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Ukraine Plans to Use Chemical Weapons while Russia Exposes a British Spy Network. Russian Media Monitoring Report, 19-25 February 2024

Last week, Russian propagandists tried to take full advantage of the capture of Avdiivka. Among other things, they reported on shocking “discoveries” of secret torture chambers allegedly used to hold Zelensky’s political opponents.

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The Russian Ministry of Defense also claimed that the AFU was planning to build a “chemical defensive perimeter” and had already purchased the necessary components from Western partners that endorse such methods of warfare. Meanwhile, the disinformers have redoubled their efforts to expose US and British agents in mother Russia.

Last week, Russian propagandists tried to take full advantage of the capture of Avdiivka. Among other things, they reported on shocking “discoveries” of secret torture chambers allegedly used to hold Zelensky’s political opponents. The Russian Ministry of Defense also claimed that the AFU was planning to build a “chemical defensive perimeter” and had already purchased the necessary components from Western partners that endorse such methods of warfare. Meanwhile, the disinformers have redoubled their efforts to expose US and British agents in mother Russia.

According to the witch hunters, those include members of the LGBT community, artists, opposition activists, and even ordinary officials who are ready to disclose Russia’s secrets in exchange for a British passport. Alexei Navalny's wife, Yulia, who is claimed to have picked up the banner dropped by the deceased politician, is also among the prime suspects.

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

The War

Russian propaganda continues to exploit the capture of Avdiivka. However, despite the advance of the Russian army, this topic did not make a top news story. Last week, Russian media reported on secret torture chambers found after the city had been captured: “Preliminary reports confirm the presence of secret torture chambers and burial grounds. The Kiev regime used them to hold the residents imprisoned for political reasons”.

The propagandists tried to take advantage of the slow advance of the Russian army to boost the spirits of Russian society. Their optimism is further inspired by the news about the slow pace of Western aid to Ukraine: “The Minister of Defense of Ukraine Rustem Umerov said that half of the weapons allocated to Kiev by Western partners are falling behind schedule.” They also reported on the favorable political situation in the United States, where Donald Trump is about to make a serious bid for another presidency: “European politicians fear that, once back to Oval Office, Trump will leave them to deal with the aftermath of the Ukrainian conflict on their own, pull the plug on the aid for Kiev and perhaps even dismantle NATO.”

In addition to that, last week's reports on Russian propagandists media also claimed that the Armed Forces of Ukraine were planning to use chemical weapons: “The Armed Forces of Ukraine have stocks of a chemical warfare agent similar to “Tabun” which was used by the Nazi during the Great Patriotic War,” “The AFU supported by their Western allies are developing a new tactic of combat operations based on the concept of a so-called “chemical defensive perimeter.”

Russia vs Spies

Last week, many news reports spread by Russian media claimed that the USA and the UK were actively recruiting Russian citizens to fight Putin and the Russian Federation: “The British government is planning to bribe Russians who may possess valuable information. London intends to obtain secret data from Russian officials”, “The British are offering money and citizenship in exchange for that information,” "Citizenship might only be offered to those who have earned the handlers’ trust once all the work is done and there is nothing else they can offer.”

The propagandist messages are as clear as day. If you are in opposition to the government, you are a Western agent: “Those people were used by the UK to exercise its “soft power” by maintaining contacts with representatives of the so-called extra-systemic opposition in Russia.”

Even the British Council, a non-ministerial body of the British government known for its English language courses and promoting British culture around the world, was accused of running recruitment operations: “According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), British Council, a British government organization, was involved in intelligence activities — in particular, in the recruitment of refugees.”

Russian propagandists had claimed that members of the LGBT community were “unintentional agents of the West”: “All the propaganda of homosexuality and other vile perversions only repels Russian people and in no way inspires them to imitate those perverts. LGBT activists recruit supporters and involve minors. We must protect our traditional values from the fake ones imposed by the West”.

Armenia: a New Ukraine

Russian media seem to hold an old grudge against Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. He is portrayed as a traitor to the Armenian people who gave up Nagorno-Karabakh without a fight. Russian media used every opportunity to stress that the loss of the territory resulted from his anti-Russian policy.

Last week, Pashinyan said Armenia had “frozen” its participation in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

This statement caused severe backlash from the propaganda machine. According to Russian media, Pashinyan is planning to close a Russian military base in the country: “Pashinyan also said that the Russian military kidnap Russian citizens in Armenia and hold them at the Russian military base in Gyumri. This is a preparation for the expulsion of the Russian military base from Gyumri, which dates back to the 19th century when the area was not controlled by Armenia”.

The disinformers claim that the Armenian prime minister plans to give the region to President Macron and welcome the French military: “Such plans were announced on French TV after Pashinyan’s talks with Macron. The Armenian leadership has betrayed Russia. It appears that Pashinyan and Macron have conspired to expel Russia from the South Caucasus and agreed to set up French military bases in the region”.

We also observed a propagandist trick similar to the one used in the information campaigns against Ukraine waged since 2013: the Armenian people claimed to value the Russian presence and that it was the country's leaders that were muddying the waters: “Pashinyan would have done it a long time ago if not for his fear of the majority of Armenians who are against leaving Russia. They have a good memory of all the good things that Russia has done for Armenia”.

Putin vs Biden

Last week, the propagandist media delightfully reported on Putin’s flight in a Tu-160M strategic bomber on 22 February.

The flight was immediately marked as a message for the West: “Putin's flight in a Tu-160M strategic bomber is a message to the West: 1) we are ready to use nuclear weapons against you to defend Russia; 2) can Biden do that or is he too weak?”.

There were a few messages for Russians: “The President will protect the people of Russia. He is healthy and strong. Age is not a problem for reelection. And this is the message to the army of Russia on the eve of 23 February and on the eve of 24 February: the president stands with the army, the army stands with the president”.

And finally, Russian media also discussed the remark dropped by US President Joe Biden, who “insulted the Russian leader by calling him a “crazy son of a bitch”.

The Methodology

We analyzed approximately 500,000 news reports collected from ~ 1,000 Russian websites to monitor the information published on disinformation websites. The data for the analysis was collected and provided by SemanticForce.

Each paragraph was processed using an algorithm that defines its topic automatically. The resulting topics (i.e., groups with similar content) were short-listed by the issues relating to the war or its consequences for Russia. The number of mentions of a specific topic was then counted for each publication. Our conclusions are based on the respective findings and the quotes from paragraphs referring to each subject.

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