In September 2023, VoxCheck monitored 81 media outlets from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Czechia, Italy, and Germany and identified 1283 cases of disinformation about Ukraine. The highest number of disinformation cases were found in Polish (254), German (245), and Slovakian (220) media. In September, European media were most actively promoting narratives about Nazism in Ukraine, Western control over Ukraine and the use of Ukraine for their own purposes, as well as Russia’s compulsion to start a war due to the actions of Ukraine and the West.
VoxCheck monitors the media in European countries (Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary) and analyzes the disinformation narratives about Ukraine spread by these media. For the most part, the detected fakes and manipulations are consistent with the main narratives of russian disinformation campaigns. Every month, the VoxCheck team publishes a report on the monitoring results. All disinformation messages, grouped into narratives and their refutations, will be displayed on the “Propaganda diary” database website.
During the monitoring of 12 Polish media outlets, we recorded 254 cases of disinformation, which we grouped into 21 narratives. Polish media were most active in promoting narratives about Ukrainian refugees and Nazism in Ukraine (29 cases each) and disinformation about Western partners controlling and using Ukraine (24 cases).
Within the narrative about Ukrainian refugees, in August, we encountered a new fake: refugees from Ukraine allegedly caused an outbreak of legionnaires’ disease in the Polish city of Rzeszów. Considering that over the last five years, legionnaires’ disease has been recorded in Ukraine only once — in 2019 — the authors of this fake add that a secret American chemical-biotechnological laboratory has been operating in the refugee camp in Rzeszów for over a year, which was allegedly taken out of Ukraine after a full-scale invasion. Additionally, in the lead-up to parliamentary elections in Poland, pro-Kremlin authors habitually accuse the ruling party of excessive assistance to Ukraine, particularly Ukrainian refugees, whom they label as deserters and Nazis in the article. Therefore, propagandists claim that due to the refugees, the “new reality” for Poles includes fights, arms and drug trafficking, and other crimes.
Spreading the narrative of Nazism in Ukraine, Polish propagandists are employing long-standing fakes: they claim that Russia initiated the war in 2014 due to attacks by “Ukrainian Nazis” in the Luhansk and Donetsk region; that “Western curators” installed Volodymyr Zelenskyi, who has Jewish roots, as the President of Ukraine to conceal the Nazi essence of the country; and that the “Azov” unit is composed of neo-Nazis. Specifically, they label the Third Separate Special Purpose Brigade, led by “White Fuhrer” Andrii Biletskyi, as Nazi. According to Biletsky, the fake creators write, Ukraine’s mission is to “stir up the white races of the world for the final crusade against the led by Semites subhumans,” which supposedly delineates the Nazi nature of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainians in general.
As part of the narrative that Western partners are using Ukraine, propagandist Polish media outlets quote Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasiliy Nebenzya. According to him, NATO is waging a hybrid war in Ukraine against Russia, and they will do so “until the last Ukrainian”. Allegedly, the Ukrainian army is now becoming exhausted after an unsuccessful counteroffensive, and therefore, it may likely refrain from engaging in combat operations in the future. However, propagandists assert that Western partners will not allow the Ukrainian government to negotiate peace, as the Russo-Ukrainian war is advantageous to them. Supposedly, through this war, Ukraine accumulates debts, for which it later pays with territories and enterprises, handing them over to foreign companies.
Also, during this period, the narrative that Ukraine is not a democratic state was traditionally spread (4 cases). The propagandists justify this thesis by the fact that police terror reigns in Ukraine, a ban on the activities of the “real” opposition is in effect, there are no civil and labor rights, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is persecuted — instead, the Ukrainian government is trying to introduce a “schismatic” Orthodox Church of Ukraine, doing it against the wishes of the Ukrainians. The authors also scare readers, saying that a similar fate will befall Poland because it is already becoming a binational country — “UkroPolin” or “Banderaland”.
In 13 Italian media outlets, we identified 140 cases of disinformation about Ukraine, grouped into 20 narratives. The highest number of cases (35) are part of narratives claiming that the actions of Ukraine and the West forced Russia to start the war, followed by narratives about Nazism in Ukraine (16), and disinformation about the West controlling and using Ukraine, particularly for waging war against Russia (14 cases in each of these narratives).
