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According to the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security Council, the recent progress of Russian forces has prompted the launch of a targeted information campaign concerning the alleged "collapse of the Ukrainian front." This operation anticipates an active dissemination of narratives suggesting that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are unable to withstand the Russian military, and that Russia will prevail in its objectives. However, despite challenges such as shortages of ammunition and equipment, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have demonstrated their capability to effectively resist the enemy. The recent provision of American aid to Kyiv is expected to significantly alter the dynamics of the war.

In the past week, the Media Detector Research Center has observed a surge in propagandistic discourse across various information channels. Reports have circulated claiming that Ukraine has permanently lost strategic advantage on the battlefield, Russian forces are making confident advances on multiple fronts simultaneously, and even Western assistance fails to turn the tide. Additionally, there are assertions that Ukraine is forcibly conscripting citizens from abroad into the conflict, and that military morale is at an all-time low. The upcoming visit of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Ukraine is being framed as a harbinger of impending defeat. These coordinated efforts by Russian propaganda aim to instill a sense of hopelessness and resignation in Ukraine, fostering the perception that all is lost.

"Collapse of the front", total demoralization, and commander-in-chief as a "butcher"

Russian propagandists exploit the challenging circumstances at the frontlines, seeking to portray each advance of Russian troops as evidence of the purported "complete demoralization and collapse" of the Ukrainian Defense Forces. Ukrainian military observers and officials acknowledge the difficult situation and tactical gains made by occupiers. In particular, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces Oleksandr Syrsky reported on the fierce fighting in many directions and the forced retreat in the Berdychi area. Nazar Voloshyn, the spokesman of the Khortytsia operational-strategic group of troops, informed about the entrenchment of the occupiers in the village of Ocheretyne.

Russian propaganda goes beyond mere reporting of territorial gains. Its primary objective is to persuade its audience that Russia has already emerged victorious in the war and will continue to triumph daily.

To achieve this, propaganda outlets engage in emotional manipulation, embellishing their messages with numerous details and circumstances aimed at fitting the events into the overarching Kremlin narrative: "The Armed Forces are in disarray, while Russian troops effortlessly claim victory after victory." This involves exaggeration, omission of facts, and outright fabrication.

In the context of the frontline developments, propaganda efforts primarily focus on emphasizing the "complete demoralization" of Ukrainian soldiers and officers. A popular anonymous Telegram channel with over 400,000 subscribers asserts that the advancement of Russian troops is directly linked to this demoralization, rather than the enemy's firepower superiority or constant assaults. Discussions regarding the exclusion of demobilization provisions from the new mobilization law are tied to this narrative, suggesting that it is not just about ammunition shortages, but rather the loss of hope among Ukrainian soldiers.

The issue of demoralization is intertwined with concerns about mobilization and desertion (the voluntary departure from a military unit). According to an anonymous Telegram channel boasting over 1 million subscribers, "90% of Ukrainians are willing to flee Ukraine by any means necessary. Zelensky's objective is not to grant Ukrainians this opportunity but to compel everyone to fight in exchange for Western loans." The same channel suggests that Ukrainian military training programs in Western nations are purportedly being scaled back due to the perceived risk of "mass escapes from training facilities." Expanding on this narrative, another anonymous Telegram channel with 1 million subscribers incorporates additional speculation from an alleged insider from the President's Office, claiming that "last year, nearly 20% of men failed to return, and this year, the percentage has risen to 35%."

