Telegram for “Sluga”. How the Telegram channels allegedly managed from Russia affect the Rada performance
We have analyzed the content of the favorite telegrams-channels of the Members of Parliament (MP) of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction for the period from September 1, 2019 to April 1, 2020, to define how more than 10 thousand messages could influence the decisions in the Verkhovna Rada.
The Teksty asked the MPs of the Servant of the People faction, who were elected to the Parliament under the party lists, to name a list of the five favorite political telegram channels. Many refused to answer this question. A few agreed to voice their "top 5" after long persuasions щn condition of anonymity: saying, "I might be misunderstood” or "I am ashamed to confess."
Having analyzed the answers of the Sluga MPs, we found out that the favorite political channels on the "telegram" (so-called telegrams) are:
- anonymous telegram channel "Legitimate" (the content testifies it is managed from the Russian Federation);
- anonymous telegram channel "Resident" ( (the content testifies it is managed from the Russian Federation);
- anonymous telegram channel "Dark Knight";
- telegram channel of the Sluga MP Maxim Buzhansky "Max Buzhansky";
- telegram channel of the Sluga MP Oleksandr Dubinsky "Dubinsky.pro".
In particular, those channels were listed by the first deputy chairman of the parliamentary faction of the Servant of the People Oleksandr Korniienko.
photo collage from the telegram channel "Dark Knight". One of the favorite ways to discredit high-ranking officials is to accuse them of unconventional orientation. For example, the Dark Knight has repeatedly called names Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, Head of the State Customs Service Maksym Nefyodov, Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka and Head of NABU Artem Sytnyk
“For me the “Dubinsky.pro” channel is a litmus test for the vote of the faction, and given the reposts of Buzhanskyi’s and others (telegram channel "Max Buzhanskyi" and other channels - Ed.) I cover more than one channels of alleged "influence", which clearly trace some of the political preferences of my colleagues, the chairman of the subcommittee on digital infrastructure, electronic communications and smart infrastructure of the parliamentary committee on digital transformation Alexander Fediienko explains his interest in the telegram channel.
At the same time Serhiy Hryvko, a member of the parliamentary committee on social policy and protection of veterans' rights, fully trusts the “Dubinsky.pro” telegram channel and considers it a “source of exclusive information”.
MPs of the Servant of the People faction Oleksandr Dubinsky (pictured left) and Maksym Buzhansky run public telegram channels and regularly repost each other
Bohdan Yaremenko, a member of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy, says he reads “Dubinsky.pro” and “The Dark Knight” "only if someone brings it to his attention." At the same time, he says that he is not able to properly assess the telegram channels in terms of the accuracy of the information provided in them.
Even President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted to journalists that he had subscribed to the “Legitimate” and “The Dark Knight” channels. However, he insists that he opened the telegram only a few times and no longer reads anonymous channels, because he saw that there was "general chaos and sur [realism]."
"I have a strong sense that this whole pool (all these "Legitimate "," Residents "," ZeRady" channels, etc.) is not managed in Ukraine. “The Dark Knight is a bastard, but it is our bastard, our native” - shares her vision Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy Yevhenia Kravchuk.
We do not tend to trust intuition, but we believe in the power of content analysis.
Therefore, we have analyzed the content of the favorite telegrams-channels of the MPs of the "Sluga Narodu" for the period from September 1, 2019 to April 1, 2020, to find out how more than 10 thousand messages that could have influenced the decisions in the Verkhovna Rada.
Zelensky is being tested
The target audience of the political telegram channels we studied is not the general public, but the key figures of the state: the President, MPs, government officials and heads of law enforcement agencies. The style of presentation of materials proves this. The authors communicate with their subscribers as colleagues: they often omit official job titles, use professional slang, and do not explain the context. As a result, for a person who is not very interested in politics, messages from telegram channels resemble something between a crossword puzzle and a mindflow.
For example, we open "The Dark Knight" and read: "Today Slava Medyanyk (remind please who he is. - Ed.) approached Arahamia (familiar name. - Ed.) after the vote on the gambling business and started to cheer him up by saying “no worries, we will succeed” - and to accuse Kolomoisky (um, most likely, this is the oligarch Igor Valerievich. - Ed.) that Kolomoysky’s people didn't vote, while he had no clue and didn't check that those were Pavlyuk's people who didn't vote (who is Pavlyuk and who are his people? - Ed. )".
Despite the fact that "The Dark Knight" has more than 100 thousand subscribers, only those who deeply understand the topic (first of all MPs) will instantly understand his message. And who is "off topic" - Google will help.
