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6th Jun 2020

Ukraine debunks YouTube terror threat on Dutch referendum

  • Ukrainian nationalists, such as Azov or Right Sector, feature heavily in Russian propaganda (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

The Azov Regiment, a squad of irregular, nationalist fighters in Ukraine, has debunked a YouTube clip threatening terrorist attacks if Dutch people vote No in a referendum on the EU-Ukraine trade treaty.

Andriy Diachenko, Azov’s deputy commander, said in a video statement on Tuesday (19 January) that they did not create the clip, adding that it’s “laughable” because Azov is, in any case, anti-EU integration.

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“Azov members, as befits Ukrainian nationalists, have always perceived the idea of ​​Ukraine joining the European Union negatively, instead supporting the idea of a Baltic-Black Sea alternative union,” he said.

He noted that the clip uses replica AK47s instead of real ones.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry also told the Dutch ambassador in Kiev that the clip is fake.

For his part, Kees Verhoeven, a Dutch MP with the social-liberal D66 party, has called for a government investigation into Russian attempts to influence the vote.

The fake clip was published on Monday on a previously unused YouTube account entitled “Patriot” in Ukrainian.

It shows balaclava-clad men with Azov insignia burning a Dutch flag.

Propaganda

Recalling the Paris attacks, one man says: “Dear Dutchmen, don't you dare go against Ukraine.”

“We’ll find you everywhere. In a movie … in your bedroom, on public transport. We have our guys in the Netherlands and they’re ready to obey any order."

For Ukrainian journalists and civil society activists, the clip bears the hallmarks of Russian propaganda.

But it caused a stir in Dutch online circles. The popular news blog geenstijl.nl said that even if the clip is fake the risk of an attack by Ukrainian terrorists could be real.

Roman Sohn, a columnist for the Ukrainska Pravda website, told EUobserver: “The video is being used as a ‘foot in the door’ manoeuvre to start a public debate on Nazi fascists in Ukraine to disparage the integration aspirations of Ukrainians.”

“Russian propagandists are very effective,” he added.

“Even when people distrust the authenticity of their message, the message still does harm because people subconsciously embrace the underlying emotional connotations.”

The Ukraine referendum, on 6 April, comes after a petition organised by Dutch NGOs.

It’s non-binding and the EU-Ukraine treaty has already entered into force.

But European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently warned that a No could “open the door to a big continental crisis”.

Fake stories

For its part, the Dutch government has said it will campaign for a Yes because the treaty is good for Dutch trade and for European security.

But it’s keeping the campaign low profile in the hope that turnout falls below the threshold of 30 percent.

Meanwhile, the EU foreign service, last year, created a small unit, called East StratCom, to also debunk Russian propaganda.

It publishes a regular review called Disinformation Weekly, which says the latest trend is fake stories purportedly taken from Western media.

One story, shortly after New Year's Eve, said the BBC had reported that Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko had been hospitalised after his wife found him drunk under their Christmas tree.

The BBC never published such a report.

Opinion

Open letter to president Juncker on the Dutch Ukraine vote

On 6 April Netherlands will hold a referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. Because many voters feel that it could lead to Ukraine membership of the EU, the EU should rule that out, argues Dutch politician Sammy van Tuyll.

Dutch PM takes back seat on Ukraine vote

Dutch leader Rutte will not defend Yes vote "with flyers and flags and the like", despite polls showing the No camp could sink the Ukraine pact, in echoes of 2005.

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