Attitude, Manipulation, and Lies. How Russian Propaganda Reacted to Zelenskyy’s Visit to the USA 

Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the USA has important symbolic and practical significance. The President’s speech to the American Congress, a meeting in the White House, statements at a joint press conference with POTUS Biden, as well as the decision made the day before on another package of military aid, which includes a battery of Patriot air defence systems, are all unambiguous signals about the joint position of the United States and Ukraine and readiness to expand cooperation.     

Russian propaganda could not ignore such an important information opportunity, no matter how unpleasant they found it. Kremlin media, propagandists, anonymous Telegram channels and officials tried, as usual, to discredit the leaders of Ukraine and the USA. But it was clearly not easy for them to find new arguments. So, they engaged their arsenal of usual messages about “external management,” Ukraine being “a puppet of the West,” the US’ “interest” in prolonging the war, Ukraine’s “unwillingness to negotiate,” and “peaceful nature” of Russians themselves.

The Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security collected key Russian fakes and manipulations about the visit of the President of Ukraine to the United States. 

To Washington via Bakhmut: Conspiracy theory on Telegram

On the eve of his visit to Washington, Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk oblast, which is currently the site and target of the fiercest hostilities.

This trip has an important symbolic meaning and is inextricably linked with the further route of the head of state. Zelenskyy sent clear signals to both Ukrainian society and Western partners: he is the president of a country at war and defends it side by side with his fellow citizens. The handover of a flag signed by soldiers from the frontline to the US Congress connected the two visits, demonstrating that freedom is a shared value for Ukrainians and Americans. 

Anonymous Russian Telegram channels (some of them pretending to be Ukrainian) made a conspiratorial insinuation about a “staged” picture, which was filmed either in Donetsk oblast (but far from the front line), or even in a studio with a green screen.

Annoyed and outright rude. Response of official representatives of the regime

Official representatives of the Russian authorities did not hide their irritation. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin does not expect anything positive (for itself) from Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington, once again accusing Ukraine of not wanting to sit down at the negotiating table (on Russian terms) and expressing dissatisfaction with the fact that the United States is expanding military aid to Ukraine. 

The spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, resorted to frank rudeness, as she usually does, calling the President of Ukraine a “son of a bitch.” She was probably trying to recreate a quote attributed to the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. The latter allegedly commented on the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza saying: “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” But Zakharova was unable to explain the context, and most of the media cited the statement as an ordinary insult.

Lies and manipulations. Stories invented by Kremlin propaganda

The Russian information coverage of Zelenskyy’s visit to the United States was full of fakes, manipulations, baseless statements and outright fabrications. The following messages were most actively distributed:

1. “Zelenskyy went to the USA to ask for money, and the Americans want to deceive him.” Propagandists claim that the situation in Ukraine is catastrophic, and only American money can save the situation. Biden understands this and is trying to “pressure” Zelenskyy and force him to make concessions to the Kremlin so that the situation does not go “too far” and the United States is not drawn into the war. At the same time, Zelenskyy and Ukraine are depicted as puppets that Washington is pitting against Russia. Propaganda especially focused on the “weapons lobby,” depicting it as almost the main beneficiary of the war. 

2. “Zelenskyy is ready to make concessions to Putin, which Biden also supports.” In addition to outright conspiracy theories about the content of non-public conversations between the presidents of Ukraine and the USA, propagandists resorted to searching for non-verbal “signals” at the joint press conference. Zelenskyy’s “affirmative nod” during Biden’s words about the search for a “fair peace” became the story of the day for Russian media. Propagandists portrayed this gesture as proof of the Ukrainian president’s openness to dialogue with Russia (apparently, on the Kremlin’s terms).

3. “The meeting of the presidents is an attempt to divert attention from domestic problems.” Propagandists claimed that Biden and the Democrats, with the help of Ukraine, are trying to shift the public’s attention to a “faraway war”. And Zelenskyy urgently flew out of Ukraine, allegedly in order to shift responsibility for the “planned surrender” of Bakhmut to the military.

4. “The main message of this disinformation campaign was the assertion that Zelenskyy did not achieve the goal of his visit to the United States.” 

The stories about the “failed visit” look frankly false, because in reality everything is precisely the opposite. 

  1. The meeting of the presidents of the two states demonstrated that the US is determined to support Ukraine in its struggle for freedom. The reaction of the Congress to the speech of the Ukrainian leader was also telling. Zelenskyy tried to convey a clear message to American citizens that aid to Ukraine is not charity, but an investment in global security.
  2. After the negotiations, Zelenskyy and Biden clearly articulated that they have no illusions about Putin and Russia, nor are they considering territorial concessions. The USA and Ukraine demonstrate openness in external relations and act as a united front on the international arena. 
  3. The USA has confirmed its readiness to strengthen support for Ukraine. On the eve of Zelenskyy’s visit, the US State Department officially announced a new package worth almost $2 billion, which includes the Patriot air defence system.

So, the visit of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the USA — the first foreign visit of the Ukrainian leader since the beginning of the full-scale invasion — confirmed the openness and seriousness of the two countries’ intentions, and also became a powerful signal for other countries. Both for the European partners of Ukraine and the USA on the one hand, and for Russia and its satellites on the other. 

Therefore, not being able to turn the situation around in their favour, the Russians are trying to create their own virtual reality through propaganda, in which there is no place for Kremlin defeats. 

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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