Russian media, with their reporting system, remains an active mechanism for Russia’s hybrid aggression against Ukraine and other countries that Russia sees as a threat to itself. Since Russian society is the main target audience of such outlets, their main task is to legitimise Russia’s foreign policy and gain support for the government’s actions among the citizens. To do this, Russian propaganda uses narratives distorting Ukraine and other countries. The Institute of Mass Information researched the top Russian online media outlets to find out what narratives about Ukraine were circulating after the parliamentary elections in Russia.
The research showed that the main Russian narrative about Ukraine in October was the corrupt practices of the Ukrainian authorities, accounting for as much as 23.5% of mentions of Ukraine in the Russian media.
The narrative of the gas crisis in Ukraine ranked second, accounting for 18.2% of mentions. The situation in Ukraine is portrayed as complete devastation and chaos.
The political crisis, caused by the resignation of the Verkhovna Rada Speaker, was the third most popular narrative.
The main topic of Russian media mentions about Ukraine in October was gas and Ukraine’s energy dependence, accounting for 18.5% of mentions about our country. The next most popular topic in which Ukraine was mentioned was news about the occupied territories of Donbas (12.5% of the total number of media materials). In addition, 10.5% of the materials concerned the Pandora Papers journalistic investigation (in particular, President Zelensky was mentioned in this context) and the arrest of Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia.
Gas topic: ‘They wanted visa-free travel but end up gas-free’
As the heating season approaches, Russia is actively using its main resource in influencing both Ukraine and, in fact, the whole of Europe – gas. This topic accounted for 18.5% of all mentions about Ukraine.
The Russian information bubble actively promotes the idea that Ukraine does not have the resources to provide the population with gas to survive this winter. Russians confirm this narrative with reports on insufficient gas reserves in Ukraine, mostly “quoting” Ukrainian sources: “One of the challenges facing the new management of Naftogaz is the heating season amid a shortage of 4 billion cubic metres of gas: instead of 19 billion required, Ukraine has only 15 billion.”
Kremlin propagandists predict that Ukraine will endure cold weather, gas shortages and “cleansing with frosts.” To do this, they sometimes pull out expert comments from the Ukrainian media landscape. In the news report “Economist predicts Ukraine will go through ‘gas inquisition’ and ‘frost cleansing,’” economist Alexei Kushch says:
“The authorities in Kyiv proclaimed the increase in domestic gas production as the goal of reforms. But, apparently, it remained only on paper,” so the expert believes that Ukraine will face “cleansing with crisis. With frost, more precisely.”
Russian media outlets widely quoted allegedly ordinary Ukrainians, who told about their plans to survive the winter:
“The readers of the Ukrainian media wrote that they got ready to survive the winter because of the anti-Russian policy of Naftogaz and the fuel crisis.”
“We received visa-free regime and now end up gas-free,” said Yura Zanuda sarcastically.
“They scoff at Ukraine, show the carrot, beckon, and then take it away,” Bohdan Shanovny believes.
Interestingly, these comments were taken from the Russian website InoSMI, which, according to Radio Liberty, publishes translations of articles from international media outlets; along with Sputnik and RIA Novosti news agencies, the portal is part of the Rossiya Segodnya Russian state media group, according to the investigation “How does the Russian site InoSMI paraphrase and selectively remove information from Western media publications?”
On the topic of gas, Russia is actively promoting the idea that it is now much more profitable for Europe to have gas transit not through Ukraine, but Nord Stream 2: “The Polish authorities expect that gas supplies via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will be cheaper than through Ukraine,” TASS writes.
What’s interesting, is that the Russian president is portrayed as almost a saviour of Ukraine, who, in spite of everything, is ready to help: “Russia will exceed its contractual obligations on transit through Ukraine in 2021, Vladimir Putin said at a meeting on energy,” the Russian media wrote. And this is despite the fact that “Putin calls the growth of gas transit through Ukraine unprofitable for Gazprom.”
As, according to the Russian media, the Government of Ukraine is unable to cope and the population faces “freezing,” such news reports mostly fall under the narrative of the government’s incompetence.
Only 12.5% of all mentions of Ukraine were related to the occupied territories. There were only a few materials about the occupied regions of eastern Ukraine which concerned the events on the line of contact.
Crimea was mentioned mainly in the news about weather or coronavirus:
“The Ministry of Emergency Situations Department in Crimea warns of strong winds in the region over next three days”
“Two schools in Simferopol were closed due to coronavirus”
“Crimea experiences serious problem in tourism industry”
And about the Russian “great construction”:
“Record number of roads will be repaired in Crimea by the end of 2021”
Pandora Papers investigation – skeletons in Zelensky’s closet
Pandora Papers investigation into President Zelensky’s offshore businesses aroused great interest in the Russian media, accounting for 10.5% of all materials about Ukraine. However, the Russian media did not notice the Russians linked with Putin involved. The Slovo i Dilo Ukrainian media outlet writes: “The Russian part of the Pandora Papers investigation involves people close to President Vladimir Putin, for example, Svetlana Krivonogykh, who is called in Russia Putin’s mistress and possibly the mother of his daughter.”
At the same time, Russian media outlets called President Zelensky a “world symbol of corrupt politicians.” For example, the Moskovsky Komsomolets writes, “If earlier the Western media hoped that Zelensky would be able to fight corruption in Ukraine, now they mockingly call him the faux anti-oligarchic president.” Russian political scientists even predicted that Zelensky will face impeachment.
The narrative about the corrupt practices of the Ukrainian authorities fits into this news topic, accounting for 23.5% of mentions. Other materials, such as “Zelensky asks the United States to fund non-existent projects,” were published within the framework of this narrative.
The research showed that the Russian media closely follow the Ukrainian media landscape and adapt narratives precisely to the events in Ukraine. Propagandists also use in messages voiced by Ukrainian “independent experts” in their materials.
Source: Institute of Mass Information