Spilnota Detector Media

Oleksii Pivtorak

Detector Media analyst

Andriy Pylypenko

Detector Media analyst

Українською читайте тут.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy updated the top leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, holding the first meeting of the new  Headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief on February 10. On February 11, the president's website published decrees on the appointment of new heads of the United Forces, Territorial Defense, and Airborne Assault Forces, as well as the appointment of a new head of the Ground Forces. Pro-Russian Telegram channels focused on the newly appointed heads of the branches and types of troops, which were hardly mentioned before.

The Detector Media team analyzed 4,782 messages in Russian in 2,380 Telegram channels published from February 8 to February 12, 1 pm, on this topic.

Detector Media analysts have already figured out what agitational propaganda wrote about the new Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Oleksandr Syrskyy. This time, we aim to analyze the campaigns and the tone of the messages that concerned the Deputy Commander-in-Chief and the leadership of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who were already called the "Syrskyy's team".

In particular, the sample included:

Oleksandr Pavlyuk — the new Commander of the Ground Forces;

Ihor Plahuta — Commander of the Territorial Defense Forces;

Vadym Sukharevskyy — Deputy Commander-in-Chief, responsible for autonomous systems and development of drone usage;

Ihor Skybyuk — the new Commander of the Airborne Assault Forces;

Anatoliy Brahylevych — the new chief of the General Staff;

Yuriy Solod — the new Commander of the United Forces of the Armed Forces;

Andriy Lebedenko — Deputy Commander-in-Chief responsible for innovations and the army’s technological component.

The mention frequency of the above-mentioned military leadership representatives during the monitoring period varied significantly. In the most analyzed publications, propagandists have written about the new Commander of the Ground Forces, Oleksandr Pavlyuk (1,570 mentions), and the Commander of the Territorial Defense Forces, Ihor Plahuta (1,538 mentions). The least number of mentions was recorded about the Commander of the United Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Yuriy Sodol (740 mentions), and the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Andriy Lebedenko (594 mentions), respectively.

The research period covers February 8-12, 2024, because on February 8, the first reports about the rotation of the highest military leadership of the Armed Forces appeared. It was essential to record the exact timing when the Telegram campaign could begin regarding newly appointed heads of the branches and types of troops. Below are the main messages and their tone regarding the new military leaders, the frequency of mentions shown in the histogram above.

Propagandists started writing about the new Commander of the Ground Forces, Oleksandr Pavlyuk, on February 9. Still, the intermediate peak of messages, with more than a third of mentions and posts, appeared on the afternoon of February 10 and the morning of February 11 (see the infographic at the beginning). Pavlyuk, who previously held the position of Deputy Minister of Defense, was discussed mainly in the context of his appointment to the post under the hashtag #ИзучаемВрага (#InvestigatingTheEnemy) [channel with 30,381 subscribers]. The official Telegram channel of one of the Russian TV channels [841,780 subscribers] emphasized that Oleksandr Pavlyuk used to lead the "Edelweiss Nazi Assault Brigade". This channel also noted that Oleksandr Syrskyy presented Pavlyuk as a "no-alternative" candidate, and only his proximity to the new Commander-in-Chief helped him get the position, even though Pavlyuk allegedly "became famous for the surrender of Mariupol" [channel with 119,165 subscribers]. At the same time, the first reports on February 10 in pro-Russian channels on the release of Oleksandr Pavlyuk were accompanied by the comment that "Zelenskyy continues to remove generals who disagree with him and are Zaluzhnyy’s supporters, and "beheads" those who can prevent him from establishing a dictatorship" [channel with 108,772 subscribers, copied verbatim posts also appeared in other similar channels].

One of the leading Russian propagandists, Sergey Mardan, in his Telegram channel with 232,710 subscribers, mentions why, in his opinion, Oleksandr Pavlyuk received his awards: "... former Soviet officer Pavlyuk is wanted in Russia as a war criminal. Humanitarian corridors were blocked in Mariupol by his order, and Ukrainian soldiers used civilians as human shields."