During fierce information battles for strategic decisions, telegram channels address the President, the Prosecutor General, and the Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine directly. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they threaten, and sometimes they flatter.
As they know that this information will definitely catch the eye of the official. As, first of all, law enforcement agencies constantly monitor the content that concerns the first persons of the state. And secondly, the VIPs themselves cannot restrain their curiosity and not look into the territory of rumors.
For example, in the fall of 2019, telegram channels wrote about a hundred times about the withdrawal of troops in the Donbass. And in all reports, President Zelensky was assured of the need for such a step. Here are just a few examples of information manipulations within telegram channels aimed at the Commander in chief in the fall of 2019:
"It is clear that the civilian population in its 73% is in favor of a peaceful agenda and the disarmament of weapons";
"A tough conversation with ATO veterans should show the general public that Volodymyr Zelensky is no longer a comedian, but the President of Ukraine";
"Poroshenko with the radicals wants to impose war on the whole country to a victorious end. We hope for the strength and patience of Vladimir Zelensky, who is able to bring peace to our country";
"The deployment of troops in Zolote and Petrovsky is the check of the President's weakness"
Perhaps Zelensky, like the residents of the gray zone, thought that after the withdrawal of troops the streets of frontline cities will be quiet. He ordered the troops to withdraw, but the shelling of schools and houses did not stop.
The new challenge on weakness from the authors of telegram channels for the President states: "If Volodymyr Oleksandrovych really wants to become a peacemaker, then let him really make peace in Donbass, even to the detriment of his rating." After all, "people are ready to give Donbass a special status," because "they are tired of blood and senseless war in Donbass."
Good and bad staff
Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential republic. Therefore, aside from passing laws, the Verkhovna Rada has many powers. It can appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and members of the government, the Head of the Security Service, the Head of the National Bank, members of the CEC and other key senior officials in the country. And since the Servant of the People has the majority of votes in parliament, influencing their views means secretly directing political processes.
To get the status of a gray cardinal of Ukrainian politics, you just need to persistently explain to the MPs, who is a good choice and who is not.
For example, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk has been criticized by telegram channels since the first days of his appointment.
"To find any other associate professor in the Economics instead of this idiot Honcharuk - How hard is that?" - the anonymous telegram-channel "The Dark Knight" wrote, persuading the readers he is MP of Servant to the People faction.
While Honcharuk was the Prime Minister, telegram channels have explained to the readers that the Head of Government was a "dumb boy," a "profane," a "loser," a "nit," and so on for 394 times. Honcharuk was positively mentioned in only one case out of every hundred news outlets during the period from September 2019 to April 2020. In a few months of a deadly information attack, the Prime Minister has drowned in negativity - and 240 out of 246 MPs of the Servant of the People faction voted for his resignation.
Having analyzed all the reports about the Heads of law enforcement agencies, we saw that there has not been a single (!) positive report about the the Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka, the Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov and the director of NABU Artem Sytnyk.
A photo collage from a telegram channel mocking Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka for allegedly slowing down the investigation of criminal proceedings involving the fifth President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko
For example, Ryaboshapka was mentioned 264 times and almost always (80% of reports) in a negative light, repeatedly stressing the need for his resignation. According to the administrators of the telegram channels, "the Prosecutor General's Office follows the instructions of the US Embassy, not the President's Office," and "all the cases that Ryaboshapka has been successfully ruining for six months amount billions of hryvnias." Strong accusations were usually made without any evidence, but with a good portion of selective obscene language.
As a result, 171 MPs from the Servant of the People faction voted for Ryaboshapka's dismissal, and additionally 44 votes from the "Opposition Platform - For Life" (OPZJ) faction.
On election day, the Prosecutor General concluded: "The resolution (votum of no confidence to the Prosecutor General. - Ed.) is based on outright lies. I am not interested in the opinion of Buzhansky (MP from the" Servant of the People "and author of the telegram channel" Max Buzhansky "- Ed.) about the reform of the prosecutor's office. For me, the best assessment is a letter from Kateryna Gandziuk's father… I have not become anyone's servant, I have been and do remain independent. "
Positive reports about the Prosecutor General began to appear only after Iryna Venediktova, a supporter of pro-Russian politician Andrei Portnov, took over Ryaboshapka's chair.
The newly appointed Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova is referred to either in a positive, or in a neutral key in the telegram channels
"Oh, dear chiefs, is it possible to appoint Venediktova both to the positions of the Head of the DBR and the Prosecutor General?" - stated "Max Buzhansky" channel .
