Propaganda diary: review of Russian disinformation in European media in December 2022
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Propaganda diary: review of Russian disinformation in European media in December 2022

Photo: ua.depositphotos.com / kerenby
11 January 2023
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In December, VoxCheck monitored 86 Polish, German, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, and Slovak media. In total, we recorded 916 cases of disinformation about Ukraine and traditionally singled out key narratives from them. Most cases were in Polish (217), Hungarian (190), and Slovak (144) mass media. In December, narratives about the control of the USA, NATO, and European countries over Ukraine and their direct participation in the war were more actively promoted; that Russian aggression, in particular attacks on Ukraine’s energy system, is fully justified; as well as fakes about “state terrorism” of Ukraine.

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.

Poland

In December, we discovered 217 cases of disinformation in 10 Polish media. They can be divided into 20 narratives, the most common of which are “Ukraine is a terrorist state” (27 cases), “Russian aggression is justified” (26), and “the West controls Ukraine and uses it for its own purposes” (21 cases). We also recorded a large number of fake and manipulative messages aimed at discrediting representatives of the Ukrainian authorities and the military (21).

In order to create the image of “terrorist Ukraine”, propagandists spread the lie that Kyiv was preparing a provocation to disrupt the UN initiative to restore ammonia transit through the Tolyatti-Odesa pipeline. It was said that Ukrainian forces were going to detonate explosives on tank roofs and ammonia pumping infrastructure and then blame Russian missile strikes for the destruction. There were many fake reports about supposedly “terrorist missile attacks by the Armed Forces of Ukraine” on residential areas of Donbas, in particular, in the center of occupied Donetsk. Polish media either write about already hundreds of dead civilians or publish staged emotional stories of locals about “terrible Ukrainian shelling”. They are also trying to make Ukraine a terrorist because of strikes on military facilities on the territory of Russia, in particular in Belgorod, indicating that they are aimed at civilians. In addition, propagandists try to attribute “terrorist methods of struggle” to the Ukrainian army: using the population as a “human shield”, blocking the exit of civilians from cities along corridors allegedly organized by Russia, using prohibited ammunition, torturing prisoners, etc.

The narrative about “terrorist Ukraine” is closely intertwined with another one — the West allegedly controls Ukraine and uses it for its own purposes. The Polish media wrote that thanks to the “Western curators” in the hands of the “neo-Nazis,” very accurate long-range weapons ended up, the use of which created a threat of destruction of the hydrotechnical structures of the Kakhovska HPP, which could lead to the flooding of the territory of the Kherson region. Or that Poland and the USA have become parties to the war and are helping Ukraine to organize terrorist attacks on the territory of Russia. But the key message within this narrative is that the West is using Ukraine as a tool in the fight against Russia, it seeks to weaken Russia and China. And also simply uses Ukraine to test weapons.

Most of the messages aimed at justifying Russian aggression were related to Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities in November and December 2022. Almost everyone said Russia’s strikes were a response to the attack on the Crimean bridge. The propagandists gladly reported that they had shelled energy, defense, military, and communications facilities throughout Ukraine. In the rest of the cases, it was said that the West is to blame for prolonging the war in Ukraine because it continues to supply weapons.

Hungary

In December, we recorded 190 cases of disinformation in 14 Hungarian media. We divided them into 13 narratives, among which the largest number of reports are: “Russian aggression is justified” (53 cases), “The West controls Ukraine and uses it for its own purposes” (39 cases), “Ukraine is a terrorist state” (21 case). We singled out a significant number of disinformation messages within the framework of the narrative that Ukrainians allegedly seek to join Russia (17 cases).

In November, the Hungarian media very noticeably updated the narrative designed to justify aggression against Ukraine. The messages themselves were universal for Russian disinformation campaigns. The Hungarian mass media disproportionately quoted the fakes of Putin and the rest of the Kremlin officials that Russia had to attack Ukraine because Kyiv took a course towards NATO, and the Alliance itself, despite the promise, began to expand to the East; that Kyiv announced its intention to restore its nuclear arsenal; that Russia had to “protect” the pseudo-republics of the “DPR” and “LPR”; that France and Germany are to blame for the war in Donbas because they did not force Kyiv to fulfill the Minsk agreements; that Russia is saving Ukrainians from “genocide and terror“, etc.

It is noteworthy that propagandists repeatedly appeal to the topic of the protection of national minorities: they write that there would be no war in Ukraine if it allowed the Russian minority autonomy. The Hungarian mass media resort to the same narrative about Hungarians: they say their rights are brutally suppressed in Ukraine. Moreover, without any reason, they add that Ukraine is capable of “depriving our Hungarian brothers and sisters of their sovereignty.”

During this period, the Hungarian mass media also more actively promoted the “evergreen” narrative that Ukraine is under the complete control of the West. In particular, they repeated the mantra that NATO forces Kyiv to fight “to the last Ukrainian”, continuing the war. And the USA and Western countries are to blame for the fact that the war is still going on in Ukraine because they supply weapons.