Russians started the discussions and mentions of the new Commander of the Territorial Defense Forces, Ihor Plahuta, on February 11 — already after the publication of the order on his appointment on the president's website. A post by Oleg Tsarev, a former regional deputy who fled to Russia, about Ihor Plahuta in his channel with 288,468 subscribers was widely quoted and reposted, often without reference to the source. In this post, he said that "a person with Plahuta's biography is easy to be kept on a hook", as if this was the logic behind which President Zelenskyy chose his candidacy. In Tsarev's opinion, the appointment of "a general without combat experience, but with experience in dispersing protesters" indicates a change in the functions and principles of using the Territorial Defense Forces (TrO) in the current Russian-Ukrainian war. Instead of participating in hostilities, TrO will help representatives of the territorial centers of procurement and social support with mobilization and prevent mass protests, which the president "obviously" fears. The central thesis in the Telegram channels discussing Ihor Plahuta’s appointment is his participation in the "clearing of the government quarters from Maidan participants" [channel with 72,378 subscribers]. At the same time, propagandists also sometimes mention that he was the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine or the Internal Troops at that time or that Plahuta gave the order to "clear up and supervise the demolition of barricades." In fact, the Ministry of Internal Affairs head in February 2014 was Vitaliy Zakharchenko. Plahuta held the position of the head of the Southern Territorial Command of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. After the Maidan, he became the deputy head of the Institute of State Protection Management of Ukraine.

The same category includes posts that promote the opinion that Plahuta's appointment is explained by the fact that "Syrskyy is recruiting Anti-Maidan supporters to his team". At the same time, Zelenskyy "removes nationalists from key positions, thereby preparing the country for surrender" [channel with 21,304 subscribers]. Ihor Plahuta is characterized as "Syrskyy's field manager" who will do everything to transfer TrO to the structure of the Ground Forces, which needs replenishment, even though "ammunition for TrO was purchased at the expense of local budgets", and this appointment will cause an adverse reaction "of the patriotic part of society and "Poroshenko supporters" [channel with 399,029 subscribers].

The study of the tone of posts about the appointment of Vadym Sukharevskyy and Ihor Skybyuk is essential because they assumed responsible positions, in particular, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief in charge of the development and use of drones and the Commander of the Airborne Assault Forces. In both cases, it is notable that up to half of the messages during the monitoring period happened on the evening of February 8 (see the infographic at the beginning). It means it happened before the official announcements about their appointment and in light of discussions about Valeriy Zaluzhnyy's resignation. In his evening address, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy listed the brigadier generals and colonels with whom he has discussed new positions. Sukharevskyy and Skybyuk are also mentioned in this list.

Russian Telegram channels’ messages, in this case, are characterized by insults and defamation directed at either the president ("narcoführer", "representative of cocainism") or generalizations about the new military leadership: "the beds are being rearranged", or "a whole new gang of butchers" has arrived [channel with 83,432 subscribers]. However, there are also positive characteristics of the new "Syrskyy's team", which the Russians call the "new generation" while dreaming of dispersing their generals — "barely breathing torchbearers in the 4th stage of dementia" [channel with 15,849 subscribers]. Only a few negative mentions were published in more local regional channels, where, in particular, Vadym Sukharevskyy, who led the 59th motorized infantry brigade during the defense of Mykolaiv, is called "worthy of the "butcher general" Syrskyy" for allegedly "shelling residential areas of the city for possible loyalty to Russia, which was later called "blows from the occupiers" [channel with 15,095 subscribers].

The new Chief of the General Staff, Anatoliy Brahylevych, did not face any criticism in the Telegram channels until February 12. Before that, his name appeared in reports about rotations in the leadership of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Such posts mainly contained excerpts of a few sentences about Anatoliy Brahylevych’s experience, for example: "Barhylevych became the Commander of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces only in October. Before that, from 2020 to 2022, he held the position of Commander of the ground defense in the Ground Forces Command. The Territorial Defense Forces have existed as a separate type of military unit since 2022, as mentioned by the February 9 post in a Telegram channel with 23,000 subscribers and in half a thousand similar Telegram channels.