The Italian media once again repeat the Russian theses that the Russian Federation was forced to start a war with Ukraine because of its potential membership in NATO, which allegedly threatens Russia’s security, as well as because of the “Russophobia” of the West, which wanted to overthrow the Putin regime. “Putin is nothing like us. He wants to live in peace with the West, live in peace with Ukrainians. But we, on the contrary, say: we don’t want to live in peace with Putin,” claim Italian propagandists, adding that now Europe will be destroyed if the Russian president desires it. Additionally, fake creators traditionally accuse Ukraine of carrying out ethnic cleansings and attacks in the east of the country, which are allegedly among the main reasons for the full-scale invasion.
A significant number of cases regarding Nazism in Ukraine in Italian pro-Kremlin media are linked to the “Eyes of Mariupol” exhibition held in Milan in September of this year. During the exhibition, stands were set up in the center of Milan depicting defenders of Mariupol and describing their stories. As a result, Italian propagandists once again began spreading fakes claiming that the “Azov” unit, which defended the “Azovstal” plant, is composed of Nazis. Additionally, authors resorted to old fakes suggesting that the greeting “Glory to Ukraine” was inspired by Hitler and is Nazi and that Volodymyr Zelenskyi, a supporter of Hitler, only reinforced Nazi sentiments in the country.
In the Italian media, fakes about the alleged use of Ukraine by its Western partners continue to spread. Disinformers refer to John Pilger, a pro-Russian journalist from Australia, insisting that the USA organized a coup in Ukraine in 2014, bringing to power politicians loyal to them in order to strengthen control over the country. Therefore, Ukraine is now purportedly a “theme park” of the United States, where they test Western weapons, fight with Russia through the hands of Ukrainians, and use Ukrainian soldiers as “guinea pigs” to study new war strategies.
Within the narrative that Russia is at war with the West on Ukrainian territory, propagandists traditionally claim that the United States ignited the Russo-Ukrainian war. Together with the EU and NATO countries, they now allegedly profit from the war, knowing that Russia will win. Furthermore, according to disinformers, NATO is directly involved in the war with Russia. In September, the Russian army allegedly captured a Leopard tank, the crew of which was composed of soldiers from the German Armed Forces. The German Ministry of Defense denied the presence of German tank crews in Ukraine, but Italian pro-Russian authors still insist that the crew consisted of German army soldiers, and overall, many German soldiers were secretly participating in the war against Russia.
While monitoring 15 German media outlets in September, we identified 245 cases of disinformation, which can be grouped into 22 narratives. The highest number of cases falls under narratives about Western control over Ukraine and its use for their own purposes (36 cases), Nazism in Ukraine (30), and narratives about historical events (20).
Spreading the narrative of Western control over Ukraine, German media outlets are using long-standing fakes: they claim that Western partners are providing assistance to Ukraine only to exploit its natural resources and the Russo-Ukrainian war is actually a proxy conflict between the United States and the European Union on one side, and Russia on the other. Furthermore, Western partners are purportedly aware that Ukraine will not win the war, but they will “fight to the last Ukrainian” to weaken Russia. Additionally, fake creators refer to Viktor Orban, asserting that the grain exported by Ukraine is actually an American product. This is explained by the claim that the territories where it is grown are “presumably long under the control of the United States.”
The next most widely spread Kremlin narrative is about Nazism in Ukraine. Fake authors assert that “Nazis and fascists serve in the Ukrainian army,” particularly in the Azov unit, and that the Ukrainian government adheres to the ideology of neo-Nazism. Additionally, Ukraine’s Western partners are also labeled as Nazis because they desire to “destroy everything Russian.” Furthermore, it is claimed that it was the neo-Nazis who forced Russia into launching a full-scale war, as they allegedly “cruelly overthrew” Viktor Yanukovych from the position of the President of Ukraine. Within this narrative, propagandists quote Putin, Maria Zakharova, Scott Ritter, as well as Robert Fico – the former Prime Minister of Slovakia who now leads a pro-Russian party that won in parliamentary elections in October of this year.
Disinformers also spread fakes about historical events. In an attempt to conceal Russia’s involvement in the Russo-Ukrainian War of 2014, they refer to the war in Donetsk and Luhansk regions as a civil war and to the annexation of Crimea — the “Crimean crisis.” Fake creators once again insist that the Revolution of Dignity was orchestrated by the CIA to bring pro-Western politicians to power in Ukraine. Later, they claim that NATO armed and trained Ukrainians to attack ethnic Russians in Ukraine, which purportedly compelled Russia to carry out a “military intervention” in February 2022. “Russia’s restraint is extraordinary,” propagandists claim, as even in the face of “persistent provocative actions” from the United States and NATO member countries, Russia has still not launched an attack against them.
