During the week, the Russian propaganda machine spread fakes and manipulations about the work of the Ukrainian air defense system and massive missile strikes, as well as claimed that Zelenskyy was committing “genocide of the Ukrainian people”.

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Since February 24, Detector Media has been monitoring Ukrainian social media and documenting the chronicle of Russian disinformation surrounding Russia's military offensive in Ukraine on a daily basis. Recently, we have also started making weekly reviews. During the week of December 5 — 12, 2022, Detector Media’s analysts recorded about fifty disinformation attacks carried out by Russian propagandists as a means to achieve Russia’s political goals. This week, the Russian propaganda machine tried to convince the world that Zelenskyy is a murderer of his own people, that due to the success of Ukraine’s air defense, Ukraine no longer needs weapons from the West, and disseminated false information about Putin’s support throughout Europe. 

You can find the reviews of Russian disinformation for the previous weeks hereSeptember 26 — October 2October 3 — 9October 10 — 17October 17 — 24October 24 — 31October 31 — November 6, November 7 — 14November 14 — 21November 21 — 28November 28 — December 4

The faulty but powerful air defense system

During the week, Russian propagandists discussed the effectiveness of Ukraine’s air defense system. For example, they claimed that the Office of the President exaggerates the effectiveness of air defense and even makes up missile attacks. This message, in particular, was spread by Telegram channels managed by Russian intelligence. They claimed that the Office of the President is lying about the number of missiles launched by Russia, significantly overstating it, and, accordingly, the “success of air defense” is also exaggerated. The propagandists also claimed that the Office of the President gave orders to activate the air raid alarm in the regions “that Russia was not going to shell”, and then allegedly the authorities informed citizens that they shot down the “fictional” missiles. By spreading such messages, Russian propaganda seeks to whitewash Russia’s reputation, to show that in fact, the aggressor state does not launch as many missiles as Ukraine claims. Also, in this way, the Russian propaganda machine is trying to spread distrust toward the Ukrainian government and military. They claim that they not only lie about the effectiveness of air defense but also fabricate Russia’s crimes, etc. 

However, there were reports this week in which propagandists, on the contrary, claimed that Ukrainian air defense was very effective, suggesting that Western countries should no longer supply Ukraine with weapons. In particular, pro-Russian Telegram channels manipulated information about the number of Russian missiles destroyed by the Ukrainian air defense system during the massive missile strikes. Propagandists asserted that if air defense is highly effective and the supply of Russian missiles is “dwindling”, Ukraine does not need new weapons. Despite the fact that according to official data, the Ukrainian air defense system shoots down most of the enemy missiles, there are still those that hit the target, kill people, and destroy critical infrastructure. In particular, the attacks of November 23 and December 5 left not only Ukraine but also neighboring Moldova without electricity. However, it is impossible to accurately predict the number and intensity of future Russian attacks, so the Ukrainian authorities are asking Western partners for assistance in protecting Ukraine’s airspace.

In addition, on December 5, during a Russian large-scale missile strike, anonymous pro-Russian Telegram channels spread the notion that the shelling was the result of “Ukraine’s sabotage in Russia”, in particular, the explosions at military airfields in the Saratov region and near Ryazan. These explosions did indeed take place on the territory of Russia, but Ukraine has not officially confirmed its involvement in the explosions. In particular, the adviser to the head of the Presidential Office Mykhailo Podolyak said that since the earth is round and Russia launches many things into the air every day, sometimes these objects return home. Ukraine officially has no drones that could cover the distance to Engels (700 kilometers) and Dyagilevo (500 kilometers), where the explosions occurred. This is not the first time Russian propaganda has presented missile attacks or other crimes committed by Russia on Ukrainian territory under the guise of revenge. For example, the first massive missile attack on the energy infrastructure of Ukraine, which took place on October 10, was presented by the Russian propaganda machine as “retaliation for the Crimean bridge”. In fact, any crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine do not amount to revenge, because it was Russia that attacked Ukraine in 2014 and seized Crimea and part of the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In this way, Russia seeks to shift the responsibility for its actions to Ukraine. They say that if Ukraine had not started first, nothing would have happened. Earlier, Russia tried to justify the full-scale invasion of the territory of Ukraine with the so-called “demilitarization” and “denazification”, stating that if Russia had not intervened in Ukraine, the situation could only have gotten worse. In addition, as the Insider project investigators found out, each massive missile strike requires a week to ten days of preparation, so it cannot be carried out "in response" to any Ukrainian military actions occurring less than a week ago.

Ukrainian authorities do not care about people in the liberated territories, and Europe supports Putin”

During the week, propagandists also spread a number of new accusations against Ukraine. For example, they claimed that Ukraine is not restoring the liberated territories. In particular, they claimed that the recently liberated Kherson is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster, because the city has no water and energy supply, not enough medicines, fuel, etc. According to the propaganda reports, the liberated Kharkiv region is experiencing the same problem. The propagandists added that the Ukrainian authorities do not care about the people who were eagerly anticipating their liberation. However, Kherson was on the verge of a humanitarian disaster during the Russian occupation. As they retreated, the Russians destroyed power plants, a TV tower, and other infrastructure critical to the city's survival.  After the liberation of the city, the vital systems are being restored there despite daily Russian shelling. As of December 4, the power supply was restored by 85% in Kherson. “Points of Invincibility” were also opened in the city and additional humanitarian aid centers have been deployed. Supermarket chains are gradually resuming operations in Kherson. Cities, for example, in the Kyiv region, are also being restored after liberation. However, Russian propaganda stands to benefit from repeating its message that the Ukrainian government does not care about people in the liberated territories in contrast to the declared policy of Russia, which always “thinks about the lives of the people”. 