"Shabunin, howling on Venediktova appointment, is the best promotion for the new Prosecutor General," “Dubinsky.pro”, “Max Buzhansky” and “Legitimate” channels spoke in unison with a difference of a few minutes.
Currently, information attacks on telegram channels are aimed at the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk. He is constantly called a "corruptor."
"If i were a journalist, I would question Head of the Anti-corruption Committee of the Verkhovna Rada Anastasia Krasnosilska on Sytnyk’s case. Is the committee going to initiate the resignation of NABU director Sytnyk?" - states "The Dark Knight".
"I have prepared an open letter addressed to President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which I inform the President about a glaring fact: the key anti-corruption body in the country - NABU - is run by a corrupt official. I request the President to react and make a legal decision - and to clean the anti-corruption system from the corrupt Sytnyk ", adds “Dubinsky.pro”.
“All foreign media are trumpeting that a corrupt official turned out to be the Head of the anti-corruption agency in Ukraine. Our pro-western oriented media did not even mention it. As if nothing had happened. We hear nothing from Zelensky and the team either, although now is the time to prepare a dismissal decree" - “the Resident” summs up.
We have not found any (!) positive message about Sytnyk during seven months: instead, there was total criticism of him.
The only example of professionalism and efficiency (according to telegrams) is the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov.
He is mostly mentioned neutrally (76% of messages). Negative mentions (only 12% of them) were published by "The Dark Knight". The rest of the telegram channels unanimously call Avakov "the only effective law enforcement officer" and "tough leader" having "strategic abilities" and "hardware thinking."
And the thesis of the telegrams-channels "Legitimate" and "Resident" that "Arsen Avakov demonstrates maximum efficiency on the background of unprofessional government", was later repeated by President Zelensky, when answering questions from MPs of Servant of the People on why he would not dismiss the Minister of Internal Affairs: "He is one of the most effective government officials."
The committee on law enforcement is also in no hurry to consider the decree on the resignation of Arsen Avakov. This committee is headed by Denys Monastyrsky, a MP from the Servant of the People faction. Despite the fact that the appeal was received by the committee on June 11, it was not considered on the merits at two scheduled meetings - June 16 and July 1.
Just like Zelensky, Monastyrsky repeated the same message from the telegram channels: "Most of the Ministers are going to be dismissed soon. Why? Because the ministries have failed within certain areas. This can be said about most ministries. Except one - the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Regarding it we must admit unequivocally: this is one of the strongest ministries ".
And the channels tend to not write anything negative about President Zelensky: allegedly he badly percepts criticism. Psychologists understand that if such a sensitive President is upset once, he will no longer believe the telegram channels. Consequently, he will fall out of the orbit of influence.
About Putin - with love
Favorite telegram channels of the Servant of the People write much more often about Russia (760 mentions) than about the European Union (21) and the West in general (16). In seven months, the word "European integration" appears only five times in 10,000 messages, and "NATO" only three times.
Here is how the "Dark Knight" criticizes the association of Ukraine with the European Union: "In whose personal interests and in the interests of which countries did Ukraine turn wrong in 2013? Who in hell needs this Europe?"
At the same time, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, is mentioned either in neutral (87%) or positive way (12%). After carefully reading more than 10,000 messages that were published from September 2019 to April 2020, we have not found a single (!) negative epithet about Putin on the favorite telegram channels of MPs from the Servants of the People. Instead, he is called a "peacemaker" and a "strategist": "Putin does not put a stick in the wheels of the new government", "Zelensky uses tactics and strategy of Putin”.
In a same neutral manner the channels mention Kremlin.
On top of the tolerant and soft attitude to Russian Federation the Russian-Ukrainian war is referred as “internal Ukrainian conflict”, “Civil war”, “Donbas case”, “Donbas conflict”, “Conflict in the southeastern Ukraine”.
It is worth stressing, that after activists knocked down NSDC Secretary’s adviser Serhiy Sivokho for calling the Russian-Ukrainian war in Donbas an "internal conflict," telegram channels exploded with criticism of disrupting the National Platform for Reconciliation and Unity presentation: "Such a provocation is beneficial to the party of war in Ukraine (they call European Solidarity party so - Ed.), as well as to the "Kremlin clans" who also do not want the rapprochement of Ukraine and Donbass". “This was not Sivokho falling, but all the peace initiatives of Zelensky!”
In the telegram channels analyzed, the support of pro-Russian politicians of Ukrainian origin is extremely vivid. For example, Anatoliy Shariy is mentioned either well (47%) or neutrally (52%). Readers are imposed that Shariy is "very independent", "well doing", "as always, aptly said" and in general "Shariy's party is becoming the only alternative in the center and southeast of the country".
