Pride Parades Banned for Promoting Western Values while the U.S. Is Planning a Hit on Budanov. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 27 November-3 December 2023

Last week, there was a lot speculation on Russian media about who was behind the poisoning of the wife of the Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov. Long story short, it could be anyone except Russia: the suspects included Zelensky, Zaluzhny and Western intelligence services.

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The propaganda offered many good reasons why the decision to ban the LGBT community in Russia was a wise move and called on Russians to have more children.

We also looked into what Russian propagandists in the occupied territories wrote in November. Not surprisingly, they reported that Russia was winning on all fronts, expressed admiration of Putin and argued that life had changed for the better under Russian occupation.

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

The Poisoning of Budanov's Wife

On 28 November, news broke out that Marianna Budanova, the wife of Ukraine’s intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov had been poisoned with heavy metals . A few other members of the Main Directorate of Intelligence also tested positive for the substances.

Russian propagandists immediately began to point fingers away from Russia.

According to one of the versions, the poisoning had resulted from the conflict between the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny and President Volodymyr Zelensky: “The assassination attempt on Budanova could stem from the internal conflict between the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny and the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky” claiming that Marianna Budanova was “just a pawn that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

The version aligned with the earlier reports on the conflict between Zaluzhny and Zelensky. The disinformers insisted that the conflict between the military and political leadership of Ukraine had grown from chill and mistrust to direct confrontation with murders and threats.

The disinformers argued that “The hit targeted Kirill Budanov who is said to realize the danger from the confrontation between the parties,” “During the recent phase of the confrontation between Zaluzhny and Zelensky, Budanov did not as much as flinch to betray his sympathies. Considering his access to a trove of incriminating information, he can be dangerous to either side”.

A similar logic was used to comment on the death of Zaluzhny’s aide Hennadii Chastyakov on 6 November. On that occasion, the propagandists also related his death to the conflict between Ukraine’s political and military leadership. Zelensky was said to have ordered a warning shot at the commander-in-chief’s aide out of fear that the Americans would bet on Zaluzhny in the 2024 presidential race.

According to another version, the poisoning of Budanov’s wife was a failed hit on the head of the military intelligence by Western secret services. Budanov’s extensive knowledge about the role of the West in the murders on the territory of Russia allegedly put a mark on his back: “The fact that Budanov is behind the terror attacks against Russians suggests that he can tell a lot about who helped him and who gave the orders. Many powerful agencies simply cannot let it happen. Otherwise this might cause an international scandal”.

Some propagandists claimed that it was the Americans who tried to intimidate Budanov for his close ties with the British: “Budanov is being handled by the British secret services. According to Arakhamia, it is Britain that is actively supporting the escalation of the military conflict with Russia. Therefore, the poisoning of Budanov’s wife along with several officers of the main directorate of intelligence may be a signal for Budanov’s group from the group handled by the Americans who are much less aggressively-minded”.

Unsurprisingly, the versions included the corruption element: “It appears that Budanova's poisoning could have been ordered by someone from the pool of companies affiliated with the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine”.

Irrespective of the version, the propagandists presented the poisoning in a positive light. Russian media used it to demonstrate Ukraine’s weakness and the state of chaos in the country: “Following the fiasco of the so-called counteroffensive and the loss of financial assistance from the West, Ukraine has been sinking into chaos... It is dog eat dog out there: the officials are accusing each other and doing whatever it takes to stay in power. The poisoning of the wife of such a high-ranking official is a clear indication that the Kyiv regime is losing legitimacy”.

The Ideological Russia

Moscow has long been trying to prove that Russia has its own ideology and values which are different from those of the collective West. The main message is “we are different”: “The West has been degrading morally for the last few decades”. Following Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine, the propaganda has been touting Russia as a “civilization source country”.

The Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova even went as far as saying that “the West deliberately distorts the concept of “Russian World” drawing parallels to its own dark ideological past — especially the colonization period”.

On 30 November, “the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation … ruled that international LGBT movement” is an “extremist organization and banned its activities in Russia”. At the same time, Putin demonstrated utter cynicism by saying that “LGBT people are full-fledged members of the society” and called to equality.

The ban of the LGBT movement was explained as a necessary element of “protecting Russia and the entire Russian civilization from demise”, and it was said that “the decision to ban LGBT movement is part of protecting our civilization”.

Such values as tolerance may allegedly “destroy the staples of Russian society”: “Every Western film contains elements of that propaganda. Something must be done to stop it. If we allow our children to watch those films, they might consider it normal,” “LGBT propaganda is a serious threat to the moral values of such countries as Russia”.

The propagandists insist that “LGBT propaganda is used by transnational corporations to seize power under the pretext of promoting freedom”, “There is no need to send troops to a country that holds pride parades because it is ready to be taken. Therefore, if such a parade ever takes place in Moscow, it will mean that we have lost our country”.

Any criticism of the Kremlin's discriminatory policy is called a manifestation of Russophobia: “According to an earlier statement by the press secretary of the president of Russia Dmitry Peskov, European politicians are encouraging Russophobia among their people”.

The call for Russian women to give birth to more children also made news last week: “Speaking at the plenary session of the World Russian People’s Council, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized that strengthening the family is the country’s task for generations ahead. Having many children should become the norm for all peoples of Russia”.