In the German media space, the fake about Ukraine’s victory in the war being impossible is once again being propagated (7 cases). Some media outlets don’t even provide arguments to support this claim; instead, they simply assert that Russia’s victory in the war is inevitable. Furthermore, some authors, citing the pro-Russian journalist Seymour Hersh, write that Russia has already achieved victory and the war has ended. However, the UK, along with the US, allegedly conducted a secret disinformation operation to convince the public to continue financing the war. The author does not explain why they would need to do this or how they managed to hide the end of the war from the world. Additionally, it is claimed that Western media outlets are spreading falsehoods about the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive — in reality, this is only “Western propaganda.”
During the monitoring of 15 Hungarian media outlets in September, we identified 217 cases of Russian disinformation and 23 narratives. The highest number of reports were recorded in narratives claiming that Ukraine is an undemocratic state (26 cases), the alleged necessity for Russia to start the war due to the actions of Ukraine and the West (24 cases), and Western control and use of Ukraine (18 cases).
Writing about Ukraine not being a democratic state, a number of pro-Kremlin authors once again claim that the Ukrainian government forces soldiers to take hard drugs, as otherwise, they “won’t go to a certain death.” Additionally, they routinely accuse Ukrainians of violating the rights of the Hungarian minority, alleging that hundreds of schools have been prohibited from teaching in Hungarian, and school leadership is compelled to abide by Ukrainian laws. Furthermore, quoting Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjarto, propagandists assert that the Ukrainian government deprives the Hungarian minority of any rights to access education, media, culture, and everything else in their native language.
The fakes within the narrative of Russia being forced to start a war with Ukraine due to the actions of Ukraine and the West echo those we identified in Italian media: the expansion of NATO to the east poses an existential threat to Russia, so it had no choice but to attack Ukraine due to its potential membership; Russia saved Russian-speaking Ukrainians from Nazism; and in general, Western countries “deliberately provoked the conflict in Ukraine to slow down Russia’s progress.” Pro-Kremlin authors also cite Kim Jong-un stating that Russia launched a “sacred war to defend its state sovereignty and protect itself from hegemonic forces.”
In addition, Hungarian media continued to spread disinformation about Western control and use of Ukraine. Traditionally, it is claimed that Ukraine’s Western partners are waging a proxy war against Russia at the expense of Ukrainian lives. Fake creators assert, citing the press secretary of the Russian president, Peskov, that the continued military aid from the U.S. to Kyiv is merely a sign of the Biden administration’s desire to “fight to the last Ukrainian,” and it is the United States, not Ukraine, that will decide when the war ends. Furthermore, because Ukraine supposedly lacks success in the war, the U.S. is opening new fronts in Moldova and the South Caucasus. According to the disinformers, Washington was not prepared for the “resilience of Russia” and, therefore, decided to deplete its resources.
In September, Hungarian propagandists also propagated a narrative about the weapons provided to Ukraine by Western partners (15 cases). In a significant number of fakes, they repeat the same thesis: providing weapons to Ukraine is futile. It is claimed that these weapons are ineffective, causing damage primarily to Ukraine, without altering the situation on the front line; pose a radioactive danger to Ukrainians, and only prolong the fighting without hindering the Russian army’s ability to accomplish its military operation objectives. Furthermore, the disinformers write that Ukrainians have long been selling the supplied weapons on the “black market,” and therefore, Western countries would be better off reducing their quantity. One author also expressed the theory that ammunition with depleted uranium is being provided to Ukraine in order to leave Russia with poisoned land that it cannot use in the event of defeat.
As part of the monitoring of 13 Slovak media outlets in September, we identified 220 cases of Russian disinformation, which can be grouped into 24 narratives. The highest number of reports were found within narratives claiming that Ukraine’s victory in the war is impossible (42 cases), allegations of Nazism in Ukraine (24), and disinformation asserting that the actions of Ukraine and the West forced Russia to start the war (16 cases).
Seeking to convince readers that Ukraine will not win the war, Slovak propagandists consistently emphasize the losses of the Ukrainian army, which they claim are disproportionate to those of the Russian side. They promise the “liberation” of Odesa and Kharkiv. Some authors, citing Scott Ritter, present the inevitability of Ukraine’s defeat as an accomplished fact without even attempting to substantiate this claim. Slovak media also quote the fake narrative from Seymour Hersh, which we observed in German media — the war has already ended with Russia’s victory, but U.S. and British intelligence secretly conduct a disinformation operation to ensure that funding for the war does not stop.
