Throughout the week, the Russian propaganda machine spread fakes and manipulations about the mobilization, the crash of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service helicopter, aid for the Ukrainian army, and “interfaith conflicts” in Ukraine.
Since February 24, Detector Media has been monitoring the Ukrainian segment of social media and documenting the chronicle of Russian disinformation surrounding the Russian military offensive in Ukraine on a daily basis. Recently, we have also started doing weekly reviews. During the week of January 17-23, 2023, Detector Media analysts recorded more than forty fakes, messages and manipulations of Russian propaganda. This week, the Russian propaganda machine spread fakes about the mobilization of dogs into the Ukrainian army, exploited the crash of a helicopter of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine and the death of people in its aftermath, reported on the Russian army’s alleged “achievements” in destroying Western equipment, and misrepresented the religious beliefs of Ukrainians.
You can find the 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, as well as the final text for the 10 months of the full-scale invasion.
The topic of mobilization was the most heavily manipulated by Russian propaganda this week. It clai-med that the Presidential Office has stepped up mobilization (although this is beyond its power). To do this, Telegram channels controlled by Russian intelligence disseminated photos of supposed mobilization orders posted on various buildings in Kyiv. In fact, the leaflets are instructions outlining the course of action durin a general mobilization for people who have received summonses, those who have not yet been registered at the military enlistment office, and people who are going to change their place of residence. The Russian propaganda machine used the information messages of the Territorial Center for Recruitment and Social Support to manipulate and distort reality. In fact, general mobilization has been in effect in Ukraine since February 24, and its term has been extended several times, most recently until February 18, 2023. The propagandists claimed that summonses to teenagers have begun to be sent. Allegedly, Ukraine is sending “very young children” to the frontline, because the reserves of the Ukrainian army are supposedly nearly exhausted. However, the Russian “photographic evidence” of the summonses turned out to be fake as well. After “mobilizing women and children”, the Russian propaganda machine decided to mobilize dogs to serve in the army. Allegedly, starting on February 1, 2023, owners of “large, strong” dog breeds (in particular, German Shepherds, Labradors, Boxers, Rottweilers) are obliged to register them for military service. “Violators” can expect criminal punishment, despite the fact that the Law of Ukraine “On Mobilization Preparation and Mobilization” does not contain a single word about the mobilization of animals. In this way, the Russian propaganda machine is trying to ridicule the “absurdity” of the orders of the Ukrainian army command and convince Ukrainians that their situation is “hopeless”.
To boost the emotional effect of the fake mobilization messages, propagandists spread false reports that a “widows’ Maidan” was brewing in Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities are allegedly silencing information about protests by wives and relatives of fallen soldiers, which are allegedly taking place in different cities of Ukraine. Propagandists claimed that the authorities are deliberately silent about the deaths of soldiers who are officially reported as missing in action, causing their “widows” to protest. In fact, the rally with the relatives of the captured soldiers called for the exchange of prisoners under the “all for all” formula. Ukrainian media covered this event.
Russian propaganda also tried to expand the audience of the mobilization fake by involving foreigners. In the Slovak social media segment, it was reported that district administrations had allegedly been tasked with conducting “comprehensive exercises” for further mobilization. Despite the fact that such exercises are typical for Slovakia, the Russian propaganda machine is trying to create the illusion that there is a potential for this country to get dragged into the conflict. These fakes are being spread to sow chaos in the media landscape, to stir up panic and distrust in the security forces in countries whose governments support Ukraine.
Russian propaganda didn’t keep its hands off the topic of the helicopter crash near a kindergarten in Brovary near Kyiv. The helicopter of the State Emergency Service was carrying the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, his first deputy, and the state secretary. The crash killed 14 people, including one child. Immediately after the incident, anonymous Telegram channels broadcasting pro-Russian messages bombarded people with so-called versions of what happened and who was to blame. In particular, propagandists wrote that the disaster was caused by the air defense system or by cheap helicopters. There were also claims that the helicopter was shot down by a US Stinger portable surface-to-air missile system or a drone. However, the anonymous sources did not provide any facts to support these assertions. The investigation is currently underway, and three versions are being officially considered: violation of flight rules; technical malfunction of the helicopter; and its intentional destruction. After the catastrophe, Russian propaganda began spreading messages that Russians sympathize with the deaths of Ukrainian children. Allegedly, this is how the Russians are showing their “humanity”, very much unlike Ukrainians who “hate” all Russians, including children. It was claimed that Ukrainians call for the annihilation of Russian children so that “they do not grow up to be orcs”. By spreading messages of alleged “compassion,” the Russian propaganda machine is trying to hide its own aggressive anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, which also targets children.
