Russian News Monitor: April 8-14, 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 8-14, 2019

Number of programs partially devoted to Ukraine (share in the total number): 17/21

The main topics of the week devoted to Ukraine on the Russian television were as follows: the presidential race and candidates’ chances of winning, decommunization in Ukraine, and alleged Western influence on the presidential race. When discussing these and other topics, participants on the Russian talk shows described the failure of Ukrainian politics, the terrible living conditions in the country, and Ukraine’s aggression against Russia.

MessageNumber of programs in which the message was mentioned
Ukraine is under the external control of the West12/17
There is a civil war in Ukraine11/17
Ukrainian authorities manipulate presidential elections7/17
A nation of Russophobes is being brought up In Ukraine7/17
Nazism flourishes in Ukraine6/17
Ukrainians and Russians are fraternal peoples6/17
Ukraine is not expected in the West5/17
The West takes advantage of Ukraine5/17
Ukrainian authorities are preparing provocations for the period of the elections5/17
Ukraine is split ideologically and historically5/17

Commentators on the monitored Russian television shows used irony extensively to describe the Ukrainian presidential campaign. Commentators on Evening with Vladimir Solovyov labeled the second-round run-off between Volodomyr Zelenskiy and Petro Poroshenko as a choice between an “alcoholic and a drug addict.” Guests on Time Will Show (20) declared that the spread of “European values” created the low state of electoral politics in Ukraine: “The situation where people are ready to do anything for money and power. They have no other values, and they will betray anyone…This is a consistent and purposeful implementation of current European values and current liberal values.”

Guests on 24 percent of the talk shows claimed that Petro Poroshenko is prepared to kill his opponent to win the election. The host of News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselev (1) hinted that the authorities in Kyiv had already resorted to such methods, setting up a car accident for the Ukrainian singer Andriy Kuzmenko “a few days” after he made anti-war comments. Firstly, the musician’s anti-war call came six months before his death. Secondly, the authorities determined that the fatal crash occurred because Kuzmenko exceeded the speed limit.

This week, commentators frequently repeated Kremlin narratives associated with the war in eastern Ukraine. On Time Will Show (6), a representative of the self-proclaimed republics in the east of Ukraine justified Russian participation in the conflict by reminding the audience that US officials handed out cookies in Kyiv during the Revolution of Dignity. The representative apparently did not see any difference between these two “interventions” in Ukraine. The host of the same program claimed that in eastern Ukraine “people did the same thing which had happened in Kyiv (16).” However, activists in Kyiv supported EU ascension during the Euromaidan in protest of President Viktor Yanukovych’s breaking his promise to steer Ukraine toward the West. The opposite happened in eastern Ukraine, where separatist forces and Russian encroachment sparked an ongoing war instead of free and democratic elections.

Later, the host of Time Will Show (18) promoted the conspiracy theory that the Ukrainian authorities abandoned the eastern regions of the country because of intractable problems with the local economy and electorate. The host purposefully omitted the fact that Kyiv has refused to recognize the territories’ independence and continues its attempts to return them to Ukraine. On Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (3), a Russian official claimed that residents of the occupied territories could not vote in the presidential elections, meaning that “these residents were removed from the list of citizens of their country by their own authorities.” In fact, Ukrainians in the eastern regions could vote if they crossed into the controlled territory of Ukraine. By promoting these narratives, the Russian television shows tried to alienate the residents of the self-proclaimed republics from other Ukrainians. The host of Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (3) also hinted that “if Ukraine abandoned them, this means that sooner or later…” these territories would join Russia.

To further advance the Kremlin’s goals, participants on the Russian talk shows invented stories about alleged Ukrainian aggression against Russia. On Evening with Vladimir Solovyov (15), a former Ukrainian politician stated that a large-scale war “did not happen only because Russia considers Ukraine to be a fraternal people…If the same actions had been performed with regard to Russia by a non-former union state, such a state would have been smashed long ago.” The commentator failed to acknowledge that Russia started the conflict with Ukraine. The host of Time Will Show (2) claimed that there had been no issues between the two countries prior to the attempt by Ukrainian ships to cross the Kerch Strait in the Sea of Azov. In fact, Russia started militarizing the Sea of Azov and hindering international trade much earlier. A “representative of Ukraine” on Time Will Show (14) said that “There is no war at all. For all normal Ukrainians, Russia is a fraternal people.” In fact, 63 percent of Ukrainians consider Russia to be the aggressor in eastern Ukraine. On another episode of Time Will Show (17), a guest claimed that none of the Ukrainian presidential candidates included peace talks in their campaign platforms. In reality, both Poroshenko and Zelenskiy clearly describe a peaceful solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine as a priority.

Russian commentators this week were indignant about the decommunization of Ukraine. On Time Will Show (2), guests claimed that the Soviet Union never occupied Ukraine and that Ukrainian membership in the USSR only benefited the country. Participants on the shows failed to mention the mass shootings of the intelligentsia, the genocide of the Ukrainian people by means of the Holodomor, the Gulag, and the suppression of Ukraine’s independence in 1918.