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Ukraine’s elections declared ‘rigged’ by country that knows President’s name years in advance

29.03.2019
Halya Coynash

In the country which knew that Vladimir Putin would ‘win’ the 2018 presidential elections back in 2012 (or earlier), concern is high about election fraud. In Ukraine.  A monitoring report by the media watchdog Detector Media has found a high focus on Ukraine in over half of Russia’s TV talk shows, with most pushing the idea that the imminent presidential elections will be rigged. 

After hours of selfless sacrifice in front of Russian talk shows, DM journalist Yaroslav Zubchenko was able to report that Ukraine was discussed in 60% of three Russian mainstream talk shows between 14 January and 17 March 2019.  Three messages were most often pushed:

the claim that Ukraine was being controlled by the Western (68% of the shows);

the idea that ‘Nazism’ is thriving in Ukraine (64%);

the Ukrainian elections will be rigged (55%).  He heard calls to refuse to recognize the election results, although these results, unlike in Russia, remain entirely uncertain.

There were other favourites, including stories about Ukraine’s supposedly repressive regime and restrictions on freedom of speech. 

The monitoring found that the presenters and guests on such talk shows do everything to denigrate Ukraine’s authorities, while praising the Ukrainian people.  28% of the programs pushed the idea of Russians and Ukrainians being ‘brotherly peoples’.  If mention of the Ukrainian government and leaders prompts talk of Russophobia; Nazis; claims that Ukraine’s leaders want war, that they are corrupt; that they’re stupid or traitors, ‘the people’ are described as ‘brotherly’ (28%); kindly disposed towards Russia; peace-loving; kind and intelligent.

The term ‘Ukrainian people’ should be qualified, however, since the programs try to dehumanize both the Ukrainian Army, and activists.  The latter get dubbed ‘Nazis’ and ‘Bandera-supporting dregs’, with the idea pushed that western Ukrainians are foisting their respect for the national leader Stepan Bandera and trying to stifle ‘Russian’ historical memory, and all those who don’t agree with them.  Key themes concern supposed  ‘Russophobia’ and the idea that the country is deeply divided.

There are regularly calls to invade Ukraine, to retake what is purportedly “primordially Russian’ land and / or to ‘denazify Kyiv’. 

Such messages are also used to push the idea that the occupied territory in Donbas will never come under Ukrainian government control again, and, indeed, the report suggests that the talk shows do everything to get people on occupied territory to hate Ukraine.

It should be stressed that in all areas which were seized by Russian and pro-Russian militants in 2014, Ukrainian TV channels were blocked or replaced by Russian immediately.  Since then, a large number of Ukrainian Internet sites have also been blocked. 

The militants expended enormous effort on scaring the population into believing that the Ukrainian Army would carry out reprisals.  A monitoring mission which visited Krasny Lyman several months after the militants had been driven out was told by residents that they had expected ‘purges’; arrests; repression from the Ukrainian armed forces. The ‘purge’ was confined to a simple viewing of flats, without even checking documents, and the first day of Sloviansk’s liberation began with free sausages being handed out.  These sorts of reports are never mentioned in occupied Donbas, or on Russian television, and it seems likely that the same scare tactics are now also applied.

In monitoring earlier in March, Zubchenko detailed some of the rhetoric used on Russian talk shows to discredit the Ukrainian elections.  There were claims they would be rigged, that votes would be bought, that the US State Department would ‘appoint the Ukrainian President’ and that if something went wrong, the current President Petro Poroshenko would simply “set Donbas alight”.

Zubchenko points out that neither the presenters nor the guests on these programs even suggest for a second that the elections could be fair.  Such priming of the viewers of the aggressor state is quite logical, he says, when the Russian leadership don’t know what kind of relations they will have with the new Ukrainian administration, nor whether they will even recognize the elections. 

Presumably that all depends on who wins.  Certainly Roman Tsymbalyuk, UNIAN correspondent in Moscow, reports that the Russian media do everything that they can to discredit Poroshenko. 

Putin made it clear shortly after Russia’s attack on three Ukrainian naval boats in the Kerch Strait, and seizure of 24 Ukrainian prisoners of war that he would not even speak with Poroshenko, claiming that this was so as to not take part in the latter’s election campaign.  There has been no movement at all on exchanges of prisoners in Donbas, or the release of Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners and POWs, quite likely because the Kremlin knows that this would help the current President. 

How much Russia has done to actively influence the presidential elections should be the subject of separate investigation.  Zubchenko’s monitoring did not find any particular candidate, expect Yuri Boiko, who has effectively no chance of winning, who was positively pushed. 

The monitoring focused only on talk shows, however all the themes will be familiar to anybody following Russian state-controlled media from 2014.  See, for example,

Blood on their Hands: Servicing Russia’s TV Propaganda Machine

The messages which the state media was supposed to push were largely the same as now, even including vote-rigging, although the latter was rather specific.  The negligible support which the far-right candidates gained in Ukraine’s last presidential elections, in May 2014, was clearly so gallingly at odds with Russia’s narrative that Russia’s First Channel tried to claim that ‘Right Sector’ had really won, but that this was being concealed.

Many of the persistent themes have been pushed with the use of fake ‘separatist’ organizations, protests or fake phosphorous bombs (using footage from another time and country altogether).   Two Ukrainians are currently on trial, charged over a large number of incidents, many purporting to be ‘anti-Semitic’ with the prosecution asserting that they were carried out for money.

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