Russian News Monitor: April 15-21, 2019

This is a regular weekly report by Detector Media, a partner of the Ukrainian Election Task Force, offering exclusive content covering the three main Russian state TV talk shows, particularly these shows’ coverage of Ukraine and the 2019 presidential election. Kremlin-backed media outlets often generate disinformation narratives that are then spread throughout Ukraine as well as Western Europe and the United States. We have identified these TV shows as the main amplifiers of the key disinformation narratives that the Kremlin’s propaganda machine seeks to circulate in the public domain. The messages spread in these shows are further multiplied by the wide network of hundreds and thousands of print, TV, radio and online outlets, as well as via the social media, which target consumers of the Russian-language information ecosystem, including Ukrainians. Indeed, the audience is not limited to within Russia’s borders but also extends to Ukraine itself.

According to the research of Detector Media, 5 percent of Ukrainians, roughly 1.4 million citizens, receive information about the events in Ukraine and the world from Russian TV channels. Some 67 percent of those who receive information from Russian TV channels inhabit Southern and Eastern Ukraine.

Programs included in the monitoring: Time Will Show (Channel One), Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (Russia 1), News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselev (Russia 1).

Monitoring period: April 15-21, 2019

Number of programs partially devoted to Ukraine (share in the total number): 18/21

The main topics of the week devoted to Ukraine on the Russian television were as follows: Ukraine’s presidential race and the candidates’ chances of victory, the debate between Volodomyr Zelenskiy and Petro Poroshenko, and the war in eastern Ukraine. In the final week before the second round of the election, 85 percent of Russian talk shows featured discussions of Ukrainian topics. Notably, guests and hosts on the TV programs this week spread far fewer fakes about Ukraine than in previous weeks, opting to cast opinions and judgments on Ukrainian politics. When predicting the foreign and domestic policies of the future Ukrainian president, commentators frequently disparaged Ukraine and discredited its current and future authorities.

MessageNumber of programs in which the message was mentioned
There is a civil war in Ukraine11/18
The nation of Russophobes is being brought up in Ukraine10/18
Ukraine is under the external control of the West9/18
Ukraine is split ideologically and historically9/18
Ukrainian authorities are preparing provocations for the period of the elections7/18
Ukrainians and Russians are fraternal peoples7/18
Nazism flourishes in Ukraine6/18
Ukraine is ruled by oligarchs6/18
Ukrainian politicians unreasonably blame Russia for all troubles6/18
Ukraine is rapidly retrograding5/18

Throughout the week, hosts and commentators on the talk shows predicted that violence would break out during either the run-off vote or the debate between the two presidential candidates. The host of Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (1) went so far as to conjecture that Poroshenko would declare military rule in the final days before the second-round vote. A guest on Time Will Show (8) argued that Ukraine would soon cease to exist as a state: “Something else will definitely happen even before the election. Perhaps there will be a third round, or perhaps there will be an end to Ukrainian statehood.” None of these predictions, of course, materialized.

Guests on the programs also discussed the economic and cultural degradation of Ukraine, the domination of Ukrainian politics by oligarchs, and the split of the population along ideological and historical lines. Using such messages as evidence, the talk shows condemned the pro-Western course of Ukraine and its estrangement from Russia. For example, the host of Time Will Show (7) stated that “There is a civil war for the visa-free regime and for Tomos.” Firstly, there is no civil war in Ukraine; the conflict began when Russian and Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine fomented hostilities. Secondly, hostilities in the country’s east broke out three years before Ukraine received its visa-free regime with the EU and four years before Kyiv secured the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). Neither event could have caused the war. A guest on Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (6) stated that Ukraine is like a poor girl who “hates herself, her parents, her own history. She wants to flee somewhere. She wants to find a husband, preferably in the West. But no one is willing to marry her.”

When denigrating Ukraine’s pivot to the West, guests on the shows insisted that the country should return to Russia after the election. An expert on Time Will Show (28) stated this bluntly: “There is only one way out for the population of southeastern Ukrainian. To use this election to try to repeat the ‘Russian spring’ and become part of Russia.” The host of Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (29) boasted about Russia’s apparent kindness in accepting refugees from the war in eastern Ukraine: “When the fratricidal war started, where did people go? How many millions of people came to Russia? You have forgotten that we accepted all of them, we helped all of them. We cured all the wounded.” The claim ignored that without the Russian aggression that sparked the war, there would be no wounded or refugees fleeing eastern Ukraine.

Discussions on the shows repeated Russian narratives about the war in The Donbas and Ukraine’s alleged bellicosity. The host of Time Will Show (13) declared that Ukrainian voters are tired of the state’s militant rhetoric against Russia. In reality, both Petro Poroshenko and Volodomyr Zelenskiy have repeated that Kyiv will seek exclusively political and diplomatic means to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. As for negotiations with Russia, the Ukrainian public believes that a rapprochement with Moscow should only be the fourth most important item on the new president’s agenda. On Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (2), a former Ukrainian politician stated that “Ukrainians are defective Russians. These are Russian people whose brains have been broken and whose language has been mangled.” He later said that if Ukrainians pose a threat to Russia, they would have to be “cleaned out. There is no other option.” (7) A guest on Time Will Show (18) claimed that Europe understands that Ukraine, not Russia, actively violates the Minsk Agreements. In fact, sanctions on Russia persist because the international community recognizes Russia as the wrongdoer in eastern Ukraine.

Hypocritically, Russian talk shows consistently blame Ukraine’s pro-Western attitude for the country’s challenges while denying any responsibility on the part of Moscow. Such critics insist that if Ukraine were to cease its allegedly aggressive behavior and resume friendship with Russia after the presidential election, Kyiv’s troubles would disappear.