Also this week, Ukraine was accused of “destroying the largest religious denomination”. This message appeared in pro-Russian Telegram channels in the wake of reports about inspections and searches conducted by the Security Service of Ukraine in the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate. According to the propaganda message, the authorities proposed a special law banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, but for the sake of “decency”, this is not indicated in the title. Allegedly, the Ukrainian authorities have found a way to take away the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, Holy Dormition Pochayiv Lavra, and Sviatohirsk Cave Monastery from the Moscow Patriarchate. They will also allegedly detain clergy and parishioners to replenish the prisoner exchange fund. However, the reason for the inspection was a video shot in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, showing parishioners glorify Russia during the service on November 12. The SBU opened criminal proceedings on the fact of “justification, recognition as lawful, denial of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine and glorification of its participants”. During the searches, law enforcement officers found pro-Russian literature, leaflets, and other evidence. After that, similar inspections began in the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate in different regions. In addition, Volodymyr Zelenskyy did announce a bill to make it impossible for religious organizations affiliated with Russia to work in Ukraine. However, this does not mean that Ukraine is destroying the denomination. Developing the bill shows that Ukraine is protecting itself from the pro-Russian influence of any religious organization. 

Russian propagandists also tried to accuse Ukraine of preparing a fake attack. They claimed that Ukraine wants to prevent the export of Russian fertilizers abroad, and therefore prepares provocations together with the British special services. The propagandists claimed that Ukraine needs this in order to prevent Moscow from exporting ammonia through the Togliatti-Odesa pipeline. However, propagandists did not provide any evidence. There was nothing to support these messages; their creators did not present any evidence that Ukraine is preparing to attack. In fact, the export of Russian fertilizers does not take place due to sanctions. Using such messages, Russia attempts to portray Ukraine and the UK as responsible for preventing the return of Russian fertilizers to world markets. Since both US and EU sanctions ban the export of fertilizers and food, propagandists use unfounded accusations to cover up the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During the week, Russian propaganda also created the appearance of support for Putin and Russia in European countries. For example, the results of a purported opinion poll among Germans on the war in Ukraine were disseminated on social media. Allegedly, according to 40% of respondents, NATO provoked Russia to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Propagandists added that Germans think so because they are tired of the war in Ukraine. In fact, according to the 15min media, only 19% of respondents support this statement. Another 21% partially agree with it, but combining these figures is misleading since it distorts the result. Russian propaganda systematically manipulates the results of polls or uses anonymous comments of individual social media users to represent “public opinion”. For example, the Russian propaganda machine has already reported about more than 70% of Germans who are supposedly against increasing military aid to Ukraine. Also, Russians from time to time claim that “most states” support Russia in this war, which is untrue, as both the US and EU countries regularly impose anti-Russian sanctions and provide both military and financial assistance to Ukraine. 

Bad Zelensky, whose government will not last until spring”

Russian propagandists also spread the notion that the end of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s rule is allegedly on the way in Ukraine. As evidence, they cited the words of former MP from the Opposition Platform — For Life party, pro-Russian politician Illia Kyva. They claim that the army of Ukraine will be subordinated to NATO, and the United States will plan attacks on Russia on the territory of Ukraine because Zelenskyy is just a puppet who does not make any decisions because he is controlled by “third parties”. The propagandists also circulated the message that Ukrainians are protesting in large numbers against Zelenskyy and against the fact that he refuses to negotiate with Russia on its terms. This is not the first time Russian propaganda has called Volodymyr Zelenskyy a puppet. In this way, the Russian propaganda machine seeks to fuel the narrative that the war on the territory of Ukraine is a war between NATO and the United States, and Russia. Although in fact, the war was started by Russia, which murders Ukrainians, occupies the territories of a sovereign state, and destroys entire cities and villages. 

This week, Russian propaganda also spread other messages about the Ukrainian president in the wake of the news that Volodymyr Zelenskyy was named the 2022 Person of the Year by the Time Magazine. For example, propagandists claimed that Zelenskyy was a traitor to the Ukrainian people; that he was carrying out genocide of the Ukrainian people; that Zelenskyy spent almost all his life under the protection of Russia, which fed, nurtured, and protected him; that Ukraine will get rid of Zelenskyy on its own because Ukrainians hate him. All these messages are aimed at discrediting the head of state and downplaying his authority among Ukrainians. They claim that President Zelenskyy is to blame for what is happening in Ukraine, because if it were not for his actions and desire for “genocide”, there would be no war. Thus, the Russian propaganda machine is once again trying to shift the responsibility for the war to Ukraine.

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