Section 6 from “Old Wine in a New Bottle: Russia’s Modernization of Traditional Soviet Information Warfare and Active Policies Against Ukraine and Ukrainians”.
by Taras Kuzio, the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Kyiv, Ukraine
Russian information warfare has targeted five areas since the Euromaidan Revolution:
- (1) Ukraine is unable to introduce reforms;
- (2) Corruption remains widespread;
- (3) Oligarchs remain in control;
- (4) Ukraine is an undemocratic state; its elections are not democratic, and the outcome is dictated by the country’s Western controllers;
- (5) European integration is a myth.
Russia media attacks on Ukraine’s 2019 presidential elections wavered between describing Ukraine as going back to its ‘Nazi past’ or being stuck in its chauvinistic present and sinking into a ‘banana republic’.81 The outcome of the election was determined by the West, a staple of Russian information warfare aimed at promoting an image of a Ukraine without sovereignty:
The disinformation messages about the Western orchestration of Ukrainian poli- tics starting with the Euromaidan have become a staple of pro-Kremlin media. Now, they are urgently recycled in the run-up to the election. All this to support a larger narrative that the democratic choice of the people is an illusion and to question the sovereignty of Ukraine.82
Russia’s myths of Ukraine’s elections included the old canards of Ukraine being an authoritarian system where Poroshenko was jailing his critics; he is a ‘dictator’ who was changing the constitution to stay in power, with most Ukrainians not believing the elections will be fair. Meanwhile, Ukraine was dancing to instruc- tions sent by Washington. Evidence of Poroshenko’s undemocratic nature was his banning of Russian election observers.
Russia’s information warfare targeted the legitimacy of Ukraine’s 2019 elections and supported anybody but Poroshenko winning them. The main aims of this information warfare were to sow Ukrainian distrust in the democratic process and show that nothing was functioning because Ukraine is a failed state ruled by Americans from Washington who support Poroshenko because he is their pawn.83 The EU disinformation unit analyzed nearly 10 million posts on the Russian social network VKontakte, which showed widespread negative coverage about Poroshenko: 68 percent of messages on VKontakte about Poroshenko were strongly negative and derogatory, with him being labeled a Russophobe, a ‘bloody Ukrainian confectioner’, ‘the worst president’, and ‘the chocolate Fuehrer’, among many other insults.84 Poroshenko was ready to do anything to stay in power, and toward this end he was even able to make people standing close to him become unconscious so they would do his bidding.
After Poroshenko was defeated in the second round, Russian messaging changed to Washington not allowing Poroshenko to win, as he was leading the United States into a war with Russia. Russia’s information warfare showed its lack of understanding of democracy and its unwillingness to accept how different Ukraine and Ukrainians were to them. While the EU, US, and international organizations praised Ukraine’s elections as one of its most democratically organized, the Russian media claimed it was ‘The dirt- iest and most dishonest in Ukraine’s history’.85 Pavel Baev writes:86
What the Kremlin cannot accept — and also cannot fail to see — is that post- Euromaidan Ukraine has taken a major step forward in consolidating its statehood and upholding national unity, despite the great diversity of domestic positions and preferences. The Ukrainian public’s angry disapproval of the hypocrisy of ruling elites and its refusal to tolerate corruption, which have shaped the content of these elections, are delivering Ukraine closer to Europe — more so than any association agreements with the European Union ever could on its own. Russian aggression continues to be a grave threat and heavy burden for Ukraine, but it has failed to push Ukrainian society into dismay and disunity; rather, it propels the partly dismembered but resolutely undefeated country westward, along the hard road toward its European future.
Russia also denigrated Ukraine’s elections because Moscow did not like the outcome of the elections with pro-Russian Yuriy Boyko coming in fourth in round one with only 11.67 percent. The low popularity of pro-Russian forces is an outgrowth of Russia’s support for a violent crackdown on the Euromaidan Revolution, which led to the disintegration of the Party of Regions and military aggression against Ukraine, which placed 16 percent of Ukrainian voters and 27 election districts in Russian-occupied territories.87
81‘“Ukraine Will Turn Into a Banana Republic”: Ukrainian Elections on Russian TV’, EU Disinformation Review, 2 April 2019, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/ukraine-will-turn-into-a-banana-republic-ukrainian-elections-on-russian-tv/.
82‘Fatal Distraction’, EU Disinformation Review, 14 March 2019, https://mailchi.mp/euvsdisinfo/dr140-881205?e=16eb39ac8e.
83P. Felgenhauer, ‘Moscow Hopes Ukrainian President Poroshenko Will Finally Be Ousted’, Eurasia Daily Monitor 16 (4 April 2019), https://jamestown.org/program/moscow-hopes-ukrainian-president-poroshenko-will-finally-be-ousted/.
84‘Figure of the Week: 68’, EU Disinformation Review, 2 April 2019, https://euvsdisinfo.eu/figure-of-the-week-68/.
85‘Ukraina na biulletene’, Rossiyskaya Gazeya, 31 March 2019, https://rg.ru/2019/03/31/kak-prohodili-vybory-prezidenta-na-ukraine.html.
86P. Baev, ‘Ukrainian Elections Challenge Putin’s Autocracy’, Eurasia Daily Monitor 16 (1 April 2019), https://jamestown.org/program/ukrainian-elections-challenge-putins-autocracy/.
87 D’Anieri, ‘Gerrymandering Ukraine? Electoral Consequences of Occupation’, East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 33 (February 2019) pp. 89–108.
Taras Kuzio firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Political Science
National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy
2 Skovoroda Street
The opinions expressed in this Blog page are not necessarily those of British-Ukrainian Aid.