Analyst: Russia focusing its propaganda on Kyiv

Klitschko talks to protestors in Kyiv. [Georgi Gotev]

A pro-Russian, anti-war rally was held in front of Kyiv city hall on Wednesday (28 January). Mayor Vitaly Klitschko faced the protestors and told them not to let themselves be manipulated by hostile propaganda. EURACTIV reports from Kyiv.

The protest was held in the centre of Kyiv, close to the Maidan square, with some 500 people raising identical industrial-made banners appealing for “peace” and “justice”.

Asked by EURACTIV what the rally was for, young people said they were fed up with the government of Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, which had been a failure since it took office after the dramatic events of February 2014.

Asked if they had also protested during the dramatic Euromaidan civil unrest, which led to the departure of former president Viktor Yanukovich from the country, the demonstrators expressed disgust for this period, which they called violent and dangerous.

More elderly citizens said they life had become very difficult since Vitaly Klitschko, a former boxing world champion, one of the iconic figures of Euromaidan and now mayor of Kyiv, took over his new job. In particular, they blamed him for higher public transport costs in the capital.

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But a more important demand appeared to be that the authorities should drop a plan to mobilise an additional 104,000 soldiers this year for the “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine.

The protest took place without any incident, and the Ukrainian police present did not show any sign of nervousness. Some press reports mentioned a plan of the protestors to block the capital’s key boulevard in front of city hall, but traffic remained unimpeded.

Klitschko largely defused the tension by speaking with the demonstrators. His main message was that he was aware of the citizens’ concerns, but that they should not let themselves fall prey to disinformation.

A third Maidan?

Roman Rukomeda, a political analyst, told EURACTIV that the priority for the Kremlin had become to create a “third Maidan” in Kyiv, this time to bring the country back to Russia. The first ‘Maidan’ was the Orange revolution of the winter of 2004-2005 and the second one, which started in November 2013, brought about the February 2014 Ukrainian revolution.

A Maidan-type pro-Russian movement is impossible, but Moscow is determined  to stop the current wave of military mobilization, Rukomeda said. Recently the Parliament passed a bill which opens the way for the mobilisation of 104.000 people. Reportedly committees of soldiers mothers oppose the mobilisation. 

Another result Moscow was hoping to achieve was that media would show that not everyone in Ukraine is happy with the government, the analyst said.

‘Crazy devaluation’

Rukomeda admitted that Russia could use several shortcomings to its advantage. Incomes in Ukraine have dropped sharply and the local currency, the Hrivniya, has lost value against the euro, while incomes paid in Hrivniya have also felt. A year ago, a euro was worth 10 Hrivniya, while today exchange offices in Kyiv buy the EU currency at more than 20 Hrivnya, up to 25 (more than the official rate).  Rukomeda called this a ‘crazy devaluation’.

In addition, the government, largely under EU pressure, has raised already heavily subsidized prices for district heating, electric power and water, with devastating results for the budgets of families, in a country where the average salary ranges between €250 and 300.

“Some of the protestors are honest and genuine. And Russia will use this to rock the boat. This is psychological information war,” Rukomeda said. He also estimated the needs of external support for Ukraine at €1 billion per month. IMF officials are now in Kyiv negotiating a bail-out package, currently worth $17 billion, which Ukraine’s pro-Western government hopes will be expanded to help it handle crippling external debt repayments due this year.

‘Russian world’

“This is a game with peoples’ emotions. With the older population, it’s about Soviet-time nostalgia, with the younger generation, this is some sort of romantic vision. Russia’s purpose is to divide,” the political expert said, adding that divisions took place also within the same family, between fathers and sons, or between brothers and sisters.

But he also said that the limits of the Russian propaganda were already visible in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in March 2014. Part of the population in Crimea who had supported the Russian annexation was already disappointed, he said. The so-called “Russian world” to which they may have aspired does not exist, at least not as they had imagined it, Rukomeda said.

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