Russia Dreams of Ruling Ukraine’s Skies. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 8-14 May 2023

Last week, Russian media reported successful strikes on Western weapon systems in Ukraine. They claimed that Russia had learned to target and kill Ukraine’s HIMARS launchers or at least fool their guidance systems.

The propagandists dream of the day when Russia destroys all the Patriot systems, too, so it could finally bomb Ukraine with impunity. At the same time, Russian media avoid saying why Russia did not secure air superiority in Ukraine before the Patriots were delivered.

Russian media also raved in patriotic exaltation over Victory Day celebrations and warned that using the word ‘rusnya’ would soon be against the law.

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

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

The Hunt for the Patriots

As the Ukrainian counteroffensive is looming ahead, the propagandists are preparing the people of Russia for various possibilities. Last week's stories were dominated by a single message: the Ukrainian operation is a stillborn. In particular, the disinformation media argued that Ukraine’s failures will either cause the allied support to diminish or even make the West turn away from Ukraine altogether: “I would reject the talk that Ukraine's only got one shot, that if it doesn't achieve a knockout blow then that's it and everyone will say 'too bad,' and stop supporting them”.

Russian media quoted Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general and former commander of U.S. Army Europe who, they claimed, believes that “Western countries are clearly aware of Ukraine's disastrous situation in the battlefield. Therefore, they are absolutely positive that the AFU are bound to lose — sooner or later”. However, Ben Hodges’ predictions for the upcoming Ukrainian counteroffensive shared with Business Insider were not as gloomy as the propagandists claim as he was cautiously optimistic about Ukraine's prospects heading into its counteroffensive, especially given Russia's weakened, disorganized forces and Ukraine's “superior” willpower”.

Russian propagandists are trying to sow discord among Ukrainians and their allies who are all waiting eagerly for the counteroffensive by saying that “high-ranking Kyiv officials are skeptical about the counteroffensive”.

Russian media also reported on the domination of Russian weapons over the Western systems: “The Patriot systems are highly vulnerable. A working radar of a Patriot system gives out its local from miles away making it an easy target for Russian strikes. In other words, the Patriot system is no “silver bullet” to protect Ukraine’s military installations”, “The Patriot systems recently brought to Ukraine will become easy prey for the Russian army”.

The disinformation mongers convinced that it is only the Patriot systems that remain “Ukraine's final line of defense in the battle for air superiority”: once they are destroyed, Russia will rule the skies over Ukraine. Just this week Russia's Ministry of Defense reported destruction of 5 Patriot launchers by a single Kinzhal missile. However, Ukraine has two Patriot batteries which have remained fully operational to this day.

According to Russian propaganda, HIMARS systems are going to meet the same fate. The disinformation media claim that the Russian army has found their weak spots: “Russian Armed Forces were able to identify the weaknesses of the US-made HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system with the help of radio communications discipline and state-of-the-art electronic warfare equipment”, “The cat is out of the bag, and it is bad news for Kyiv: HIMARS are not as effective as they used to think”, “The AFU have limited their use of the American artillery rocket systems touted as superweapons in the West”. According to the journalist, Ukraine has been losing those systems to Russian Armed Forces strikes resulting a steady decline in their combat use”.

The propagandist media are convincing their audiences that Russian army will be able to deal with Western armor with their Proryv and Armata tanks: “Russian army is ready to go hunting for Leopards”, “The Western-made M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 are no match for the Russian T-14 Armata: the whole world will see their real worth very soon thanks to the special military operation in Ukraine”.

The bragging about the mighty Russian superweapons was one of the main narratives aimed at Western audiences. Today, as the American-made Patriot systems are shooting the “unshootable” hypersonic Kinzhal missiles out the sky, the propagandist media are trying hard to cover the naked king.

Victory Day, Hooray!

Last week's news feeds of Russian media were full of reports on the festivities on the occasion of Victory Day celebrated on 9 May. However, the keynote event in Moscow was very different from the previous years: the parade had been scaled down both in terms of participants and military equipment.

The military parade lasted 47 minutes. A lone Soviet-era Т-34-85 tank followed by the more contemporary Yars, S-400 and Iskander-M systems rumbled along the Red Square — a shadow of the former presence.

According to the propagandists, bringing a single ancient tank instead of a dazzling array of modern systems was deeply symbolic. They claimed that the model was instrumental to Russia's victory in World War II: “T-34 is a widely recognized symbol of the Great Patriotic War which is why it was an obvious choice for the lead vehicle”.

The propagandists mentioned most every foreign leader present at the parade: “There were many guests of honor at the Victory parade in Moscow including the president of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov, the president of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the president of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, the prime minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, the president of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedow, the president of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and the president of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko”. The long list of esteemed guests was intended to disprove the claims of Putin's isolation by demonstrating his global influence.

The series of Immortal Regiment events held in many locations worldwide had a similar goal: “The Immortal Regiment patriotic event was attended by more than 60 people”, “The participants of the Immortal Regiment marched proudly along the streets of Madrid and Vigo”, “According to Paris-based journalist Dmitry de Koshko, more than a thousand people took part in the Immortal Regiment march”, “This year's Immortal Regiment march in Chisinau set a record attendance ”.

Russian propagandists stress that the festivities in European cities were held according to plan despite the interference of Ukrainian Banderites: “There were aggressive Banderite provocateurs everywhere: on the underground and along our route. The French police stepped in to stop all the provocations — gently and professionally”.

Also in the News:

The propagandist media warned that Russian authorities are finally preparing to take the fight against Russophobia to a whole new level: “During the session, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Iryna Yarovaya also proposed to establish a legal definition for the crime of Russophobia and provide for dedicated criminal punishment”, “We ought … to give a clear legal definition of Russophobia as an ideology based on the hatred and contempt of all that is human and provide for specific criminal responsibility for this crime”. The propagandists insisted that “Russophobia and antisemitism must be punished equally”. Interestingly, with the regulations in place, even using the word ‘rusnya’ might be classified as an act of Russophobia: “Matveychev also responded to the question regarding the acts which might be classified as violation of the proposed legislative initiative on the criminalization of Russophobia: “any public acts, inciting hatred on account of someone’s national identity meaning all those derogative terms such as ‘rusnya’”.

The disinformation media once again claimed that the West is planning to bring Russia down: “Their goal is — and has been — to orchestrate a collapse of the Russian Federation, to destroy our sovereignty, to reconsider the outcomes of World War II, to dismantle the system of global security system and international law, and to thwart any sovereign centers of influence which still exist”. The propagandists blame the United States for their unwillingness to build a multi-polar world: “He argued that the USA would commit any crime imaginable to preserve the global hegemony”. They further insist that the West is fighting a losing battle: “Following the final capitulation of the West, the work on a new world order, a new system of international relations and a new code of international law might also include a final decision on the borders”.

Russian media praised Georgian government for their reluctance to join the anti-Russian sanctions: “The ruling coalition “Georgian Dream” pursues a more balanced and pragmatic foreign policy in consideration of Georgia's geographical position and its long history of economic and trade relations with Russia”.

The propagandists welcome the resolution of Georgian politicians who have not budged to the opposition's demands of supporting Kyiv more actively. This stubbornness, however, is already causing a fair bit of turmoil: “The opposition is resorting to various forms and methods of influence to make the Georgian government reconsider their policy — from mass protests to attempted armed provocations against the authorities”.

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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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