Russian News Monitor: February 4-10, 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: February 4-10, 2019

Number of programs partially devoted to Ukraine (share in the total number): 14/21

The main topics related to Ukraine covered this week on Russian television included the following: the enshrining of a pro-EU and pro-NATO policy in the Constitution of Ukraine, the opening of the investigation of politician Viktor Medvedchuk for treason against the state, and the banning of Russian observers from the Ukrainian presidential election. The talk shows discussed these topics almost simultaneously and promoted identical messages:

MessageNumber of programs in which the message was mentioned:
Ukrainian elections in 2019 will be rigged and should not be recognized10/14
Nazism is flourishing in Ukraine10/14
Ukraine is under the external control of the West8/14
There is a civil war going on in Ukraine8/14
A totalitarian, repressive regime has been established in Ukraine7/14
A nation of Russophobes is cultivated in Ukraine6/14
Ukraine is on the verge of collapse6/14
Ukrainian society is split geographically and ideologically5/14
Ukrainians and Russians are one people5/14
Ukrainian government is unfriendly to the residents of the Donbas4/14

All of the shows’ participants portrayed the solidification of a pro-NATO and pro-EU policy in the Ukrainian Constitution as Ukraine’s effective surrender of The Donbas, stating that the people of the occupied territories will never want to return to a Western-oriented country. In fact, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma declared back in 2002 that Ukraine desired to join NATO. Ukrainians in both the east and west lived together in such a NATO-oriented country for 12 years. The shows also promoted the idea that NATO caused a historical, cultural, and territorial split in Ukraine, using misleading sociological data: “46 percent are in favor of NATO… Almost 100 percent votes are in the Western Ukraine. And about 0 percent votes are in the Eastern Ukraine.” In reality, according to a survey conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, if a referendum on Ukraine’s accession to NATO took place in the near future, 69 percent of survey participants indicated they would participate. Of those who would participate in such a referendum, 70 percent would vote to join NATO: 92 percent in the West and 25 percent in the East.

In addition, the programs actively insisted that the authorities in Kyiv attacked The Donbas, that there is a civil war in Ukraine, and that Ukrainians consider the residents of the occupied territories to be people of the third class and plan to “mop them up.” In actuality, Petro Poroshenko has ruled out the return of The Donbas by force, 70 percent of Ukrainians consider the residents of the occupied territories to be hostages, and both Europe and the United States have recognized the situation in The Donbas as a result of Russian aggression against Ukraine—not civil war–by imposing sanctions against the Russian Federation.

Against this background, the commentators also claimed that Crimea joined Russia voluntarily and democratically, that residents of other Ukrainian regions “want to live as people live in Crimea,”and that cultural heritage is now preserved in Crimea, unlike in Ukraine. According to News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselev, Russia’s presence on the peninsula has preserved the national culture of the Crimean Tatars. In reality, the UN General Assembly has called on Russia to stop violating human rights in Crimea, particularly those of the Tatars. In contrast to Russia’s claims, the international community denounced the 2014 Crimean referendum as illegal and Russia’s actions as annexation. In addition, international consensus regarded the results of the referendum as having been falsified.

The criticism of the Ukrainian presidential election, which the shows consistently seek to delegitimize, is worth addressing separately. According to the shows’ participants, Ukraine’s refusal to allow Russian observers to monitor the election is egregious because the Russians are supposedly “the only ones who are able to look at this campaign in an unbiased way.” Russian aggression against Ukraine aside, Russia’s own election history disqualifies its claim to be a reliable observer of free and fair elections.

In addition, the hosts and guests of the programs expressed outrage at the investigation of politician Viktor Medvedchuk. Kyiv recently charged Medvechuk with treason against the state in response to his calls to change the territorial structure of Ukraine. On the Russian shows, commentators opined that the politician, whose child’s godfather is the Russian president, was subjected to repression, targeted for assassination, and potentially used as leverage for the future release of Ukrainian sailors. At the same time, the commentators called Medvedchuk the “leader of the opposition.” In reality, there is no united opposition in Ukraine, and the candidate from Medvedchuk’s party is currently only fourth in presidential polls.

In line with precedent, Russian television denigrated Ukraine, calling the country “TFU (Territory of the Former Ukraine)” and comparing the Ukrainian Constitution to toilet paper. Against the background of Ukraine officiating its pro-NATO policy, the shows’ participants issued new threats in relation to the deployment of missiles in Ukraine: “Strike this territory.…Eliminate everything there that can be associated with hostility against Russia.”