Within the narrative about Nazism in Ukraine, we encounter new fakes: the government of the United States allegedly sends American neo-Nazis and terrorists to fight in Ukraine, where they act as confidential informants for U.S. intelligence and, in particular, kill Russian-speaking civilians. Propagandists also mention Yaroslav Hunka, who served in the Ukrainian division “Galicia” and was greeted with applause in the Canadian Parliament. Although the division was not part of the overall SS structure involved in punitive operations, disinformers still labeled the veteran as a Nazi. Slovak media also repeat old fakes: “Western curators” placed Volodymyr Zelenskyi at the head of Ukraine to conceal the “Nazi essence” of Ukraine, as well as the “Nazi” unit “Azov.”
The third-largest pro-Russian narrative in Slovak media is the claim that Russia was forced to start the war due to actions by Ukraine and the West. As evidence, the media once again spread disinformation that NATO expansion to the east threatens Russian security and that Ukraine’s potential membership in the organization is a “provocation.” The disinformers argue that, in reality, NATO is not a defensive alliance but an aggressive and offensive organization. Additionally, Slovak media reiterate old fakes: Russia allegedly started a full-scale war because the Ukrainian government attacked residents of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and violated the Minsk agreements, perhaps never intending to adhere to them.
In the Slovak information space, there was also a narrative suggesting that the Russian army supposedly does not commit war crimes (5 cases). Specifically, one of the pro-Russian media outlets, with reference to Maria Zakharova, named the report from the U.S. State Department’s Center for Global Engagement about Russia kidnapping Ukrainian children as “sick fantasies.” According to propagandists, this report is a “terrible forgery in the style of Goebbels” with “absurd accusations.” Additionally, pro-Russian authors spread a fake claim that Russia’s attacks are exclusively aimed at military targets. Citing Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Nebenzya, propagandists suggest that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that struck the market in Kostiantynivka.
In 13 Czech media outlets, we identified 207 cases of disinformation about Ukraine, which can be grouped into 20 narratives. The highest number of cases fall under narratives aimed at discrediting the Ukrainian government (57 cases), discrediting the Ukrainian army (26), and the narrative suggesting that Western partners control and use Ukraine (24).
Czech disinformers attempted to discredit or ridicule representatives of the Ukrainian government by spreading various falsehoods, particularly about Volodymyr Zelenskyi. They claim that he is merely a puppet in the hands of the West, placed to lead Ukraine in order to conceal Nazism in the country and simplify its management by Western partners. Propagandists assert that former Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov was dismissed because he exposed the “false statements of Zelenskyi” and emphasized the limitations of military resources in the fight against Russia. The attention of the authors of fakes also focused on the current Minister of Defense Rustem Umierov – according to their information, he is a corrupt official who embezzles state funds.
Rustem Umierov is also mentioned in the next narrative, which aims to discredit the Ukrainian army. Supposedly, he calls for sending teenagers as young as 16 to the front because Ukraine is suffering defeats on the front lines, although Western partners are concealing this. Authors from one of the propagandist media outlets also claim that Oleksii Reznikov was removed from his position due to a failed counteroffensive, which has already concluded without yielding results. They assert that Ukrainian leadership, trained by NATO instructors, intentionally and on a large scale, destroys its own soldiers and equipment. However, in the “failure” of the counteroffensive, the blame lies with the commanders who failed to make their soldiers follow NATO instructions.
Within the narrative about Western control and use of Ukraine, Czech authors of fakes insist that the end date of the war depends not on Ukraine but on the United States. The authors hint that the U.S. should stop supplying weapons and “peace will come the very next morning,” but they do not specify what will happen to Ukraine in such a scenario. Instead, the U.S. forces Ukraine to continue fighting, as this is a proxy war between America and Russia, for which Ukrainians were prepared long before the full-scale invasion. The war is intended to exhaust Russia and test the weapons provided to the Ukrainian army, thus, the U.S. will “fight to the last Ukrainian.”
Additionally, in Czech media, a narrative regarding Ukrainian grain and food products was spread (4 cases). Disinformation authors insist that the grain exported by Ukraine is of low quality and unfit for consumption, even for animal feed, so EU countries need to “get rid of it”. Furthermore, transnational corporations allegedly bought a significant portion of Ukraine’s agricultural land, understanding that they would not have to adhere to EU standards in agricultural production and labor conditions. Therefore, the disinformation spreaders claim that grain production in Ukraine is much cheaper for foreign companies, and despite its “dangerousness,” they aim to continue exporting it to EU countries.
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