Russian Propaganda Trashes Democracy in Ukraine and Beyond

With the Ukrainian presidential elections fast-approaching, it seems that Kremlin-controlled outlets are increasing their efforts to shape Ukrainian voters’ opinions and discredit any candidates who appear to be pro-Western.

Russian media are still a news source for 14 percent of Ukrainians and demonstrate an orchestrated distorted interpretation of reality to their audiences. Kremlin-backed propaganda outlets like Ukraine.ru claim that corrupt businesses and members of the far-right support existing pro-Western presidential candidates in Ukraine. Their campaign is allegedly ineffective and “stupidly-made,”emphasizing topics that are not interesting for the citizens. They report on the current government (established by these pro-Western political forces) in a clearly negative manner. President Vladimir Putin declared in December 2018 that the situation in Ukraine “is unfavorable…in economy, social field, and domestic political processes,” and this appears to be a key narrative in Russian propaganda.

Some Russian outlets offer instructions for Ukrainian citizens: vote for those “offering an alternative narrative of peace, order and wealth.” To be expected, this is the main ideology of pro-Russian political forces in Ukraine: they combine economic populism (“wealth”) with calls for dialogue with Russia and an unconditional restoring of peace immediately. They suggest no solutions for occupied territories of The Donbas and Crimea; there are no conditions for ending the war–there are just calls for “peace” here and now.

Given that there is little chance for a pro-Kremlin candidate to win the presidential elections in 2019, Kremlin-controlled propaganda resort to claiming that the elections are not free, fair, and transparent, and that their results will be distorted. According to these outlets, there is no reason to expect any positive changes in the political or military situation after the elections.

Nobody will elect the President,”they argue, because the elections are just a mask to hide the real appointment of the new president by Washington. Pro-Kremlin political commentator Sergei Markov maintains that the future president will be “appointed by the dominating force – the United States of America.”

Similar words come from the TV channel of the Russian Ministry of Defence: “This [presidential] campaign is imitative by nature. They just pretend to have fair elections. They need this to demonstrate a nice picture of legitimacy to Americans,” says Aleksandr Asafov on Zvezda, in a program dedicated to the elections in Ukraine. He shared a conspiracy theory that instead of real Ukrainian citizens choosing their leader, some “secret team” will ensure the victory of the current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and produce “millions of Ukrainians all over the world” to appear on paper to vote for him.

The hosts of Time Will Show talk-show on Russian TV1 are trying to strengthen the narrative of illegitimate elections by declaring that the residents of occupied The Donbas “cannot vote in the elections” because of the malicious will of the Kyiv government. However, the Ukrainian government cannot organize voting on territories it does not control. The fact is that citizens from the occupied territories can vote if they cross the division line and get to government-controlled areas. That can be difficult, and it might result in certain restrictions–but the restriction is caused not by Kyiv but by Russian soldiers and their allies that keep  control over parts of Ukrainian territory.

As we have already seen in the time before the Brexit referendum, the US elections in 2016, the French Presidential and German Parliamentary elections in 2017, and during many other events – the Kremlin disinformation ecosystem keeps pushing the message that all elections, no matter where, are rigged. The aim always remains the same: to undermine the public faith in the democratic process and to manipulate the audience into a feeling that no matter what happens, the people will always be tricked and deceived.