Russian News Monitor: March 25-31, 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: March 25-31, 2019

Number of programs partially devoted to Ukraine (share in the total number): 15/21

The main topics of the week devoted to Ukraine on Russian television were as follows: the forthcoming presidential election, consideration of the bill on ensuring the primacy of the Ukrainian language, and a speech by a defector from the Security Service of Ukraine in Russia. In the final week before the election, the Kremlin-backed propagandists increased both the number of programs devoted to Ukraine and the time spent discussing the topics related to Ukraine. Most of the shows tried to discredit the election process and malign the current direction of the country.

MessageNumber of programs in which the message was mentioned
Ukraine is under the external control of the West12/15
Nazism flourishes in Ukraine12/15
Ukrainian election in 2019 will be rigged11/15
There is a civil war in Ukraine9/15
Ukraine unreasonably blames Russia for all its troubles7/15
The nation of Russophobes is being brought up In Ukraine6/15
Ukrainians and Russians are fraternal peoples6/15
Ukraine is split ideologically and historically5/15
Ukrainian authorities are preparing provocations for the period of the elections5/15
A repressive regime has been established Ukraine5/15

Throughout the week, the shows’ propagandists invented numerous narratives to demonstrate the falsification of Ukraine’s presidential election. For example, on News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselev, a correspondent said, “Another odd thing is the number of ballots. The number of printed ballots was twice as much as needed.” This was easily explained—the presidential election consists of two rounds, and the election authorities procured the ballot forms for both rounds at the same time. On Time Will Show, the commentator stated that “the same people who had been counting Yanukovych’s votes became members of the Central Election Commission (CEC).” In fact, the composition of the CEC changed in September 2018. On Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, an expert stated that due to falsifications, the vote’s final result will differ from exit polls: “There will be a reduction of the distance between Poroshenko and Zelensky, and an increase in the distance between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko.” The reality was just the opposite. The hosts of Time Will Show said that temporarily displaced Ukrainians could not vote in the election. In reality, temporarily displaced Ukrainians only needed to write an application to cast their vote. Despite the shows’ claims, independent Ukrainian organizations reported that there were even fewer violations in the first round of the presidential election than in 2014.

In addition, participants on the Russian shows once again threatened residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine, discouraging them from reintegrating. On Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, propagandists said that the Ukrainian authorities planned to punish Ukrainians from the self-proclaimed republics in the country’s east with “eight years of correctional labor with the confiscation of earned money.” There is, however, no proof to support this claim. In another episode of the same program, commentators, once again without any proof, accused the Ukrainian army of cannibalism and occultism. On News of the Week with Dmitry Kiselev, a correspondent stated that “the official Kyiv abandoned the peaceful scenario as early as in April 2014.” In fact, the Ukrainian authorities are publicly committed to a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

The hosts of Time Will Show also manipulated the words of the Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky, using them as proof of an ongoing civil war in Ukraine. In an interview for a Ukrainian TV channel, the politician described the informational aspect of the conflict in the east: “At the same time, there are two important paths, when the war is, so to speak, from the inside…” The propagandists then changed the quote to “I think this is an internal problem of Ukraine.” With this change in the quote, they reached the conclusion that “[Zelensky] said that this is a civil war!”

Russian television also fabricated geopolitical myths about Ukraine. For example, on Time Will Show, the commentator stated that the presence of NATO ships in the Ukrainian port of Odesa is “psychological pressure on Ukraine” intended to push Kyiv to join the Alliance. In reality, Ukraine promulgated its decision to join NATO in its Constitution. On Time Will Show, a guest claimed that the Ukrainian government is out of touch with the population because it buys foreign gas instead of the cheaper Russian product. The fact is that Ukraine does buy Russian gas and relies on Russia for its own energy security, although Ukraine would like to establish energy-independence.

The host of Evening with Vladimir Solovyov used Petro Poroshenko’s first round election performance as evidence of the unpopularity of the anti-Russian policy in Ukraine: “All his cries about how bad Russians are, how he is fighting with Putin, and how he is winning have reduced the level of trust so much…” Firstly, almost all Ukrainian politicians, including the winner of the first round of presidential election, are vocally critical of Russia. Secondly, politicians have few other options when formulating an attitude toward a state that describes Ukraine using the words, “This is our area of interest. We will not let it easily join your Western partners.”