Since February 24, Detector Media has been monitoring the Ukrainian segment of social media and documenting the chronicle of Russian disinformation around Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine on a daily basis. Recently, we have also started doing weekly reviews. During the week of January 24-31, 2023, Detector Media analysts recorded more than sixty fakes, messages, and manipulations spread by Russian propaganda. This week, propagandists focused on the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine, including German tanks. Furthermore, Russian propaganda spread false information about the mobilization of Ukrainians abroad and tried to put the blame for the war on Ukrainian presidents.
Check out reviews of Russian disinformation from previous weeks here: September 26-October 2; October 3-9, October 10-17, October 17-24, October 24-31, October 31-November 6, November 7-14, November 14-21, November 21-28, November 28-December 4, December 5-12, December 12-19, December 19-26, January 2-9, January 10-16, January 17-23, as well as the final text for the ten months of the great war.
This week, Russian propaganda devoted most of its disinformation efforts to the topic of the supply of tanks to Ukraine. First, they spread a message claiming that Volodymyr Zelenskyy had admitted that providing Ukraine with tanks would not be able to turn the tide of the war. The President allegedly said this during an interview with ARD. In fact, propagandists took the quote out of context. According to the President, the decision of one particular state to transfer a small number of tanks is unlikely to have a significant impact on the course of events on the battlefield because Russia possesses a far larger number of tanks. However, he did not say that the supply of Western tanks in general could not “turn the tide” on the battlefield. Zelenskyy also said that the joint support of other countries motivates the Ukrainian military to fight. Attempts to discredit the supply of foreign tanks continued with messages that American Abrams tanks are allegedly unsuitable for use in Ukraine in winter. Allegedly, the United States is not providing the Ukrainian army with Abrams MBTs because they are incapable of moving on snowy terrain. To illustrate this, they used a video showing a tank unable to climb a steep snow-covered hill. However, the propagandists forgot to show videos of winter tank exercises, including those featuring Abrams tanks. For example, a video from a 2016 military exercise in Norway shows Abrams tanks moving through deep snow and icy roads without any problems, and one of them demonstrates an extreme driving technique, a controlled skid, while quickly descending a snowy hill.
The Russian propaganda machine also tried to intimidate Germany with messages that it would become a “direct participant in hostilities” and a “legitimate target for Russia” if it authorized the supply of Leopard tanks to Ukraine. They also tried to intimidate Ukrainians by telling them that Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks pose a threat to their health. Allegedly, the tanks are dangerous because they require depleted uranium shells for firing. Allegedly, the use of such shells contaminates the area and causes outbreaks of cancer. Russia also allegedly considers the use of these shells to constitute a dirty bomb. In fact, international organizations such as the IAEA, the UN Environment Agency, and the EU Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks have generally concluded that the impact of depleted uranium radiation is insignificant. At the same time, the tanks can fire other shells, so it’s hard to predict what kind of shells Ukraine will receive with the tanks.
The propagandists also attempted to scare their audiences by claiming that the Russians were allegedly capable of destroying all Western equipment with their own, Russian equipment. However, the proof of that “Russian strength” was presented as quotes from the Danish Defense Academy taken out of context. The quoted material did not actually state that Western tanks would be ineffective in the fight against Russia because Russia would destroy them. The researchers were considering possible scenarios in which the use of Western tanks in Ukraine would have varying levels of effectiveness. It’s just wishful thinking on the part of the Russians.
In addition, propagandists tried to create the illusion that citizens of other countries were protesting against the provision of heavy weapons to Ukraine. This message was allegedly conveyed by employees of a zoo in Berlin. Allegedly, they installed a sign asking people not to feed leopards “Zelenskyy’s empty talk, because the animals might throw up”. The photos of the sign turned out to be fake. The same can be said of photos of posters calling against sending tanks to Ukraine, allegedly placed at the Stuttgart airport.
The propagandists claimed that mass rallies against the supply of weapons to Ukraine were allegedly held in Paris. The protesters allegedly called for the resignation of the current President Macron and demanded that the government withdraw from NATO. In support of their claims, the propagandists published a video of the rally, which the leader of the far-right The Patriots party, Florian Philippot, commented on. The largely pro-Russian politician criticizes France’s policy toward Ukraine. The video features the logo of the Russian state news agency RT, despite the fact that its broadcasting in the European Union was banned in March 2022. The propagandists deliberately recorded the comments in front of a protest that has nothing to do with Ukraine. In fact, the video shows a January rally against raising the retirement age in France. The video also shows protesters carrying placards with inscriptions about the retirement age, not about military aid to Ukraine.
