”, “Thousands of Germans took part in the peaceful protests against continued sponsoring of Ukraine with weapons. The protesters demanded to cease the supplies of weapons and resort to diplomacy since the escalation of conflict is never going to bring peace”.

The protests against joining NATO in Sweden were overblown to the extreme: “Thousands of residents of Göteborg, a major city on the West coast of Sweden, took part in the demonstration against the country’s joining NATO on Saturday. The people brought posters and banners which read “No to NATO!” and “Stop Aurora 23!” (the name of the joint exercise of the North Atlantic nations which is currently underway) and paraded them through the city center...”We have no intention to get caught in the middle of a war between the USA, China and Russia as puppets in the game of global politics”.

By presenting such news, Russian propaganda machine is showing that common Europeans still hold the Russian leadership in high regard and blame NATO and the USA for everything. Manipulating news on the protests and demonstrations in Europe is a typical gimmick of Russian propaganda which has been used for years. The disinformation media are tricking Russians into thinking that Europe is weak, unstable and troubled, and, most importantly, that Europeans are also against NATO — just like them. Russian news consumers may also fall under the impression that the world is sinking into chaos and the life in Russia isn't really bad in comparison.

Snitches Compete to Expose “Traitors”

Russian media are trying to single out all those who are against Putin’s war from the rest of the populace to bully and portray them as the “foreign” minority who do not hold Russia’s interests dear.

There have been organizations emerging in Russia which task themselves with identifying and bullying the critics of the regime and the war. Their activities receive a broad media coverage. Vitaliy Borodin’s “Federal Security and Anti-Corruption Project” is one of such organizations: “Activist Borodin is known for reporting many Russian celebrities to the authorities. For example, he requested the Prosecutor General’s Office to look into the allegations of the AFU financing by Alla Pugacheva”, “Borodin requested the prosecutors to investigate Kozlovskiy for discrediting the army and engaging in extremist activities”.

Last week, celebrity propagandists urged the authorities to resurrect the Stalin-era “SMERSH”: “Today is the 80th anniversary of SMERSH. In its glory day, the organization caught 30 to 40 thousand Nazi spies and saboteurs. Now we must catch Banderite terrorists. This time, however, we must show no remorse”, said Markov” (“SMERSH” (which is the acronym from “SMERt SHpionam!” or “death to the spies!”) which used to be the umbrella term for a number of independently operated Soviet counter-intelligence organizations which existed during World War II — editor’s note).

There have been more and more reports about “successful” missions carried out by the FSB: “The service apprehended a resident of Zaporozhye oblast who was a member of a terrorist cell. He was building a bomb to blow up a Russian army checkpoint”, “Act of sabotage averted in Kerch: the FSB apprehended a man who had been staging an explosion at an energy facility”, “The FSB apprehended an Islamist who had been planing a terror attack”. Such stories are intended to convince Russian audiences that the authorities are keeping them safe.

The Methodology

We have built a comprehensive corpus of all the materials from Russian websites and those maintained by the occupation force (approximately 34,000 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 contain 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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