During the week, the Russian propaganda machine spread fakes and manipulations about Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the United States and distorted facts concerning life in Kherson after the city was liberated.
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Since February 24, Detector Media has been monitoring Ukrainian social media and documenting the chronicle of Russian disinformation around Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine on a daily basis. Recently, we have also started doing weekly reviews. During the week of December 12—19, 2022, Detector Media’s analysts recorded about fifty disinformation attacks carried out by Russian propagandists in order to achieve Russia’s political goals. This week, the Russian propaganda machine tried to convince the world that Ukraine does not care about people in the liberated city of Kherson, sells electricity abroad, and President Zelenskyy is straddling the fence because he has Russian citizenship.
Check out the reviews of Russian disinformation for the following weeks: 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; and December 12 - 19.
Russian propagandists focused most of their messages and manipulations this week on President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the United States. In particular, statements discrediting the purpose of the trip or ridiculing the President himself appeared both in Russian propaganda media and in anonymous Telegram channels dedicated to pro-Russian arguments. For example, propagandists claimed that Zelenskyy did not achieve the purpose of the visit. Allegedly, he went to the United States to get more powerful weapons and intensify offensive actions at the front. However, according to the anonymous Telegram channels, there are no signs that Zelenskyy managed to convince Biden to provide Ukraine with such weapons. The authors of the Telegram channels did not provide any evidence for their claims, nor did they explain how they arrived at their conclusions. The propagandists also spread the message that Zelenskyy is considering diplomacy and is preparing for talks with Putin. They claim that since “there were no signs” that he succeeded in “begging” the United States for high-precision weapons that would help continue the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian President is ready for diplomatic steps, including negotiations with Russia. The authors of the messages on Telegram channels added that it seemed that the US authorities were waiting for Zelenskyy to respond to the question of how Ukraine is doing so that the peace talks with Russia could proceed. Some posts claimed that US President Joe Biden allegedly persuaded Zelenskyy to negotiate in his speech. However, in fact, Biden did not publicly voice the idea that Ukraine should sit down at the negotiating table and agree to the Kremlin’s conditions. On the contrary, he once again expressed support for Ukraine in its struggle and said that he was convinced Putin was losing the war.
In addition, Russian propagandists assured their audience that the “weapons lobby backed Zelenskyy’s trip to the United States”. This is how pro-Russian Telegram channels call people who allegedly earn billions on the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine. In such messages, Ukraine is referred to only as a tool of the “weapons lobby”, and Ukraine’s sole purpose is to promote the said lobby’s weapons to the world market. By spreading such messages, Russian propaganda tries to undermine both the military and financial support Ukraine receives from its Western partners. They claim that, in fact, by providing Ukraine with weapons, the United States does not support Ukrainians, but only continues the war and promotes its weapons on the international market, attempting to drive China out.
There were also messages in which President Zelenskyy was accused of trying to frame the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. Allegedly, the President deliberately flew out of the country to blame Zaluzhnyi for the surrender of Bakhmut. In other words, the propagandists argued that during Zelenskyy’s stay in the United States, “even more hell” would come to Ukrainian Bakhmut and eventually the Ukrainian army would surrender the city. Allegedly, after his arrival, Zelenskyy would blame General Zaluzhnyi for the defeat. Propagandists' predictions, however, failed to materialize. This is not the first time that the Russian propaganda machine has fabricated a conflict between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi, claiming that the Ukrainian President is dissatisfied with the Commander-in-Chief's work and is therefore seeking to provoke him in order to justify dismissal from office. However, propagandists do not provide any facts that would confirm this statement. Also claiming that hell in Bakhmut will begin because Zelenskyy departed from the country, the authors of the posts shift the responsibility for what is happening in the city from the Russian army to the Ukrainian President. After all, it was Russia that attacked Ukraine and it is because of the actions of the Russian military that the situation in some Ukrainian cities and villages is deteriorating rapidly. Also, anonymous pro-Russian Telegram channels spread the message that Zelenskyy's trip to Bakhmut was arranged on the eve of his business trip to the United States. They claim that he did this deliberately in order to demonstrate that he was allegedly going to a city that was constantly shelled in order to look like a hero in Congress.
