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Kremlin conducts special operation to discredit Zelenskyy – WP

Friday, 16 February 2024, 20:47
Kremlin conducts special operation to discredit Zelenskyy – WP
Vladimir Putin and his spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Photo: Getty Images

Sergey Kiriyenko, First Deputy Head of the Administration of the Russian president, has organised a defamation campaign against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy going on since early 2023 in an attempt to affect the military-political leadership of Ukraine.

Source: The Washington Post with reference to documents of the Kremlin provided by a special service of one of European countries, as reported by European Pravda

Details: Kiriyenko started organising the defamation campaign after the successful offensive of Ukrainian forces in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts. The campaign has been aimed in two directions: one targets Europe, the other destabilises Ukraine.

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The key objectives of the campaign, according to the documents of the Kremlin, are defamation of military and political leadership of Kyiv, a split in the Ukrainian elite, demoralisation of the Ukrainian troops and "disorientation of the Ukrainian population". Social media, mainly Telegram, were chosen for spreading the disinformation in Ukraine. Openly pro-Russian narratives were deliberately avoided.

The Kremlin strategists aimed to lower the ratings of Zelenskyy’s team, the government and the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as increase the number of dismissals and conflicts in the Ukrainian leadership. It was also planned to overestimate the losses of the Ukrainian forces.

Kiriyenko’s strategists assessed their progress with the level of coverage on social media and their own surveys in Ukraine, though it is not clear how these surveys were conducted. For instance, the promotion of posts about "the possibility Valerii Zaluzhnyi may become the next president of Ukraine" or that "Zelenskyy is clinging to his position of power" by the Kremlin were mentioned in the material.

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The "European" direction of the campaign first and foremost made sure the Western media articles entered Ukraine, as stated in the documents. A part of this was Operation Doppelganger, within which Russia created copies of European governments websites and media outlets, was uncovered last year.

Meanwhile, so far even the Kremlin’s own polls did not show that this campaign has achieved the desired effect: Zelenskyy’s ratings did fall, but did not plummet.

Nevertheless, a source in European intelligence told WP that "the most difficult times are ahead. Russia survived and they are preparing a new campaign which consists of three main directions: first, pressure on the front line; second, attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure; and third, this destabilisation campaign."

The source of WP is also concerned about the potential influence of deepfakes which have been promoted in the Ukrainian segment since the beginning of the year. Even though they have had no significant influence so far there are concerns that this was only a part of the Kremlin testing the new technology.

Background:

Last year The Washington Post explained how Russia was enhancing its efforts to undermine the French support for Kyiv.

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