We recorded in the Hungarian media fakes about “Ukrainian terrorism”, which related to alleged attacks by Ukraine on civilian objects on the territory of Russia, on Ukrainian cities occupied by the Russians, in particular, there were many references to the attack on Melitopol, as well as the fact that Ukraine after “strikes on the territory of Poland” moved to attacks on Moldova (it was written that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile fell in the Brychan district of Moldova).

Slovakia

We found 144 cases of Kremlin disinformation in 13 Slovak media. They can be divided into 21 narratives, among which the largest by the number of cases are “Russian aggression is justified” (23), “the West controls Ukraine and uses it for its own purposes” (20), “Russia does not commit war crimes in Ukraine” (16). 

Moreover, cases of disinformation aimed at justifying aggression are naturally deeply intertwined with the narrative that Ukraine is completely under the control of other countries.

For example, the only purpose of Ukraine’s existence is the confrontation between Western countries and Russia. The Slovak media write that since 2014, Ukraine lost its neutral status and became “anti-Russian”, but Germany and France, which were supposed to be guarantors of the implementation of the Minsk agreements, underestimated this, so they are responsible for “8 years of shelling of Donbas”. A number of Slovak sites also spread the manipulation, as if the ex-president of France, François Hollande, said that the Minsk agreements were only a “fake game of the transatlantic West” to give Kyiv time to arm itself. The propagandists conclude that since 2014, both the US and the EU pushed Ukraine to accelerate its accession to the EU and NATO, and both players “tried to turn the regional conflict into a global one.” And the USA allegedly already deployed its missiles near the Ukrainian-Russian border. It is noteworthy that the term “proxy war of the United States in Ukraine” is common in the Slovak media and is used to replace Russian aggression.

Propagandists pointed to Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s plan to introduce a patronage system to restore Ukraine as proof of “Western control” over Ukraine. This was mentioned in the context of Zelenskyi’s meeting with Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest investment company BlackRock. The plan was called the intention to “sell Ukraine piece by piece“: allegedly, the “patronage” system would allow the sale of Ukrainian territories at auction to the highest bidder. Slovak media also wrote about the activities of “transnational military-industrial-financial capital” in Ukraine, which “leads only to murders.” Apparently, during the events in Ukraine, this capital received huge profits, which only worsened the situation: “contribute to the increase in the number of victims and losses, brutally devastate the territory.”

In order to once again point out Ukraine’s subordination to the States, the Slovak media actively spread a fake story, as if Washington had decided to change the leader of the “Kyiv regime” — to replace Zelensky with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valeriy Zaluzhnyi.

Denying the war crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine, the propagandists tried to discredit all the statements of the international community. They wrote that the European Parliament falsely accused Russia of atrocities because the “Ukrainian Nazis” committed these crimes with the support of the EU and NATO. And they called Olena Zelenska’s speech during her visit to London “schizophrenic” because she talked about the rape of Ukrainian women by Russian soldiers. Trying to dismiss the war crimes of the Russian army, propagandists blame them on the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In December, the Slovak media spread a fake story that the White House hesitated to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine because there was an increased risk that they would be used against civilians. But at the same time, Washington seems to support artillery shelling of Donbas. At the same time, disinformers assure of the “valor” of the Russians. Slovak media circulated a fake study that allegedly showed that the Russian invasion was one of the episodes with the lowest civilian casualties in the history of wars.

The Czech Republic

In December, we analyzed 13 Czech media, in which we found 142 cases of disinformation. Among them, 14 narratives can be singled out, among which the most fake messages are aimed at discrediting or ridiculing representatives of the Ukrainian authorities (22 cases), narratives about “Ukraine being under the control of the West” (19 cases), “Nazism in Ukraine” (15 cases) and accusations of the Ukrainian military in war crimes (15 cases).

In December, there were several news stories that the Kremlin’s disinformers could not ignore and discredit the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi. A very active reaction was caused by Zelenskyi’s visit to the White House on December 21. The Czech media pointed out that the president of Ukraine had only come to extract more money from the American economy, which could instead be used to strengthen global stability, not start World War III. The propagandists even resorted to conspiracy theory: they wrote that Zelenskyi’s goal was to create an alibi for the Democrats as if Ukraine really received the funds allocated by the United States, and they did not go to finance the “deep state” (the so-called “secret government”, which, according to many conspiracy theories, rules the world). The Czech media also spread a fake story that the United States is going to replace Zelenskyi with Valeryi Zaluzhnyi as president. And also that Zelenskyi’s meeting with BlackRock CEO Larry Fink means they are opening a large-scale money laundering scheme.

From discrediting Zelenskyi personally — to new and old fakes about “Ukrainian Nazis”. The Czech mass media wrote that the Ukrainian flag Zelenskyi brought to the US Congress had the initials “SS” on it. And already in Ukraine, the president is constantly accompanied by military personnel wearing helmets with the Nazi symbols of the Third Reich. Czech media also reported that the president signed a law on the liquidation of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv, which “persecuted neo-Nazis.” It is interesting that they are trying to scare Czechs with the wave of Ukrainian refugees, writing that when Russia occupies Kyiv, “Ukrainian neo-Nazis” will move to them along with “Ukrainian mafia, prostitutes, freemasons, refugees and military”.

