Ukraine targeted by disinformation campaign to restore “friendship” with Russia

Image collage: Euromaidan Press

Image collage: Euromaidan Press 

Analysis & Opinion

Article by: Olena Makarenko

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas became a burden for the Russian treasury. Moreover, the war in Syria is also expensive for the country. The situation for the Russian budget is aggravated due to the sanctions imposed on it by the EU, US, and Ukraine. However, Vladimir Putin can’t gave up his military activities, and getting rid of sanctions is the only way for him to attract additional finances for war. It appears that the Kremlin is conducting a campaign to shift public opinion towards the acceptability of lifting economic sanctions against an aggressor and violator of international law. In Ukraine, the Russian Federation has used a disinformation campaign aiming to show that Ukraine can’t survive without restoring economic relationships with Russia. And while one can think that the messages that are being spread are calling for the peaceful resolution of the situation, in fact they are just an additional instrument for raising money for more wars. In the case of Ukraine, this is also an instrument to weaken resistance against Russian occupation and get it back under Russian influence by turning the country away from the path of EU integration.

Investigation by media watchdog reveals disinformation campaign in Ukrainian media 

Dmytro Firtash, Ukrainian oligarch in exile. Photo: Ukraina.ru

Obviously, someone really needs to create the impression that ordinary Ukrainians, MPs, industrialists, and farmers just can’t live without economic relations with Russia.

Currently, the topic of renewing economic relationships between Ukraine and Russia appears quite frequently in the Ukrainian information space, and the methods of messaging become more and more creative. Detektor Media, a Ukrainian media watchdog, recently revealed who stands behind these messages and how they are spread across Ukraine in an investigation. Watch out, similar technology can be used in any other country.

Since late summer 2016, the message thatto save Ukraine’s economy, economic relationships with Russia have to be renewed no matter what” was actively spread in some Ukrainian and Russian media. The culmination of the campaign was an interview of the fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who will be detained on allegations of corruption should he return to Ukraine, to the Russian media outlet Ukraina.ru. Apart from his other businesses, Firtash also is a co-owner of the Inter media group.

In the interview Firtash complains that “one third of Ukrainian enterprises are unprofitable.” According to him, this is because of the termination of the Ukrainian-Russian collaboration, stressing:

“We are fighting for a market from Lisbon to Vladivistok. We need European, Russian and Chinese investments. We need markets and partners. The Russian market is especially important for Ukraine. We need to use it,” says Firtash.

Before the interview was published, a number of materials appeared in Ukrainian media to prepare the ground. Some messages were voiced by pro-Russian MPs. The rest were based on fake news.

The technology in action

Screenshot from Ukrainian media saying: “The staff of the major agrarian holding of Zaporizhzhia demanded from Poroshenko to restore economic relations with the Russian Federation”

Detektor Media names the MPs who called to restore economic relationships with Russia. They were:

  1. Mykola Skoryk, Opposition Bloc (the successor of the tyrant Yanukovych Party of Regions)
  2. Yevheniy Muraiev, unafilliated MP, before represented Opposition Bloc faction in Parliament
  3. Iakiv Bezbakh, unafilliated MP, used to be a member of the Party of Regions.
  4. Anton Kisse, deputy group Vidrodzhennia (the majority of the group used to belong to the Party of Regions)
  5. Oleh Nedava, an MP from the Petro Poroshenco Bloc, is associated with the influential businessmen and an MP of the Yanukovych times Yuriy Ivanuschenko
  6. Viktor Branskyi, an Opposition Bloc deputy of the Odesa Oblast Council

Only Muraiev and Baranskyi expressed their opinions on the topic openly. Others, as Detektor Media revealed, were asked questions and recorded by people without microphones which are suppose to identify a media. The videos were uploaded to YouTube channels which had only 1-2 videos before that. From those channels, the video was spread to Ukrainian and Russian media outlets. What is more, the media who published the videos with the MP’s messages quoted each others.

These are the Ukrainian media outlets which were involved in quoting calls to restore the relationships with Russia:

  1. 112 Channel
  2. Timer
  3. UNN
  4. Korrespondent
  5. AiF in Ukraine

When the amount of the messages accumulated, labor unions of different factories and enterprises in Ukraine started writing appeals to President Petro Poroshenko asking to restore the relationships with its eastern neighbor.