And the anti-Maidan activist and former adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, Andriy Portnov, accused of spying in favor of Russia by “the Peacemaker”, is portrayed as a lawyer regularly paying taxes and giving wise advice to the current authorities, and who therefore is qualified to compete for the post of Prosecutor General: “If Portnov is appointed to the post of Prosecutor General, Lukash to that of a Minister of Justice, Vlashchenko as Minister of Culture, we would not see Yaremenko's correspondence with prostitutes in the news now, "Max Buzhansky” claims.
In the media, we see how pro-Russian rhetoric in the favorite telegrams of the Servant of the People faction leaves a mark in the minds of MPs.
For example, on December 10, 2019, “Legitimate” reveals insider information that Zelensky allegedly agreed with Putin on the direct supply of gas from Russia to Ukraine: “Ukrainian economics and Ukrainian producers will benefit millions of dollars, that will flow to the budget instead of the pockets of intermediaries under the guise of "patriotism" and fictional "energy independence".
On December 25 Oleksiy Ustenko, a 25-year old MP from Servant of People, repeats this phrase “This is economically unprofitable for Ukraine to purchase the same Russian gas but via reverse from Europe”.
The devil is in the details...
Both “Legitimate” and “The Resident” which cover the Russian-Ukrainian relations the most, strongly reject being managed from Russian Federation. Indeed, we have no direct evidence of this.
But who benefits from praising Russia and treating Ukrainian politicians as doormats?
The sensitivity of authors of telegram channels in mentioning Putin, Shariy and Portnov is screaming. Meanwhile they are brave enough to call other politicians such names as:
The Prime Minister of Ukraine Oleksiy Honcharuk - "dumb boy", "nit"; Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Ivan Bakanov - "Ivanushka-fool", "idiot"; Head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk - "alcoholic" and "amoeba".
One may notice the Russian roots of these telegram channels are when turns to details.
Channels "Resident" and "Legitimate" consider the terrorist organizations "Luhansk People's Republic" and "Donetsk People's Republic" the "unrecognized republics". Same as the Russian Wikipedia names them: "Kyiv will fulfill the political part of the Minsk agreements only after the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR) are dissolved," "Ukraine wants to promote the option of this peacekeeping contingent entering immediately L/DNR-Russia border. Unrecognized republics categorically oppose such a "ring", but negotiations are underway”.
Like the Russian media as well as the Russian authorities, neither "Resident" nor "Legitimate" never used the word "terrorist" regarding the representatives of the terrorist organizations "LPR" and "DPR". Instead, they dubbed Stepan Bandera a terrorist, as well as members of pro-Ukrainian radical organizations, and a "Kyiv terrorist on a bridge," Oleksiy Belko who threatened to blow up a bridge in the capital.
The same telegram channels periodically use the Russian - incorrect in Ukrainian - use of the prepositions "in" and "on": "on Ukraine" instead of "in Ukraine", "in Donbass" instead of "at Donbass".
At the same time, it is the incorrect prepositions that give out the fact that the sources cited by telegram channels are Russian. For example, on September 26, "Resident" cites news from the Russian news agency TASS: "Volodymyr Zelensky sent a signal to society that he is ready to resign if there is a Maidan. The second signal is that 80% [of the society] stand for peace in Ukraine and he believes that it is necessary to disband and implement the Minsk agreements".
Those are not isolated cases. Content analysis shows that "Legitimate" and "Resident" refer to Russian sources even when the same news is published by the European media. For example, on October 17, "Legitimate" refers to the site "Yandex.ru": "The UN Monitoring Mission on Ukraine called on MPs of the Verkhovna Rada to initiate the shutdown of the site" Peacemaker ". At the same time TV channel Deutsche Welle states the same news with the same sentence with a correct preposition “in Ukraine”.
The spy is betrayed by details.
We have calculated that more than 40% of the messages of the favorite telegrams-channels of the Servant of the People MPs come with the hashtag #gossip, #inside or refer to an anonymous source. And under the guise of mystery, fakes are born that push MPs to certain actions.
For instance, the “Resident” and “Legitimate” telegram channels claim that their unknown admins or editors magically contact with people from the President's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, the Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other law enforcement agencies.
At the same time, they refer to their sources in the Kremlin, the FSB, Russian intelligence and "higher circles of the L/DNR", who allegedly sell the confidential information from the "Kremlin cuisine" and international negotiations to them. Not a single Russian media can brag on such awareness. But telegram channels are not concerned with this: they exploit the image of informed strangers who, due to their familiar vocabulary, seem like close people, like a notional cousin who works within the Cabinet.