The thesis of "demoralized armed forces fleeing from their positions" serves another purpose for propagandists: to depict the Russian offensive as swift, sudden, and effortless for the invaders, rather than as a series of grueling, bloody "meat assaults" with constant loss of armored vehicles and resorting to improvised means such as motorcycles and golf carts. The issue of Russian troop losses is completely disregarded. Assaults that lasted for weeks or even months are conveniently overlooked, with only the final result – the shifting of Defense Forces in a certain area – highlighted as achieved within a few days. Withdrawal from positions that were under threat of being bypassed or attacked from the flanks is portrayed as "the sudden surrender of multiple villages at once due to the demoralization of the Armed Forces and their retreat." Overall, the narrative suggests that "the Russian Armed Forces have now mastered the art of swift conquest." This notion is purportedly confirmed by the case of Robotyne, which endured numerous bloody and futile assaults for many months. Some propagandists even prematurely announced the withdrawal of Ukraine’s Armed Forces from Robotyne earlier this week, only to report "battles in Robotyne" again a few days later.

However, there isn't a unified narrative among all propagandists. Some contend that the primary factor driving the advance of Russian troops was their overwhelming firepower. Even in this case, there's a rhetorical maneuver to replace objective indicators of the effectiveness of aviation and artillery with the notion of the "wunderwaffe" in the Russian Armed Forces, deemed insurmountable. This refers to guided aerial bombs, which began production in Russia through the retrofitting of old conventional aerial bombs after the commencement of full-scale invasion. While few would deny the threat posed by Russian anti-aircraft missiles and the devastation they cause, propagandists aim to amplify the emotional impact of these weapons, suggesting that "even a large city will not endure for long under attack." Despite the example of Avdiivka, which persisted for almost half a year after the extensive use of anti-aircraft guns, propagandists persist. They also seek to diminish hope by asserting that "there is almost no anti-aircraft defense, aviation resources are depleting, and no new ones are being supplied, rendering defense structures ineffective against the Russians."

Another target for propaganda is the vilification of the SOU command and specifically the head of the Armed Forces, Oleksandr Syrsky, personally. Informational assaults against him commenced even before his appointment to this position and persist to this day. Failures at the front are also exploited to personally blame Syrsky. The General Committee is also accused of "incompetent command" resulting in territorial losses for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and a "leadership style...referred to in military circles as the “paralyzing butcher's effect'," allegedly leading to a lack of authority where entire units refuse to comply with orders. Notably, the 3rd Assault Brigade is implicated in such "inside reports," supposedly first refusing to deploy to the Chasiv Yar area and later refusing to "close the gap" in Ocheretyne (having purportedly "voluntarily left its positions in Avdiivka" prior to this). "Syrsky is considered to be a ‘looser’ in the military, as his tenure has only seen retreats and significant losses for the Armed Forces of Ukraine," one anonymous Telegram channel adds to the narrative.

Military recruitment: between death and slavery

The law on mobilization, adopted on April 11, 2024, provides that men aged 18-60 are obliged to update their registration data within 60 days at the military commissariat, the center for the provision of administrative services or in the electronic account of the conscript. The law will enter into force on May 18, 2024, and at the end of April, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine made a decision to temporarily stop accepting new applications for consular actions from conscripts who are temporarily abroad. "After updating the military registration data in the territorial recruitment centers (TRC), a male citizen of Ukraine between the ages of 18 and 60 with valid military registration documents will have full access to consular services in accordance with the law," the explanation reads. This move caused a stir among Ukrainians. Some condemn this decision of the government, arguing that the state violates the constitutional rights of citizens and in no way motivates them to return, but only demonstrates the inability to sufficiently interest those men who remained in Ukraine to enter into contracts. Others justify such a policy, arguing that being abroad does not exempt one from one's duty to one's homeland. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified the decision on the temporary suspension of new applications for the provision of consular services for men abroad, it can be read here.

Agitprop capitalized on the unpopular decision of the Ukrainian government and crafted its own narrative to explain the situation. Manipulators attempted to portray the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' decision as influenced by the West, echoing the narrative of foreign control. In a Telegram channel with 22,000 subscribers, propagandists assured their audience that Ukraine was not addressing the issue of conscript registration but rather blindly following Western directives, purportedly in exchange for financial and humanitarian support: "Ukraine's territory was beyond the legal realm. They could debate anything from skull measurements to forced castration, just to fulfill the tasks assigned by Western countries in return for Western aid." We elaborated on the claims regarding the United States providing $60.84 billion in aid to Ukraine in this material.