During the week, Detector Media analysts recorded a number of propaganda messages and fakes about the Ukrainian President unrelated to his trip to the United States. For example, pro-Kremlin media wrote that Zelenskyy killed 50 thousand servicewomen in the war. Their reports cited former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who fled Ukraine in February 2014 with then-President Viktor Yanukovych. Azarov is in Russia and regularly speaks as an expert on Ukrainian issues. In one of his recent addresses, he claimed that 50 thousand women who served in the army were killed in Ukraine during the war. They say that Zelenskyy is to blame for all this. Azarov himself drew his conclusions from an Associated Press article about Ukrainian women who voluntarily decided to serve in the Ukrainian army. According to Azarov’s estimates, out of 57 thousand, only 6 thousand women are left today. However, the original AP article does not include the data Azarov is referring to. The article says that women soldiers receive equipment from volunteers. They note that 57,000 women serve in the army, and “at least 6,000 Ukrainian women have deployed on or near the front lines, in roles like paramedics and intelligence officers — but also snipers and artillery gunners.” Based on this quote, Azarov concluded that if 6,000 Ukrainian women are at the frontline, the remaining 51,000 “have been killed, wounded or captured.” In fact, the opposite is true. More than 40 thousand women hold military positions, but are not on the frontline. Another 18 thousand are civilian employees in the army.
Also this week, propagandists accused the Ukrainian President of allegedly straddling the fence, as he has not only Ukrainian but also Russian citizenship. This message appeared in Russian propaganda media and anonymous Telegram channels. The reports claim that Zelenskyy received citizenship in Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Moscow region, 21 years ago — in 2001. As evidence, the propagandists add an alleged screenshot of a document provided by former Ukrainian MP Illia Kyva, who fled Ukraine in the spring of 2022. Kyva claimed that “the Investigative Committee of Russia should prosecute and put on the wanted list Russian citizen Volodymyr Zelenskyy”. However, this is a fake. The photo of the alleged Russian passport is not real, the fake uses a processed photo of Zelenskyy from the Internet. By spreading such fakes, the Russian propaganda machine wants to undermine the credibility of the President in Ukrainian society.
In addition to fakes and manipulations about Zelenskyy, this week, propagandists also circulated messages about missile strikes on infrastructure. In particular, on December 19, following yet another massive night attack by loitering munitions against the territory of Ukraine, the Russians claimed that the Ukrainian authorities were hiding the real scale of damage to Ukraine’s energy system and silenced the hits, forbidding Ukrainians to publish photos/videos from the impact sites. Allegedly, this is due to the desire not to cause panic and to allow the President to address the society on New Year’s Eve with a victorious message. This is not the first time that propagandists have repeated the idea that the Ukrainian authorities are hiding the real picture of destruction for their own benefit. However, the versions differ: sometimes they claim that the authorities exaggerate the damage, and sometimes that they downplay it.
This week, the Russian propaganda machine wrote that Ukraine, despite concealing the extent of infrastructure damage and turning off people’s electricity, is again exporting electricity abroad. A letter allegedly from Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, Chairman of the Management Board of Ukrenergo to the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine about the “resumption of exports” even appeared on social media. However, this is a fake, which was denied by Ukrenergo. By spreading such fakes, propaganda seeks to accuse the Ukrainian authorities of negligence and lying to their own people. They claim that while the people are left without electricity, officials are earning money by exporting electricity to European countries. Earlier, Detector Media in the article Without Light and Without You: How the Russian Army and Propaganda are Trying to Destroy the Energy System of Ukraine explained how the energy system works and why electricity is sometimes not available to Ukrainians at home. You can also learn more about this from the lecture by Oleksandr Kharchenko and Roman Vybranovskyi.
During the week, Russian propaganda efforts also included false information claiming that Ukraine had failed to properly restore the city of Kherson after it was liberated from Russian control. According to these propaganda messages, residents of Kherson have allegedly complained that their lives have worsened since the city was returned to Ukrainian control. However, a closer examination of the article from the British publication Sky News that was cited as the source of these claims reveals that the comments of most Kherson residents were actually positive, with many expressing happiness at being back under Ukrainian control despite the potential for future difficulties due to Russian shelling. It seems that these propaganda efforts are intended to reinforce the notion that life was better under the Russian occupation, even though this is clearly not the case.