What Italian, German, and French Online Media Tell about Russia’s War against Ukraine, and the Impact of Russian Propaganda

Based on the monitoring carried out by the Ukrainian social startup LetsData in partnership with the Detector Media NGO, the Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security has analysed the media landscape of Italy, Germany, and France from July 1 to 29 to find out the influence of Russian propaganda in these countries regarding coverage of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Publications containing references to Ukraine are collected in real time in the original language and processed with the help of artificial intelligence components.

Which pro-Kremlin media are most commonly cited by Italian, German, and French online media? 

In the first half of July, TASS and RIA Novosti were most often cited by online media in Italy, Germany and France. 

However, it should be noted that the percentage of publications referencing Ukraine and citing Kremlin-backed media was low, staying at or under 4.2% in each of the countries. For instance:

  • in Italy — 1.7% (July 1-14) and 0.05% (July 15-29); 
  • in France — 2.5% (July 1-14) and 0.09% (July 15-29);
  • in Germany — 4.21% (July 1-14) and 0% (July 15-29). 

When comparing the data for July 1-14 and July 15-29, we also see the heterogeneity of cited media, which indicates a lack of preference for specific Kremlin media in these countries. In addition, in the period from July 15 to 29, no citations of the Kremlin media were noted in Germany.

What is Russia’s war against Ukraine called, and how are Ukrainian cities transliterated?

During July, among the online media of the three countries, France and Italy promoted toxic language about Ukraine the most. The monitoring for July 1-14 found that toxic vocabulary was most commonly used in France (33.17% of all publications about Ukraine), and in the next two weeks — in Italy (8.07%).  Also, the overall percentage of use of toxic vocabulary during July 15-29 is lower in each of the studied countries compared to the previous period.

Among all the toxic names to denote Russia’s against Ukraine, the online media of all three countries used the word “conflict” most often. The “Ukrainian crisis” was used less often, on the other hand, and was observed only in the first half of July in France and Italy.

In addition, the online media of the studied countries often incorrectly transliterated the names of Ukrainian cities and regions. For example, this applies to Kyiv, Odesa and the Donbas. Their transliteration reproduces Russian spelling instead of Ukrainian. 

What do Italy, Germany, and France write about Russia’s war against Ukraine? 

Between July 1 and 29, online media of Italy, Germany, and France covered Russia’s war crimes against Ukraine, the sanctions and their consequences, peace talks, and the support of Ukraine. The tone and content of messages on these topics were sometimes positive for Ukraine, and sometimes reproduced Russian narratives.

Russia’s war crimes against Ukraine

The shelling of the former penal colony in Olenivka, Donetsk oblast, by the Russian military on July 28, while it was used by the occupiers as a place of detention of Ukrainian prisoners of war, received a lot of publicity. For example, on July 29, the number of publications about Ukraine in German online media increased to 1,202 materials and was the highest figure for July.

The Russian missile attack on the center of Vinnytsia on July 14 was on the agenda of French online media.

By the way, French media cited Ukrainian representatives on this subject, particularly Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Dmytro Kuleba. This is a positive indicator (even though it does not represent a general trend), since we have previously explained that citing Russia’s representatives or the Kremlin media is one of the ways of Russian narratives permeating into the Western information environment. 

German online media also focus on Russian war crimes. In July, they mentioned torture and abductions of civilians in the occupied territories, as well as shelling of the Odesa seaport by Russian troops despite the grain deal. 

Sanctions against Russia and their consequences

The narrative about the negative consequences of sanctions for European countries did not lose its popularity in July in the online media of all three countries. In particular, they focused on the increase in energy prices and tariffs. At the same time, French online media wrote about the intensification of sanctions and Russia’s growing isolation

Russia’s war against Ukraine and peace negotiations

In the first half of July, “proposals for peace talks” gained popularity in Germany. We have previously pointed out this trend in European countries. In particular, the narrative was dominant in the same period not only in Germany, but also in Hungary and Austria.

In German online media, calls for peace talks tend to appear through quotes by former Federal Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schröder.

Support of Ukraine in its war with Russia 

In each of the studied countries, there were also productive narratives concerning assistance to Ukraine in its war against Russia. For example, Italian online media had materials describing humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine.

French online media also focused, as mentioned above, on the implementation of sanctions.

German online media also contained materials about the call, particularly by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to increase the supply of weapons.

The presence of mostly productive narratives about military aid to Ukraine is a good indicator, since the topic itself is not too widespread in the media of Western countries. For example, the number of publications on military aid in Europe from July 1 to 14 and from July 15 to 29 amounted to no more than 800 publications in each of the studied periods. For reference, the topic of Ukraine’s European integration in each of these periods had more than 7 thousand publications.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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