The West appears to have devised a scheme to subjugate Ukrainian men and usher in a form of 21st-century serfdom, legalizing their exploitation as cheap labor. "Choose: enlist in the Armed Forces or face slavery. Poland and Lithuania have pledged to extradite Ukrainian men of conscription age upon the Saloreich (pejorative term for Ukraine, - DM.) authorities' request for their subsequent exploitation. Initially, Poles and Lithuanians will strip Ukrainians with expired documents of all privileges. Subsequently, travel restrictions may be imposed, confining Ukrainians to their registered area. Essentially, Ukrainians will be tethered to a single location and coerced into labor," asserted another Telegram channel with an audience of half a million.

In a bid to sow discord, hostile sources began to issue "warnings" about the imminent mass deportation of conscripts to Ukraine amidst a large-scale offensive by the Armed Forces. However, Olga Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, clarified in an interview with Deutsche Welle in Brussels that Ukraine has no plans to forcibly repatriate men of conscription age from abroad. Despite this official stance from the Ukrainian government, propagandists remained dissatisfied. A Telegram channel with a million subscribers claimed that potential deportations of Ukrainians from abroad would commence by the year's end, contingent upon Ukraine launching the promised "infantry" mass offensive by late summer/autumn. Stefanishyna also disclosed that in May, European Commissioner for Internal Affairs and Migration Ylva Johansson would visit Ukraine to address the ongoing legal status of Ukrainians abroad, as the current EU mechanism for temporary protection is set to expire in March 2025.

Amidst martial law and persistent existential and physical threats to Ukrainians and statehood posed by the aggressor, there are no easy or popular solutions. As detailed in the study "Defense of the Motherland is a punishment: Theses of Russian propaganda on mobilization in Ukraine," agitprop endeavors to exploit Ukrainians' fears regarding conscription, particularly those Ukrainians residing abroad who rely on news reports or secondhand accounts of the situation in Ukraine, rendering them more susceptible to manipulative misinformation. Agitprop fosters a hostile attitude toward mobilization and normalizes "evasiveness," asserting that joining the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine equates to certain death. They propagate notions that mobilized individuals receive inadequate training, are hastily dispatched to the frontlines from military offices, and suffer mass casualties, portraying Ukrainian men as mere "cannon fodder" at the government's behest, among other claims.

With claims circulating that Ukraine's defeat is imminent, Stoltenberg's visit was construed as an opportunity for him to witness the "beginning of the end" firsthand. A Telegram channel boasting 125,000 subscribers asserted, "Why the rush? The Secretary-General flew in to ascertain directly from the generals of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the frontlines and from Zelensky himself, the likelihood of the collapse of the Ukrainian Armed Forces front in the coming weeks."

"I look forward to meeting you at the summit in Washington," Stoltenberg remarked, addressing President Zelensky. Consequently, Zelensky received an invitation to the 75th NATO summit scheduled for July 9-11, 2024, in Washington. At the outset of 2024, the president expressed hope for defense and political decisions from the summit, including the provision of new air defense systems and tangible steps towards Ukraine's accession to the Alliance. In response, a propagandist from a 255,000-subscriber Telegram channel contended that Kyiv would not be invited to join the Alliance in July 2024, emphasizing that NATO membership was not on the agenda for the Washington Summit. During his meeting with the Alliance's Secretary-General, President Zelensky remarked, "In my personal view, we will join NATO only when we emerge victorious. I do not anticipate NATO extending membership during wartime."

These manipulative tactics seamlessly align with the broader propaganda narrative, suggesting that every NATO summit could herald Ukraine's accession to the Alliance. However, with this not materializing, Russian propaganda paints all Euro-Atlantic endeavors by Kyiv as futile.

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