Pryhozhyn and Russian Defense Ministry Locked in Bitter Flag-Raising Battle over Bakhmut. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 15-21 May 2023.

Last week, Russian media published excited reports on Russia's success in the war. The propagandists continued to argue that, unlike Western missiles, Kinzhal hypersonic missiles were absolutely impervious to being intercepted. Russian media scared their audiences with stories about a radioactive cloud drifting towards Western Europe from Ukraine.
The fake was traced to the Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev who has a history of coming up with all sorts of conspiracy theories and nonsense.

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”



Last week's reports on the capture of Bakhmut by the Russian army were nothing short of ecstatic: “Russian assault forces have completed the liberation of Artemovsk (the name Russian media use to refer to Bakhmut — editor’s note)”. Reality check: according to the AFU spokesperson, the Wagnerites have not captured the whole of Bakhmut which is still being contested.

Initially, the disinformation media quoted Yevhen Pryhozhyn, the founder of Wagner PMC: “Russian forces reported taking complete control over Artemovsk after 224 days of bloody fighting. The video showed Yevheniy Prigozhin and the Wagner PMC fighters posing amid the ruins of the city”.

After Pryhozhyn’s breaking news, the topic was picked up by the Russian Defense Ministry. However, they stressed that it was the assets commanded by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) that had played an instrumental role in the “liberation” of the city: “According to the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, “in the Artemovsk tactical direction, as a result of the offensive operations of Wagner assault detachments with the support of artillery and aviation of the Southern Group of Forces, the liberation of the city of Artyomovsk was completed”.

Yevhen Pryhozhyn tried to parry the statement of the Russian MoD and said that the Wagnerites acted independently: “The founder of the “orchestra” stressed that Wagner PMC had completed its mission in Artemovsk without enlisting the assistance of other units of the Russian Defense Ministry”.

Those contradictory statements are a vivid illustration of the media and political war between Pryhozhyn and the military leadership of Russia. In the end, that round was “close, but no cigar” for Pryhozhyn as the official Russian propagandist media stuck to the version of the Russian Defense Ministry.

According to our observations, it was not the first time that Russian state propaganda tried to downplay Yevhen Pryhozhyn’s media presence for mode details read here.

“Sacred” Weapons

The disinformation media continued calling Russian weapons “matchless”.

The claimed destruction of Patriot batteries was the hottest topic of the week: “Five Patriot launchers have been destroyed in Kiev”, “A single Russian Kinzhal missile has wiped out an entire Patriot battery which is one thousand times more expensive”.

At the same time, the propagandists tried to deny the Ukrainian news reports on the successful interception of a Kinzhal missile. The disinformation media did their best to claim that the American wonder weapon had been helpless against the mighty Kinzhal: “The Patriot surface-to-air system wasted all the 32 missiles in an attempt to shoot down a single hypersonic Kinzhal”... According to the article, all of the interceptor missiles fired at the Kinzhal missed their target while the salvo alone cost Ukraine USD 96 million”.

The propagandists revere the Kinzhal missile and hold it almost sacred since it was Putin himself who called it uninterceptable. That being said, the US Ministry of Defense officially confirmed that the Ukrainian military had successfully blown a Russian Kinzhal missile out of the sky.

The aggressor’s Ministry of Defense also claimed being able to counter other Western weapon systems. For example, just days after the announcement on the delivery of Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine by the United Kingdom, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on their first successful intercept: “For the first time ever, Russia's air defenses have intercepted the Anglo-French cruise missile launched by the AFU”. Russian media also reported on the intercepts of HARM anti-radiation missiles and GMLRS rockets: “Seven HARM anti-radiation missiles, one Storm Shadow cruise missile and 10 GMLRS rockets have been successfully intercepted”.