Here are some examples of the headlines:

Zaporizhzhia farmers demand from Poroshenko to make peace with Russia

Dnipropetrovsk Oblast manufacturers demanded Poroshenko restore trade with the Russian Federation and abandon European integration

Cherkasy plant Finval 2006 demanded Poroshenko revive ties with Russia

The news were followed by petitions allegedly from labor unions of the factories and enterprises. Some petitions were also published on the sites of the enterprises and factories. However, it’s safe to call them a set-up. Here is what the journalists revealed about these news and petitions:

1. Some sites were created just few days prior to the publication of a petition, like the sites of the factory VASIL, Industrial scientific and technological company “INTEC,” Euronasinnia.

2. The employees of the enterprises did not sign the petitions. The journalists reached out to Kaprpatnaftokhim, Stepnoi factory, Lihachevskyi bread factory, and were told that the enterprises have already refuted reports that they signed the documents. The journalists of Obozrevatel also received a refutation of the fake published about the factory Finval 2006. However, for some reason, the refutations were spread mostly in the local media which have no major influence.

3. In two cases, documents for the fake news reports were created with the forged signatures of the heads of the enterprises.

4. In the case of the Zaporizhzhia plant of household appliances, news about the alleged demand to restore relationships with Russia were based on a random blog on the medium platform by a user called Zaporozhie.

5. In Russia, the news linked to larger Ukrainian sites, which in their turn linked to smaller regional sites. Many of the Russian publications were followed by information that “against the background of these appeals in October 11, the group on restoring economic relationships with Russia was created in the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament].” The group was indeed created a day before the Firtash’s interview was published. It was initiated by the abovementioned Bezbakh. 

Screenshot of Ukrainian media saying “Cherkasy plant Finval 2006 demanded from Poroshenko to revive ties with Russia”

In December, the so-called petitions were also enhanced by the similar petitions allegedly with demands of ordinary citizens. The petitions were published on the sites of the councils of the Dnipropetrovsk, Chernihiv, and Poltava oblasts and on the site of the city council of Kropyvnytskyi. The petitions reached the threshold needed to make the topic be discussed at meetings of the councils. However, the journalists of StopFake revealed that the Dnipropetrovsk, Chernihiv and Poltava oblasts petitions have signs of forgery:

“To create an account for signatures for a petition anonymous foreign VPN-servers and the servers from the territory which is not controlled by Ukraine, in particular, the city of Luhansk, were used. Also, according to the register, several people signed the petition from the same IP-address. There were cases when one server was used more than by 300 users,” Poltava Oblast council head Anna Shavir told StopFake. The three petitions are identical and are written in Ukrainian with mistakes.

Then, petition-signing was organized a a higher level: Bezbakh started calling on Ukrainian MPs to sign them.

How much does this cost?

Another headline is saying that Poltava Oblast begs Kyiv for friendship with Russia

“The cheese is getting spoiled, the enterprise’s employees are sitting with no salary. Mr.Poroshenko, restore economic relations with Russia”

Using the new technology is expensive. According to Detektor Media which spoke to Ukraine’s Security Service, before autumn of 2016, fake news were being spread only through media resources which are under control of (pro-)Russian forces and via social media. Now the new technology seems to be systematic. It needs a larger budget to pay for publishing fake news in Ukrainian outlets, creating fake sites, and spreading the information across Russia.

Another Ukrainian media liga.net wrote that some people applied to them with a suggestion to publish information with calls to restore the relationships with Russia.

The journalist of liga.net was given a proposal (by some intermediary) to use his connections in media to lobby the publication of an appeal of some employees to restore economic relationships with Russia to the President of Ukraine. It was clarified in the order that they are interested in enterprises employing over 300 people. The journalist’s work involved identifying the target enterprise that potentially would agree to the publication (they, ostensibly, would also be paid by the “client” for agreeing to participate in the campaign), creating the text which would be published on the official site of the company.