Anatoliy Brahylevych was also mentioned in publications accusing the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of wanting to "put his people" in responsible positions in the Armed Forces. Such messages contained wording such as: "Zelenskyy continues to clean up Zaluzhnyy's friends" or "Influenced by cocaine, Zelenskyy cleans up Zaluzhnyy's team in the Armed Forces." The only personal attack against Anatoliy Brahylevych, which we recorded in the analyzed array, was the accusation that the "Chief of the General Staff is a person who jumped six steps in the hierarchy." However, this comment on the Russian Telegram channel with 19,000 subscribers was isolated and was no longer repeated in the chosen data set.

On February 8, Russians launched a hoax targeted at Yuriy Sodol, which was spread four times by Russian Telegram channels and other channels focused on the occupied territories of Ukraine. The hoax mentioned Yuriy Sodol collecting "taxes" from churches.

After that, Yuriy Sodol was not mentioned in the Telegram channels until February 11, when Volodymyr Zelenskyy appointed him the Commander of the United Forces of the Armed Forces. After that, Telegram channels reported on the appointment of Yuriy Sodol, mainly citing the relevant presidential decree and Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Oleksandr Syrskyy’s public addresses.

On February 12, the appointment announcement was replaced by looser interpretations of the topic by comments from dismissed commanders. In this context, Russians mentioned Sodol after Serhiy Naiev's comment that he learned about his dismissal from the mass media. In one of the Slovyansk Telegram chats, which has almost 2,000 subscribers, the summary of Naiev's comment contained references to conspiracy theories about "external management" and accusations of Ukrainian leadership’s unprofessionalism: "There is chaos and strife in the Kyiv junta. It doesn't matter how you presented yourself in front of the Office of the President or the Anglo-Saxons, how many Ukrainian lives you put in the grave for this because you are the same wasteful person as those who are killed by the Ze-Yermak government. That's why we see publications with insults and snot". Later, this message added that Sodol replaced Naiev without discussing who Yuriy Sodol was.

Andriy Lebedenko did not appear in Telegram posts until the evening of February 10. He was mentioned with Vadym Sukharevskyy, who was also appointed Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. There were also ten messages in smaller Telegram channels with audiences ranging from several hundred to several thousand subscribers mentioning, "Andriy Lebedenko is a colonel; I have not found any information about him, but the military says that he is a sane man."

However, in 17 publications, which were reposted verbatim, and pro-Russian blogger Ruslan Ostashko (374,000 subscribers) was one of the "super distributors" of it, Lebedenko is mentioned among other designations: "The Ukrführer molded his "military top", depriving it of its opposition beginnings and political ambitions. Was Klitchko right when he saw in Zelenskyy's politics the plans of a future dictator?". Such a statement is manipulative because the Armed Forces do not operate according to the principles of pluralism but are a vertically organized structure, in the operations of which, unlike civilian life, there is no place for political discussions. Accordingly, citing a strict hierarchy of the Armed Forces to justify the alleged development of a dictatorship in Ukraine is a fundamentally wrong argument. On February 11 and 12, Telegram channels continued to mention Andriy Lebedenko, among other appointments. The pro-Russian Telegram channel with 127,000 subscribers called all staff changes [in Ukrainian military leadership] a "collapse of military generals".

Therefore, the new appointments in the highest military leadership of Ukraine did not cause a radical change in the Russian-language Telegram channels’ "methodology". As before, we saw a mixture of derogatory epithets and the promotion of Russia’s "all-out" agenda. Some last names turned out to be new and unfamiliar to the authors of Telegram channels. In such cases, the negative mentions were shifted to the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, or the new Commander-in-Chief, Oleksandr Syrskyy. As for others, Russians have manipulated real or fictional facts in their biographies as well.

Main page collage credits: Detector Media

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