Russian propagandists also wrote that the UN was allegedly unhappy with the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine. This opinion was claimed to be shared by the spokesman for the UN chief, Stéphane Dujarric. Propagandists quoted his statement. They claimed that the West is supplying Ukraine with more and more weapons, and this can “lead to even worse developments”. In fact, Dujarric’s statement said that Russia is a terrorist state that does not profess a policy of peace, diplomacy, and democracy but brings war and destruction.
As in the previous week, propagandists spread fakes and manipulations about mobilization in Ukraine. This time, pro-Russian Telegram channels claimed that the Ukrainian authorities would be activating air raid sirens more often than usual, taking advantage of the fact that Belarus is conducting another joint military exercise with Russia. Allegedly, the sirens will be activated only to make men go into hiding, where it will be easier for representatives of “military commissariats” to hand out summonses. Along with these messages, they claimed that the rights of mobilized and conscripts were being systematically violated in Ukraine and that they should file lawsuits to the European Court of Human Rights regarding this, with a guarantee to receive “20-30 euros”. In other words, these messages are used to stir up panic and increase social tension. They have nothing to do with air raid alerts.
The Russian propaganda machine also reported that the EU is allegedly preparing to deport men and women who are obligated to serve in the military to Ukraine for mobilization. In particular, local governments in Latvia have received requests allegedly from the Embassy of Ukraine asking for personal data of Ukrainian citizens of military age who currently reside in Latvia. Allegedly, Ukraine will apply for their deportation in order to mobilize them in the future. The Embassy of Ukraine in Latvia reported that these letters were fake. They did not send any requests.
The propagandists did not limit themselves to mobilization in Ukraine and spread fakes claiming the Estonian Ministry of Defense would allegedly replenish its military reserves by enlisting high school students. Allegedly, Estonia will teach its children “how to die for Ukraine”, i.e., send them to war in Ukraine. To create this fake, the Russian propaganda machine used the proposal of Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur to make national defense classes a compulsory subject for high school students. The minister himself emphasized that there was no intention of conscripting schoolchildren into the Estonian army but rather to introduce a mandatory class in high school. Pevkur believes that young people should be taught how to defend themselves in times of war.
In addition to disinformation regarding the supply of heavy weapons and mobilization, propagandists also spread false information about the weakness of Ukraine and its allies. In particular, they wrote that the rhetoric of the Ukrainian President had drastically changed. They claimed that while the President of Ukraine used to talk about liberating the territories captured by Russia, he is now asking for weapons to “at least stop Russia”. However, the Russian propaganda machine distorted Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s quote from his speech in Ramstein. Propagandists took the part of the speech calling for “a strong supply line that will stop Russian evil” out of context, leaving out the calls to guarantee the provision of artillery and air defense systems that will defeat terror and ensure victory.
When William Burns, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, visited Kyiv, propagandists claimed that Ukraine had no say over military matters. Allegedly, Ukrainians fulfill the role of “cannon fodder”. Also, referring to Burns’s words, the Russian propaganda machine said that the West was allegedly reducing aid to Ukraine because of corruption. These messages are based on manipulation and fuel the narrative of “external governance” in Ukraine, which was already promoted before the full-scale invasion. The Russian propaganda machine has also repeatedly spread messages that Russia is at war with the United States, NATO, or the “collective West” in Ukraine.
In the context of the fact that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognized that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine began in 2014, propagandists began to promote the message that Ukrainian presidents are to blame for everything. Russian propaganda claims that it was Poroshenko’s fault that Ukraine lost Crimea and part of the East, and thanks to Zelenskyy, Ukraine lost even more territory. In this way, Russia uses the equivocation fallacy as a tactic and shifts responsibility for the events in Ukraine to the Ukrainian government. The world has recognized that it was Russia that invaded Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014. The Russian president launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. In contrast, Russia is trying to divide Ukrainians with propaganda of this kind, sowing discord and playing on opposing views of the current and former presidents.