Russians have been bragging about learning how to intercept the high-precision GMLRS rockets fired from HIMARS as we noted earlier in our last week’s disinformation monitoring report. At the beginning of May this year, CNN quoted American, British and Ukrainian sources saying that Russia had likely learned how to cause GMLRS rockets to miss their targets. According to CNN, Russia has been using electronic GPS jammers. Similar concerns were expressed in the recent report published by Royal United Services Institute (RUSI): “Russian air defences are now assessed by the Ukrainian military to be intercepting a proportion of GMLRS strikes”. Predictably, the Russian propagandist media retold the story over and over savoring each word.

Although this development does not mean that Russians have rendered the Western weapons useless, it does make the Ukrainian and the American military improvise and adapt: “It is a constant cat-and-mouse game” of finding a countermeasure to the jamming, only to then have the Russians counteract that countermeasure. And it is not clear how sustainable that game is in the long term”, said a Pentagon official.

Radiation in Poland

Last week, Russian propagandist media dropped a bombshell by claiming that Polish authorities had registered a spike in radiation due to the use of depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine: “Polish authorities have already reported a surge in radiation”.

The news followed a similar statement from the Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. According to Patrushev, the Russian missile strikes on the warehouse near Khmelnytskyi which contained the depleted uranium munitions received from the allies caused a radioactive cloud to appear — and that it was headed for Western Europe. “The explosion of the munitions produced an enormous radioactive cloud which is drifting toward Western Europe”.

There was indeed a hit on a facility in Khmelnitskyi which caused a powerful explosion. Details have been scarce so it is not known precisely what the target was.

The propagandists hurried to spread Patrushev’s awe-inspiring statement. The scare tales about depleted uranium started to pop up on disinformation media as soon as the supplies of depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine had been announced. This topic was covered in our earlier disinformation monitoring report

To give weight to Patrushev’s words, the disinformation media clung to a report on elevated concentrations of bismuth-214 in the air which, they claimed, was a sign of a cover-up.

Eventually, the National Atomic Energy Agency of Poland came out with an official statement saying that the radiation levels in the country were normal and that they did not present any danger for human health or the environment. The Polish Maria Curie-Skłodowska University (UMCS) issued a similar denial.

However, the propagandists refused to let the matter rest. They claimed that the arguments of the Polish authorities were “utterly suspicious”: “National Atomic Energy Agency of Poland made a dubious statement in that regard. On the one hand, it stated that the spike in radiation has no connection to Khmelnitskiy explosion, but on the other hand it did acknowledge “elevated concentrations of bismuth-214” — the tell-tale isotope which is responsible for increased ionization following the use of a depleted uranium munitions”.

In fact, elevated consentrations of bismuth in the atmosphere are known to be naturally caused by precipitation. Bismuth-214 is a decay product of radon which is trapped by falling water particles while drifting up from the Earth's surface. As a result, measuring instruments detect stronger ionizing radiation close to the surface, but the associated increase in radiation does not present a significant health risk.

As far as the effects of the use of armaments and ammunitions containing depleted uranium are concerned, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation concluded that no clinically significant pathology is related to radiation exposure to depleted uranium.

Also in the News:

Russian media argued that Russia, China and India are reaping the benefits of their “de-dolarization” policy. They stressed that it was the anti-Russian sanctions that are causing the dollar to lose its global influence: “As a matter of fact, the de-dolarization trend was on the rise last year due to the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the West. All those who are saddened by its diminishing influence and the demise of its global domination should blame American and European politicians who lobbied for anti-Russian sanctions — economic, political, and financial”.

Russian media gave a lot of attention to the G7 summit held in Japan on 19-21 May. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the decisions made at the summit were aimed at the dual containment of Russia and China and added that “there has been a rift between the countries of the East and West, and now the Russophobia incited by the Unites States and other like-minded countries “only annoys the majority of global players””.

The disinformation mongers assured that “the world has changed drastically over the recent years, and Western powers have lost their former leverage over the developing countries which used to enable their political and economic pressure”. They further argued that it was high time the West was stripped of its arrogant habit of though because “the West is getting weaker and its bark is much worse than its bite”.


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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