Pro-Russian, ruling party Ukrainian politicians promote Telegram channels of Russia’s special services

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Hybrid War

Some Ukrainian media figures and politicians have been actively disseminating information from anonymous Telegram channels allegedly run or controlled by Russia’s intelligence services, according to the Ukrainian news agency Liga.

These include not only the usual pro-Russian figures, but also MPs from President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party.

As Ukraine’s security service SBU links those channels to Russia, these well-known Ukrainians contribute to invalidating Ukraine’s bid to reduce the Russian influence in the country.

Some of such public figures cite Telegram channels purposefully, for ideological and propaganda reasons, while others do it in an effort to earn political points. Besides openly pro-Russian figures, both categories have legislators from the ruling party, Servant of the People (SoP), Liga says.

Anonymous Telegram channels for shaping pro-Russian public opinion

Back in 2020, Texty.org.ua published their research exposing pro-Russian messages on Telegram channels and their influence on MPs from the president’s Servant of the People’s party. Following the publication, the journalist who was behind the investigation faced a coordinated threat campaign

Telegram: the Russian messaging app at the heart of a major influence operation in Ukraine

Later, in February 2021, the SBU reported that it had uncovered a large spy network of the Russian military intelligence GRU, which promoted narratives beneficial to Russia in Ukraine through anonymous Telegram channels. The Agency mentioned a number of such channels, among which were “Легитимный” (‘the legitimate one,’ 228,000 subscribers), “Резидент” (‘resident,’ 173,000 subscribers), “Картель” (‘cartel,’ 56,400 subscribers), “Сплетница” (‘gossip girl,’ 56,000 subscribers), and several smaller channels. Most of such channels offer allegedly insider information and gossip from the Ukrainian political stage, others are openly anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian.

Additionally, the content analysis carried out by Liga showed that some other Telegram channels were also disseminating pro-Russian narratives.

Pro-Russian media figures and politicians

Among the most popular Ukrainian pro-Russian public figures on Telegram is Anatoliy Shariy, whose channel has 284,000 subscribers.

He hides in the EU, which wasn’t an obstacle for him to remotely register his namesake party in Ukraine, which even won 2,2% of votes at the 2019 parliamentary elections. The result was way below the 5% election threshold, although the party could have received state funding.

Both Shariy and his wife Olga have been under the sanctions of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.

Liga notes that in January 2022 alone, Shariy reposted materials from the channel of Russian Foreign Ministry Speaker Maria Zakharova five times. The anonymous channels The Legitimate One and Gossip Girl got more than 40 Shariy’s mentions in 2021. In total, since creating his channel, Shariy shared 420 posts from the exposed channels. Another 246 reposts were provided by the channel of Shariy’s wife Olga.

Another prominent “retransmitter” of GRU messages is MP Vadym Rabynovych, who has only 3,170 subscribers but has managed to share 370 posts from the exposed channels.

Maksym Nazarov (real name: Nazar Diorditsa, 58,000 subscribers), a host on pro-Russian TV channel Nash, has been also actively reposting the Russian. Liga found 150 reposts of his from the GRU-linked channels. Moreover, Ukrainian media watchdog Detector Media regularly records anti-West messages pushed by TV channel Nash, while Nazarov himself periodically recommends subscribing to a number of anonymous Telegram channels, including The Legitimate One and Resident.

Olena Lukash, former MP from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, shared 69 such posts on her Telegram channel with more than 30,000 of her subscribers. Other Yanukovych’s ex-MPs, Mykhaylo Dobkin (25,000+ subs) and Olena Bondarenko (10,000+) reposted 22 and 7 messages from GRU channels respectively.

In January 2022, former host of the NewsOne TV channel Diana Panchenko began promoting her Telegram channel, in which she reposts several anonymous Telegram channels, including Gossip Girl, and Шептун (‘whisperer’). The latter, according to the Center for Combating Disinformation with the National Security and Defense Council, actively cites pro-Kremlin propagandists and is part of a pro-Russian network of Telegram channels.

MPs from Zelenskyy’s party

The leader among the Servant of the People MPs who disseminate the messages from the exposed Russia-linked Telegram channels is Maksym Buzhanskyi (37,000 subscribers), who regularly discusses the materials from such channels as channels Resident, The Legitimate One, Dark Knight. He reposted a total of 146 such messages.

Another MP from Zelenskyy’s party who likes to get involved in discussions with the anonymous channels is Parliament’s tax committee chairman Danylo Getmantsev:

“He calls the Resident channel “colleagues”, and apologizes before The Legitimate One apologizes for mistakes,” Liga says.

In total, Hetmantsev mentioned the exposed channels 16 times.

Other SoP MPs who repost GRU channels are Yuliia Hryshyna and Oleksandr Kachura.

The active reposters of the exposed Russian Telegram channels among former members of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction are Artem Dmytruk (4,100 subs) and Oleksandr Dubinskyi (about 65,000 subs).

MP Dmytruk “was actively advertised on the largest of such channels, in particular on The Legitimate One, in 2020.”

“There is a question to the power vertical. First, the SBU marks the channels as pro-Russian, it is discussed at the level of the National Security and Defense Council, and then deputies from the pro-government force actually don’t give a fig about it and continue to give them media support. So it’s not a priority for the government. Such casuistry shows a lack of coordination and logic,” PR consultant Andriy Kovalenko, who researches Russian propaganda in Telegram, told Liga.

Among the pro-Russian public figures and MPs from Zelenskyy’s party also was Ihor Mosiychuk (about 5,500 subscribers), the former deputy of Verkhovna Rada from Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, who reposted 132 messages from the GRU channels, according to Liga.

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