This is how breaking news appears : "our sources in the Kremlin and the Office of the President of Ukraine give an outline of the situation around the Normandy meeting", "our source from the Kremlin reports the details of a phone call between Putin and Macron", "our source is close to the negotiation process." gives us an interesting layout of the situation around the "L/DNR" and the meeting of the "Normandy’s Four".
And, as our poll of MPs showed, none of them can distinguish truth from fake. And this is indeed impossible. We can only demonstrate a few striking examples of high-profile insiders with predictions that never came true and were not confirmed:
- In the fall of 2019, Petro Poroshenko was to organize a coup d'etat in Ukraine ("Legitimate": "On July 13, we gave an outline of Poroshenko's strategy and his tasks, which will include a" coup "in the country at any cost"). We should stress that "Poroshenko's coup" also mentioned in various media "drain tanks".
- In October 2019, Zelensky was to be impeached for allowing the withdrawal of troops on the line of demarcation in the Donbass ("Legitimate": "The situational coalition will move to the second stage ... will launch a message about the impeachment of Zelensky for treason!").
- In the spring of 2020, Artem Sytnyk was to be fired from the position of NABU chairman ("Legitimate": "On December 21, we insided that Sytnyk would be fired in the spring, and he knows it himself").
- The topic of water supply to Crimea was to be decided during an all-Ukrainian referendum (in March, "Legitimate" wrote: "The main message is that our Ukrainians live in Crimea. Ukraine must show them that we are ready to compromise for them"); then this thesis was repeated by the newly appointed Prime Minister Denis Shmygal.
Simple math sometimes helps to disprove the myths of telegram channel administrators.
For example, "Legitimate" wrote that in December 2019, unknown people were to organize 2,000 soldiers with weapons for permanent residence in the village of Zolote on the line of demarcation. At the same time, anonymous authors of the channel claimed that each participant was promised 1-2 thousand dollars a week, and one of the groups of 500 people was headed by the leader of the "Right Sector" Dmytro Yarosh.
And then the "Resident" added: "Our source in the SBU said that buses with radicals from Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk and Khmelnytsky are being collected for Kyiv. The amount for the fighters ranges from USD 100 to USD 300 per day."
Let's calculate the budget of such an operation for one week: 2000 fighters x USD 2000 = USD4,000,000. Quite a lot. Maybe that's why the 2,000-strong detachment never arrived?
At the same time, the analyzed telegram channels periodically "debunk fakes" themselves, reacting to scandals that are unfavorable, for example, to the Russian Federation.
For example, on January 9, Resident praised the publication of the online publication Strana.UA for denying the myth of a Russian (!) missile that allegedly shot down a Ukrainian Boeing in Iran. For some reason, the authors of the telegram channel are very concerned about the image of the Russian Federation: "... Someone is trying hard to make this myth the main version for the Ukrainian side." Then the devastating criticism of this fake sounded from the telegram channel "Legitimate": "FAKES now are dispersed by porohobots (supporters of Poroshenko)".
At the same time for some reason the Malaysian "Boeing" MH-17 downed by the Russian "Buk" near Donetsk was never mentioned in those telegram channels during eight months.
Telegram channel "Legitimate" convinced that the woman in the photo of 2019 was younger by 10-15 years. However, the authors of the message did not specify which woman it is.
Another story: in the fall of 2019, during Zelensky's meeting with locals in Zolote-4, opposition activists found photos of women posing in a photo with Zelensky also posing with Russian hybrid militants in 2014.
Channel "Legitimate" calls it a fake and gives this explanation:
"Now the task is to slander all those ordinary people with whom Zelensky met. After all, all people massively supported the withdrawal of weapons. Now they began to disperse the fake that one of the teachers is a separatist. If you check the pictures, the difference is dramatic. In 2014, a woman is about 45 years old, but in 2019 she is about 36 years old! Here is how the woman got 10-15 years younger since 2014” - claimed the “Legitimate” in October 2019.
It’s quite difficult to examine the face of a woman on a phone screen (and this is the main mean of viewing telegram channels), and this is what they count on: to manipulate the interpretation.
In order not to draw attention to the failed predictions, telegram channels regularly make selections of those “insider” messages that came true later. They thank journalists who "are not instructed by the President's Office and continue to publish content from telegram channels." And in this way they increase their influence on the audience.
The article was prepared with the support of the Institute of Mass Information, the translation of the article courtesy of the Anti-Corruption Action Center.
By Liubov Velychko