Spilnota Detector Media

Lesia Bidochko

Deputy Head of Detector Media Research Center

Kostiantyn Zadyraka

Detector Media analyst

Українською читайте тут.

On November 12, 2023, a Ukrainian delegation led by the head of the Office of the President Andriy Yermak and the Minister of Economy — First Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Svyrydenko arrived in the USA. In light of the disputes among American politicians regarding the provision of support to Ukraine and Israel, Russian propagandists took advantage of the opportunity and pushed forward another batch of narratives that the West is neglecting Ukraine's agenda and that Ukrainian diplomacy has "completely failed." As always, Russians added a portion of manipulations and fakes to these new messages. In this analysis, DM analyzes how propagandist Telegram channels discussed the most crucial (in their opinion) topic of the week.

Yermak came "to find points of contact with Trump and Musk"

Russian agitational propaganda discussed a complete failure" of the Ukrainian delegation's visit to the USA in a variety of formulations and predicted its possible consequences. According to one of the largest propagandistic anonymous Telegram channels, " there is a clear consensus on reducing aid to Ukraine in the US; once again the Republicans and Democrats voted for a budget without aid to Ukraine." Unnamed "sources" reported that Yermak allegedly failed a meeting with members of both houses of Congress. Representatives of the Republican Party were the ones exceptionally dissatisfied (according to the anonymous Telegram channel): "If the Democrats are still "satisfied" because this is their "player", then the Republicans are not, because they do not want to help Biden in his election race. Apart from empty talk, the meeting brought nothing new, and nothing was agreed upon."

According to the report's authors, the consequence of this will be a "situational collapse" in Ukraine’s financial market and a "reduction in social benefits", the money for which will "go to support the war". The propagandists cannot point to the real reasons for the Ukrainian budget’s dependence on American aid and the related problems. Therefore, instead of pointing to the Russian invasion, the issues are being blamed on Ukrainian diplomacy’s " failure". In the case of war expenditures, the cause and effect are traditionally reversed: it is not Russian aggression that forces Ukraine to spend a significant part of the budget on defense, but Ukraine allegedly finances the war instead of paying social payments.

Propagandists claim that the public part of the Ukrainian delegation's visit was allegedly "an attempt to pull the wool over others' eyes." The main goal was to search for personal contacts between the political leadership of Ukraine and the American establishment, for which the Kremlin had high hopes. At the same time, according to the propagandists' "insights", former Prime Minister of Great Britain Boris Johnson allegedly played a significant role in the trip’s organization. "The main organizer of the trip, Boris Johnson, unsuccessfully tried to contact Trump's personal assistant to build contacts with the OP [Office of the President of Ukraine]," as per one of the anonymous Telegram channels. Johnson's participation in the Ukrainian delegation’s visit to the USA was not confirmed. Still, Russian propagandists find it challenging to avoid the standard narrative about the "Anglo-Saxon" intrigue and not even mention the "English".

There is nothing unusual in Ukrainian leadership’s possible interest in contacts with various centers of influence in the USA. However, there is no confirmation of a specific interest in communication with Trump's unnamed "personal assistants" except for "backroom insights".

Propagandists also mentioned that, in addition to the former US president, Johnson also tried to establish contact with businessman Elon Musk: "Johnson was unable to establish contact with Elon Musk, although he talked with him for a little more than five minutes. Only. As a result, Musk got very angry and called Zelenskyy a butcher" (as mentioned in the anonymous Telegram channel with an audience of 400,000 subscribers).

In addition to "insights" about the duration of the non-public and, probably, utterly fictional talk between the businessman and the former prime minister, Russian propagandists also refer to an audio recording that appeared on the X network (formerly Twitter) on November 15, 2023. Musk's voice praises Zaluzhnyy in this audio recording and voices the thesis that "Zelenskyy has long existed in the butcher’s reality, and this fictional reality does not correspond to the real world." This audio recording did not appear on Musk’s page (there are no mentions of such audio). Still, it was spread mainly through Russian propagandists’ channels (from where, unfortunately, it was picked up by many Ukrainian publications without any doubts or notes). The source of the audio recording is unknown, and it is currently impossible to say whether it is a recording of Musk's direct speech or a neural network that voiced the text with his voice. Of course, the owner of SpaceX previously spoke about the Russian-Ukrainian war in theses coinciding with Russian propaganda. However, Russian propagandists have been caught using fakes created with the help of artificial intelligence more than once.

But the propagandists did not limit themselves to mentioning Musk, writing that allegedly one of the tasks of the Ukrainian delegation's visit was to prevent the businessman's participation in the conference in Moscow. They concluded from this: "The task of disrupting Musk's participation in the conference in Moscow also failed. Clearly, Johnson is no longer accepted in the American establishment. The bet on Johnson no longer works."

