Russian News Monitor: January 21-27, 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 elections. 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 receive information about the events in Ukraine and the world from Russian TV channels. In absolute figures, approximately 67 percent of Ukrainians (out of about 1.4 million Ukrainian citizens) that receive information from Russian TV channels live in southern and eastern Ukraine.

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

Monitoring period: January 21-27, 2019

Number of programs partially devoted to Ukraine (out of 21 shows monitored): 11/21

Russian TV’s trending topics of the week relating to Ukraine include the nomination of presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, the transit of Russian natural gas through Ukraine, and the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The speakers drew parallels between the events in Venezuela and the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity in 2014. Additionally, Russian propagandists discussed Ukraine’s history and ideology in the context of Ukraine’s Unity Day as well as President Poroshenko’s visit to Israel.

Below is a table outlining the most popular messages of Russian propaganda and highlights the number of monitored programs that repeated these messages:

Message:Number of programs in which the message was mentioned:
Ukraine is under the external control of the West8/11
Ukrainian election in 2019 will be rigged7/11
A totalitarian, repressive regime has been established in Ukraine7/11
Nazism and anti-Semitism are flourishing in Ukraine7/11
The Revolution of Dignity was a coup5/11
Ukraine is a country of liars and traitors4/11
Ukraine was artificially created by other countries4/11
The authorities are imposing a certain ideology on Ukrainians4/11
Ukraine is on the verge of collapse4/11
Ukraine is an inferior state3/11

This week, Russian TV shows repeated typical pro-Kremlin disinformation narratives about the alleged spread of Nazism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine. One commentator on Evening with Vladimir Solovyov even went so far as to claim that such ideologies are the basis of the Ukrainian state. Despite these claims, the Pew Research Center opinion poll on social and religious tolerance in the region reports that Ukraine actually ranks as the most tolerant country in Central and Eastern Europe, with 5 percent of adults saying that they “would not be willing to accept Jews as citizens of their country.” Moreover, Ukrainian law prohibits “Communist and Nazi propaganda.”

The shows also attempt to depict Ukraine and Russia as bonded siblings and reinforce a stereotype about the unbreakable cultural relations between Ukraine and Russia. For example, a commentator on Time Will Show asserted that most of Ukraine communicates in Russian. In fact,  68 percent of residents  consider Ukrainian as their mother tongue. The presenters on Time Will Show also insisted that residents of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) did not consider themselves Ukrainians. In reality, more than 90 percent of them voted for an independent Ukrainian state in the 1991 referendum.

Many of the propagandists on Russian television this week also frequently accused Ukraine of being a country of traitors and liars. According to Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, Russia, in contrast to Ukraine, complies with its obligations. In fact, the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea alone violated 403 international treaties. Russia’s continued aggression against Ukraine also debunks another popular myth that is often mentioned on Russian television shows: the northern neighbor “maintains” the Ukrainian economy. In reality, Russia’s actions in Crimea and The Donbas have cost Ukraine $100 billion. Since the beginning of the war, Ukrainian exports to Russia have decreased to 8 percent of the country’s total (against 42 percent to the EU). Propagandists on Time Will Show, when discussing the Nord Stream 2 project, also claimed that Russia “maintains” the Ukrainian economy with the transit of Russian gas. In truth, Ukraine earns about $3 billion a year on this transit, which is less than 3 percent of its nominal GDP.

Commentators on the shows also directly threatened the government in Kyiv. One commentator on Evening with Vladimir Solovyov stated, “We must, sooner or later, overthrow this regime with the hands of the Ukrainians themselves. If this does not work out, then the south, southeast of Ukraine should move away from the Galicia and join Russia. This is our primordial land.” Vladimir Solovyov himself said, “If you only move, you will get a sock on the jaw — Putin’s rating will rise up to the skies,” and “We will not give up the Russian land. Up to Poland […] Up to Odesa!” Adding to the hypocrisy, speakers on the same shows continue to claim that it is Ukraine that poses a threat to its supposedly besieged neighbor Russia.