A third of all news on top Russian TV channels is dedicated to Ukraine, and more than 90% of references are negative. In the spotlight of Russian mass media are Ukrainian state institutions, which, according to the Russian media, represent a radical minority of the state. Such conclusions were presented at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center by the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group (HWAG) of the UCMC.
HWAG has analyzed the news of the top Russian channels over the past three years and presented six main narratives of Russian propaganda about Ukraine. 33% of all references to Ukraine are related to the thesis that there is a civil war in Ukraine. “Within this narrative, a lot is communicated about the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The focus is on the delegitimization of the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are being delegitimized by accusations that it commits crimes against the civilian population, against humanity. Allegedly, the Armed Forces suffer huge losses and are the source of ceasefire violations”, explained Ruslan Kavatsiuk, an analyst of Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group, advisor to the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.
In the second narrative, Russian propaganda presents Ukraine as “a failed state”. Russian media reinforce this thesis by delegitimizing public authorities. In 15% of all references to Ukraine, Russian propaganda highlights the diverse Russia assistance to Donbas. “This is one of the evidence of how the Russian authorities are trying to justify for their own population, on the one hand, why the Crimea was taken to the “Russian world”, and Donbas was not. On the other hand, the level of tension in Donbas itself is decreasing because the local population living there also wants to understand the answer to this question,” said Ruslan Kavatsiuk.
Among the other narratives of Russian propaganda is the coverage of Ukraine as a state in which Russophobia prevails, the Russian-speaking population is being persecuted, and the radical and “fascist” minority is in power. In six percent of the news, Russian mass media use the thesis that Ukraine is a puppet state controlled by the West. “If Ukraine, for example, has gained visa-free regime, it’s because the West is flirting with Ukraine. If the West has given nothing to Ukraine – it means that the West is punishing its puppet Ukraine. This is the carrot and the stick used by the West to rule Ukraine”, Ruslan Kavatsiuk said.
In addition to the fact that Russian mass media cover Ukraine only from the negative side, they often present false information. “Stop Fake” has found more than 2 thousand fake news in the Russian media over the past 4 years. “If you have been wondering which Russian media organizations are involved in the fake news production, the answer is all or almost all, briefly speaking. It does not make any difference if the organizations are state-owned or are in private ownership. In Russian realities, there is no difference, because, de facto, the information flow, the news cycle is regulated from the center”, – said Evhen Fedchenko, co-founder of “StopFake”.
At the same time, some Ukrainian media also use the main theses of Russian propaganda. Usually, such information is highlighted by information channels. “We understand that some Ukrainian media are not directly Ukrainian and they are financed by other parties, including by Russia. Unfortunately, the SBU does not work well enough to prove how the so-called ‘Ukrainian mass media’ are funded. On the other hand, the problem is that now the spread of Russian propaganda theses often correlates with criticism of the Ukrainian authorities. It is very difficult to distinguish between the criticism that should take place. Democracy is impossible without criticism; democratic media should criticize the government. Very often it is taken up by Russia in its own interests”, explained Natalia Ligachova, chairman of the board of “Detector Media”.
The Hybrid Warfare Analitycal Group of UCMC has also presented the main narratives of Russian propaganda about Europe. The presentations of this study were held in London, Brussels, Paris, Stockholm, and Tallinn. “I had the personal experience of presenting this research and I heard how it was commented on in Western countries. The reaction was shocking, especially in Scandinavian countries: 85% of absolutely negative perception”, said Raul Rebane, a media expert from Estonia.
The research was conducted by the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group of UCMC with the support of the Estonian Center for Eastern Partnership.