Russia's demographic problems are no secret.

However, popular solutions include ideological calls: “The head of state believes that money alone such as various payments and benefits cannot help to achieve this goal. Therefore, we must restore the traditional way of the family”, “In his speech, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus' Kirill ... noted that turning to family traditions is the key to prosperity of Russia and the Russian people”.

The authorities are considering whipping childless families into obedience with fines: “Another people's deputy has gone public saying that a tax on childlessness is a good idea” and banning abortion: “The authorities of Kaliningrad region are setting the framework for a ban on abortion in private clinics,” “His Holiness Patriarch Kirill speaks best on the importance of curbing the number of murders by abortion. Those efforts were among the key topics of his speech delivered at the World Russian People's Council plenary session on 28 November”.

Total Victory

The failures of the Ukrainian counteroffensive have been inspiring Russian propaganda. Despite all the courageous efforts, the Ukrainian army was unable to achieve its main goal and drive the Russians from the South of Ukraine.

The disinformers are now claiming that “the United States will have to agree to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine unless Kyiv manages to tip the scales of the battle”. Russian media argue that Ukraine will have no more opportunities and that “the U.S. Administration is facing a tough choice between agreeing to a peaceful resolution and putting American boots on Ukrainian soil. The U.S. President Joe Biden along with the majority of American politicians are clearly against the second option”.

The propagandists look forward to Donald Trump winning the next presidential election in the U.S. since in that case “Kyiv should expect all the aid to stop”.

Russian media dream of capturing other Ukrainian cities and are convinced that Russia can simply buy the loyalty of the local population: “Kyiv is losing grip. As we will gradually liberate the remaining territory of Ukraine, the loyalty of local residents will come along with a stable energy supply and the improvement of living conditions”.

To convince the readership that peace talks are near, the propagandists claimed that Russia had always been open to negotiations with Ukraine, but on its own terms: “Moscow has always been open to negotiations with Kiev provided that the goals and objectives of the SMO are fully met”, “According to Medinsky, both states have a bright common future. He added that it was the Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky who is against a peaceful resolution of the conflict”.

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Other topics in the November news on the media in the occupied territories

According to the November news on the media in the occupied territories, Russia was winning big time. For example, they reported on Russia's victories in Zaporizhzhia oblast: “The enemy is trying to advance at Verbovoye under the cover of fire, but our troops are holding the line. Some AFU members were captured while retreating near Rabotino after their vehicles had got stuck in the mud. The enemy’s further attempts of advancing on Rabotino and Novoprokopovka were yet again unsuccessful” and near Avdiivka: “There has been fierce fighting in the industrial zone in the south. As a result, about 50% of positions have come under our control. Our units also expanded control over the inhabited areas north of Pervomayskoye” and in Kharkiv oblast: “However, it appears that the enemy has been unsuccessful in seizing the initiative. The gauleiter of the Kharkov region Oleg Sinegubov complained bitterly about Russian attacks on the military logistics of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the region”.

The local propagandists are convinced that Donbas and Crimea made the right decision to collaborate with the Russian Federation for it is being led by the great Vladimir Putin: “Putin is a giant compared to those lying, hypocritical Western dwarfs”.

The disinformers claimed that the residents of the regions would have been satanized had they decided to remain a part of Ukraine: “Our Russian counterparts gave numerous examples of mockery of the UOC and pointed to the bill banning the canonical Church with high chances of passing”, “In fact, a “false” church has been set up in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the junta is preparing to seize another great shrine — the Pochaev Lavra”.

Moreover, the Kyiv authorities are said to have made a list of Orthodox shrines schuduled for demolition: “The Kiev city authorities are preparing to demolish 78 capital churches of the UOC — even despite some of them being ancient monuments”.

The propagandists also scare their readership with lies about Ukraine being ready to Ukrainianize other ethnic groups by force. Of course, the Russians will be the first: “The Law on National Minorities does not apply to Russians”, “Representatives of the Russian people “may not have any privileges” in Ukraine”.

Those narratives were supported with the statements of Iryna Farion which were brandished as irrefutable evidence of the existence of Nazism and fascism in Ukraine: “She has been provoking “mova” scandals in Ukraine and calling Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine “inferior people” for years. However, the authorities have been turning a blind eye to her clear violations of Ukrainian law. Was that because her outrageous behavior was trendy and consistent with the Nazi policies of President Zelensky?”.

The media in the occupied territories also emphasized the benefits of “re-uniting” with Russia. For example, they reported on repairs of gyms and roofs of houses: “The renovation of the gym of the multidisciplinary vocational school in Debaltsevo has begun. Now that the roof has been completed and the heating has been restored, the interior finishing is underway”.

There were also reports on people complaining about economic troubles: “The residents of the Donetsk People's Republic commented on the prices in the region.

“I am absolutely not satisfied with your answer regarding egg pricing. Whatever the reports say, you can’t get them cheaper than 160 rubles in the market, and they are expected to cross the two hundred mark by New Year.”. If we don’t do something about it now, the city residents are bound to have a nasty New Year surprise”.

Still, such reports were far from being mainstream.

The Methodology

To monitor the information published on disinformation websites, we analyzed approximately 410,000 news reports collected from ~ 1000 Russian and occupation websites. The data for the analysis was provided by SemanticForce.

Each paragraph was processed using an 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.


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