Moreover, this week, propagandists wrote extensively about the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine. For example, Russian media spread news that the United States is facing a “bleak future” due to the “catastrophically depleted military depots” of the US army after providing military aid to Ukraine. The propagandists claimed that the United States “will not be able to rebuild its stockpiles for at least five years”. However, these statements are manipulative, as the Russian propaganda machine took quotes out of context from an analytical publication by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and made wishful predictions. It does take a long time to replenish stocks of certain types of weapons, but analysts reported that the United States will be able to help Ukraine with most categories of weapons and ammunition for a long time. In other words, there are no “threats to the national security” of the United States. Propagandists also twisted quotes from German politician Hauke Schultz. Allegedly, he said that Germany would never give Ukraine the Tornado fighter jets because they protect Germany and cannot become a cause for war with Russia. He said that the fighters could not be used in Ukraine in an appropriate manner. However, it turned out that Hauke Schultz is a representative of the pro-Russian German party Die Linke. He has no mandate and is not running for office at the state, federal, or EU level. As far as the supply of weapons to Ukraine is concerned, Schultz has no involvement in the decision-making process. Further adding to the alleged betrayal of Ukraine by its Western partners, propaganda fakes claimed that Denmark regretted providing Ukraine with Ceasar howitzers. Allegedly, the country has now been left without the weapons it had been waiting for a very long time to obtain, and which were supposed to significantly contribute be the country’s defense capabilities. In fact, the Russian propaganda machine misattributed a distorted quote from military analyst Christian Christensen’s commentary to the Danish newspaper Berlingske as the official position of Denmark. Christensen indeed expressed concern that it would not be easy to find a replacement for the 19 Caesar howitzers handed over to Ukraine given the current state of the arms market. However, in no way does this indicate that the Danish government’s decision was a mistake and that Denmark “regrets” it.
In a speech at the Davos Forum, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized that Ukraine needs a significant increase in arms supplies at a key moment in the war. Pro-Russian Telegram channels reacted to these words with the message that “a lot of people will die in Ukraine in 2023”. The Russian propaganda machine thus reinforces the narrative that Western military aid prolongs the war and increases casualties.
In addition, this week, Russian propaganda reported on its “achievements”. Allegedly, the Russians destroyed four American Bradley armored vehicles and an M1 Abrams tank. The propagandists do not seem to care that Ukraine has not yet received any of the military vehicles. The United States has indeed expressed its intention to transfer Bradleys and Abrams to Ukraine, however, they have yet to be delivered.
Throughout the week, the Russian propaganda machine fueled narratives about the “persecution” of the Moscow Patriarchate Church in Ukraine. Propagandists claimed that the situation with the Moscow Patriarchate Church in Ukraine is “catastrophic.” Moreover, Russia called a meeting of the UN Security Council, allegedly because of the “oppression” of the Moscow Patriarchate Church, which it termed “the only canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine”. Meanwhile, even before the Security Council meeting, the Moscow Patriarchate denied having made any requests for assistance in protecting their rights. Its representatives claimed they have not appealed to any state, especially the one that has committed an armed offensive against Ukraine. At the same time, pro-Russian Telegram channels spread messages that people would be paid to participate in the festive service of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine on Epiphany. The posts also included a video featuring the Moscow Patriarchate abbot of the Pechersk Lavra Kyiv Cave Monastery, Metropolitan Paul, calling Patriarch Filaret a “schismatic” and the head of the OCU, Metropolitan Epiphanius, “self-ordained”. He also claimed that the Dormition Cathedral of the Kyiv Cave Monastery was “given” to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to hold a service. Allegedly, people from all over Ukraine will be brought there “deliberately” and paid to participate in the religious service. Eventually, these statements by Metropolitan Paul of the Moscow Patriarchate led to the opening of criminal proceedings for inciting religious hatred. Moreover, pro-Kremlin propaganda on social media and Telegram channels alleged that Ukraine wants to destroy Orthodox Christianity and promotes paganism. According to the Constitution of Ukraine, Ukrainians are free to hold any worldview and to practice any religion they choose. Churches and other religious organizations in Ukraine are separated from the state, but this does not give representatives of any religion the right to break the law.