“For example, they can write that earlier they successfully exported cheese and 70% went to Russia. Europe doesn’t need our cheese. This results in a certain percentage of unsold goods, and a certain amount of loss. The cheese is getting spoiled, the enterprise’s employees are sitting with no salary. Mr.Poroshenko, restore economic relations with Russia,” is an example text that the “client” gave the journalist.

Liga.net’s sources gave an off-the-record confirmation that indeed such campaign had been started and that it was initiated from Russia.

According to the journalist, he was offered from $500 to $1000 (depending on the importance of the enterprise, the amount of time the petition would be present on the site, its text and demands to the president) to participate in the campaign.

Also he was told that after agreeing and sending a link for the news he will receive the money to his bank account, and he was invited to submit 5-10 pieces until the end of 2016. The author explains that the incident happened in the middle of December, so that the client would have potentially paid him from $2500 to $10000.

Taking into consideration, the new technology and the last claims of Ukrainian oligarchs we can assume that the topic will appear more often on the agenda this year. Probably, this is the instrument of the Russia’s fight on lifting the sanctions and it waits when a fish (politicians who have power to lift the sanctions) will swallow the bait.

“Obviously, someone really needs to create the impression that ordinary Ukrainians, MPs, industrialists, and farmers just can’t live without economic relations with Russia. And it would be good to figure out who is behind this well-paid delivery of fakes to Ukrainian media. In fact, there aren’t that many options,” Detektor Media sums up itsinvestigation.

Message spreads to international media

We can only estimate that with the changes in the political leadership of Western countries, calls to lift sanctions against Russia will sound more and more often. In early 2017, OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz visited Ukraine. Together with representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs he visited the front line in Donbas.

A few days later, he gave an interview to Austrian media outlet Osterreich24 in which he said that he wants to change sanctions against Russia from a logic of punishment to a logic of incentives.

“For each positive development on the ground, a partial withdrawal of the sanctions is to take place. That would be a clear signal to Russia,” said the minister.

Photo from Sebastian Kurz’s visit to Ukraine. Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The interview to Austrian media outlet Osterreich24 is real, unlike his alleged calls for Russian-Western unity broadcast by RT-Ruptly TV, which were debunked by StopFake.

Similar views were voiced by Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk in the end of 2016, whose piece in The Wall Street Journal called “Ukraine Must Make Painful Compromises for Peace With Russia” caused outrage in Ukraine.

Read also: Western media happy to whitewash Ukraine’s corrupt old guard

Edited by: Alya Shandra
Source: detector.media
Source: liga.net

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  • WisconsinUSA

    good catch guys. nip it in the bud before it gets any traction. i beg america to buy ukraine farmers products NOW ! And let them make more of a profit than they would from putin.

  • Mykola Banderachuk

    restore friendship with russia? here are the terms:
    – return Crimea to Ukraine
    – get the russian army out of the Donbass and pay for all the physical damage caused by russian invasion there
    – for all the dead civilians the russian army killed pay compensation to the famiies of the dead about $2,000,000 USD/per person will do just fine
    – admit to the shootdown of mh17 and pay compensation to the families of the dead-again $2,000,000 per person wil do just fine
    – pay reparations for all the dead caused by the Holodomor – compensation at $5,000,000 per person
    – recognize the international border between Ukraine and Russia by paying for the wall that will demarcate this border.
    – as further proof of the above statement give Ukraine 400 nuclear tipped missiles as a sign of good faith of your comittment to this friendship.
    – extradite the so-called leadership of the lpr and dpr for trial in Ukraine for treason.
    These are just a few points that come to mind at this moment – there are many others.

    • http://maidanpress.com/ Poposhenko

      Wake up Mykola, school starts:). Not too much dreaming, Bro, better work hard for a better future than chasing dreams.

      • veth

        And bring Hitler Russia down!

      • Tony

        Then forget about Ukrainian friendship, its just a dream as long as russia keeps acting uncivilized.

      • Mykola Potytorsky

        it is called the art of the deal.

      • Mykola Potytorsky

        I know what works is, trouble is Russia does not – it just destroys and spews nonsense admittedly a lot of it is hilarious. this friendship thing they are spewing is comedy gold.