Propagandists try to apply the element of psychological pressure on Czechs by writing about the Ukrainian military as criminals who threaten the security of the Czech Republic. For example, we recorded messages that Ukrainian soldiers in the Czech Republic were killing military personnel and civilians. At the same time, the Czech media spread fakes about  “war crimes” of former volunteer battalions. For example, it was written about the “Aidar” battalion that in 2014 it became a center for “women with mental disorders”, where they are taught how to properly kill “racially impure Ukrainians”.

Germany

We found 122 cases of disinformation in 19 German media, which we grouped into 16 narratives. Among them, the most popular are accusations of the Ukrainian army committing war crimes (42 cases), discrediting representatives of the Ukrainian government (13 cases), and Nazism in Ukraine (11 cases). It is also noteworthy that, compared to other countries, fakes on historical topics are more actively spread in the German media (10 recorded cases).

In the German media, the narrative that the Ukrainian army allegedly commits war crimes is promoted through numerous fake reports about the military’s deliberate and targeted shelling of Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, most notably the Donetsk region. German mass media publish staged stories by Russian propagandists in which local residents accuse the Ukrainian army of specifically targeting their homes, hospitals, kindergartens, and bus stops. Or that the military intimidated or killed their relatives or acquaintances, did not allow them to evacuate, etc. Such an emphasis on fakes about the “crimes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” shows that Kremlin propaganda is particularly zealous in trying to discredit the Ukrainian army specifically for the German audience. It is noteworthy that in some reports it is indicated that for “crimes” the Armed Forces of Ukraine use weapons provided by Western partners, so perhaps the media are trying to create a negative attitude towards the supply of any military aid to Ukraine in German society.

At the same time, we recorded in the German mass media a lot of simply discrediting materials about the Ukrainian army: they are trying to show it as extremely unprofessional. For example, publications talk about chaotic mobilization on the streets of Kyiv and Kharkiv, when people who are unable to master weapons are taken into the army. A common trend is the publication of videos in which Ukrainian military personnel appear to appeal to their higher command and complain about the actions of the commanders, which led to mass deaths, or the lack of weapons and any support in the units.

As for historical fakes, their surge is connected with the fact that at the end of November, the German Bundestag recognized the Holodomor of 1932-1933 as genocide of the Ukrainian people. The Kremlin’s German-language sources launched a series of publications in which, at the expense of falsification of documents, testimonies, and figures, they tried to convince the audience that the famine arose organically and not because of a purposeful policy of genocide. It is significant that fake fact-checking was often used for this narrative: under the guise of fact-checking, they actually promoted the Kremlin’s myths about “non-involvement” in the tragedy.

Italy

In December, we discovered 101 cases of disinformation in 17 Italian media. We divided all cases into 11 narratives, the largest of which are “The West controls Ukraine and uses it for its own purposes” (33 cases), “Russia’s aggression is justified” (16 cases), and “Ukraine is a terrorist state” (16 cases).

The Italian media also wrote that NATO and the USA are not just managing Ukraine but are taking a direct part in the war themselves because the White House announced its intention to “dramatically strengthen” the training of the Ukrainian military. In addition, strikes on military facilities on the territory of Russia were cited as proof that NATO was using Ukraine as a platform to attack Russia. Also, the Italian media disproportionately quoted Kremlin officials, conveying their statements that the United States will support hostilities in Ukraine at least until 2025, and today the military potential and capabilities of almost all major NATO countries are already being actively used in Ukraine. At the same time, the Italian media tried to portray the dissatisfaction of the EU with the fact that the USA got the maximum benefit from the war in Ukraine, and for Europe, it turned out to be a disaster due to inflation and energy prices.

While justifying Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, disinformers pointed out that the Russian Federation had to “deepen the border with Ukraine” so that NATO could not break through it. The Italian media wrote that Ukraine had been preparing for war against Russia for eight years, so the Russian Federation had no choice but to attack first, and this full-scale invasion should be considered a “reasonable preventive measure.” The Italian media also actively promoted the idea that the war in Ukraine is continued only by the supply of Western weapons and that the supply of military aid from the West only legitimizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Of course, the leitmotif of all similar messages opposes the “peacefulness” of the Kremlin, which seems to be constantly offering peace talks and seeking consensus.

Writing about Ukraine as a “terrorist state”, the Italian media mentioned the Kremlin’s fake that Ukraine was preparing a provocation to stop the transit of Russian ammonia from Tolyatti to Odesa. Another “act of terrorism” was the statement of Volodymyr Rohov, a pro-Russian collaborator from Zaporizhzhia. He said that Ukrainian saboteurs blew up a bridge on the outskirts of Melitopol and a car in the center of the city. Propagandists also wrote about their unsuccessful attempt to push the narrative of “terrorist Ukraine” on the international stage: they expressed dissatisfaction that the UN Security Council did not believe that Ukraine was carrying out terrorist attacks in Donetsk and bombing the civilian population. Most of the fakes within this narrative related to the shelling of Russian-occupied Donetsk in December.

Authors

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