Whether Yermak came to the USA only to solve such an "important" task was not confirmed. It was also not confirmed whether it was about the alleged planned participation of Musk in the conference on artificial intelligence in Moscow, which was reported by the EU Reporter (which was already questioned on the matter of spreading fakes before) concerning "personal sources" and which was later not confirmed by anyone and was directly denied by the conference’s organizers.

In this case, the propagandists used a familiar tactic — they devised an imaginary task for the opposing side, informed about its "complete failure," and drew corresponding far-reaching "conclusions" about the opponent.

Another example of the use of such tactics is the report that Yermak allegedly offered the Biden administration to "replace Zaluzhnyy with Syrskyy." DM has already mentioned how Russian propaganda exploits the topic of "Zelenskyy's struggle with Zaluzhnyy". This issue was the main topic in the propagandist Telegram channels throughout the previous two weeks. Now, Russians continued it, connecting it with the visit of the Ukrainian delegation to the USA. In the propagandist's account, Yermak's imaginary "offer" to replace Zaluzhnyy collided with the fictional "refusal" of Jake Sullivan, the US president's national security adviser.

Ukraine "purges" Biden's critics to frame Trump: the arrest of Dubinskyy

Agitational propaganda also reported that the arrest of MP Oleksandr Dubinskyy was an attempt to please Joe Biden because Dubinskyy could "reanimate the topic of Burisma + Hunter Biden + ZeYermak’s corruption, who dumped Trump last time and at the behest of the Western lobby buried the issue" (as mentioned in the anonymous Telegram channel).

Ukrainian law enforcement officers suspect Dubinskyy of cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency and espionage for Russia, spreading disinformation. According to investigation materials, he operated under the call sign “Buratino” (“Pinocchio”) and was part of a criminal organization formed by the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (GRU). The message of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) stated that "the suspect was spreading fakes about the higher military and political leadership of our country. One of the disinformation work examples is the spread of fakes about the alleged interference of Ukrainian high-ranking officials in the presidential elections in the United States in 2019". Due to this, in 2021, Dubinskyy came under US economic sanctions for his involvement in a Russia-linked disinformation network aimed at influencing the US election. He repeatedly talked about the alleged corruption schemes of Hunter Biden (the son of the current US president) as part of his work at the Ukrainian gas production company Burisma.

As per the Voice of America, concerning the American Washington Post and Newsweek, Dubinskyy was one of Rudy Giuliani’s contacts, Donald Trump's lawyer. Giuliani tried to find materials in Ukraine showing Joe Biden and his son as participants in corruption schemes. In 2019, Trump's lawyer came to Ukraine, where he met with Dubinskyy and a former People's Deputy Andriy Derkach, who, according to the US State Department, was a Russian agent for more than ten years, and fled the country after the full-scale invasion. Already in July 2019, while preparing for the presidential elections in the USA, Trump called the newly elected President Zelenskyy with a call to investigate Hunter Biden’s "corruption schemes" in Ukraine.

According to anonymous Telegram channel versions, Ukraine is simply "playing along" with the Democrats by arresting the main truth-teller and relentless critic of the current American president. "In this sly way, zelebobiki [authorities led by Zelenskyy’s office] give a pass to the Democratic scumbags – meaning, here's a hook which you can use to try to send Trump to prison. Look how useful and loyal we can be to you, so you give us more money," as mentioned by one pro-Russian propagandist.

Another propaganda "version" of Dubinskyy's arrest is an attempt to hide Zelenskyy’s and this entourage's "corruption schemes". "Ukrainians do it to avoid sharp criticism and accusations of corruption of the President and the Office of the President, and not to complicate the already difficult relations of the Ze-Team with the US Democrats before their presidential elections. Accusations of treason against the People's Deputies were made during Yermak's visit to the USA, which did not coincide," mentioned one of the anonymous Telegram channels. For example, Dubinskyy's arrest is another attempt to pull the wool over "Western curators" eyes and will supposedly divert attention from corruption in Ukraine. Here, we analyzed in detail how Russian agitational propaganda portrays Ukraine as a cradle of corruption.

By doing so, agitational propaganda is once again trying to demonstrate that, firstly, Ukraine is seemingly under the complete control of "American curators" who issue instructions, in particular, on who to arrest and for what. Secondly, Ukraine is cynically "used as a springboard" for the dirty fight between Republicans and Democrats. Thirdly, the Ukrainian government is "completely corrupt", but the Americans are ready to tolerate it for certain "favors". Fourthly, that Biden and his relatives participate in opaque schemes and attempts to "purge" those who bring this topic up is just additional evidence of Biden and his relatives’ "involvement" in these crimes.

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