    • Randolph Carter

      Mykola, I like it but I bet Russia doesn’t have anywhere near that amount of cash. Maybe if you add “…raised by confiscation of oligarchy money…” it might help. Throw in “total elimination of debt from Gazprom and unconditional, unlimited supply of LNG to Ukraine as first in line” and someone in Moscow will sit up and take notice.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        It doesn’t matter where Dwarfstan gets the cash from- that’s Moscow’s problem. Payment to be in US $$$$, of course, not in worthless rubbles.

    • Tony

      Good points, heres some necessary additions:
      – russian National apology for Donbas, Holodomor, Tatar genocide and Crimea
      – Jailing of political forces that promoted Donbas&Crimea hybrid wars, starting with Putin.
      – Changing russian education textbooks to report on russias genocide’s and internationally illegal actions under previous governments.

      With all that, russia would be well on its way to become a normal civilized country instead of a bandit.

      As for russian investment, they are already investing in Ukraine by paying for propaganda, the trick is to simply accept their bribes while ignoring them and reporting them to the SBU.
      Besides, despite everything Ukraine’s GDP grew 2% last quarter in annual terms while russias shrank like 0.4%, so little point in looking towards them for economic progress.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      A few more points:
      – Dwarfstan to pay life pensions for widows of Ukrainian soldiers, plus for the education and maintenance of their children up to completion of university..
      -Ditto for civilians.
      – Full disability pensions for Ukrainian soldiers and civilians wounded as a result of Dwarfstan’s aggression.
      – extradite Yanukovich, Azarov and Co for trial.
      – extradite ALL members of the Berkut who fled to Dwarfstan for trial.
      – extradite ALL former Ukrainian soldiers who turned traitor in the Crimea and Donbas for trial.
      – hand over ALL assets in Dwarfstan of the persons to be extradited to the Ukrainian government.
      – Dwarfstan to fully and permanently demilitarise a strip of at least 100 km wide along the frontier with the Ukraine. No military installations of any kind are to be permitted within this zone, nor any military units to be stationed there.

  • Randolph Carter

    Hmm…restore friendship with Russia. Yes, I want friendship with someone who killed over 10,000 of my people who were protecting their homes, families and sovereign rights. Someone who caused 260,000 people to leave their homes, jobs, and friends just to stay alive. Someone who subverted and then claimed a major portion of my land as “traditionally” his. Someone who relentlessly persecuted the people who lived there, forbade them from speaking in Ukrainian and following their own religion and insisted on Russian language and Russian religion (do they even have one?) Someone whose avowed goal was to dissolve my home completely and merge it into his own horribly mismanaged and corrupt oligarchy. Someone who shot down a civilian plane being flown by a friendly nation and was 50 km from the border. Someone who randomly takes civilians and “maybe” tells their families that they are in prisoners and in need of “psychiatric treatment”. Someone who is a psychotic megalomaniac whose goal is to be “friends” with everybody (neglecting to mention that their systems of government, religion, language, commerce, and even possessions will be taken from them), someone who has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world.

    Yep, sounds like a nice guy to me. Maybe I’ll take him into the woods for “target practice”. But, like all of the above, I neglected to mention that he’s the target and I have a lot of friends in the woods. Nah, he’s a smart guy; he’ll find out on his own.

  • zorbatheturk

    Putin has a strange way of making friends. More Hitleresque than Dale Carnegie.

    Putin’s friendly overtures should be met with a storm of steel.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    The dwarf can forget about the Ukrainians “needing” Dwarfstan. Trade with Dwarfstan is slowly but surely becoming less relevant as Ukrainian companies switch to trade with others, a process accelerated by the dwarf’s boycotting of Ukrainian products. Antonov is but one example. It obtained many parts from Dwarfstanian subcontractors, but is steadily switching to subcontractors in the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, South Korea and China. This switch will be completed by the end of this year. End result: no sales to Antonov, less work, increased unemployment, less money for Dwarfstan’s aircraft industry and ultimately for Dwarfstan’s treasury and the offshore bank accounts of the dwarf and his crooked chums.
    And who would want to be “friends” with Dwarfstan anyway after it has illegally invaded and occupied part of the Ukraine, devastated another part and wages an aggressive war with the aim of making Ukrainians Moscow’s slaves again???
    Some “friendship”!