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2nd Mar 2024

Column

The truth about The Other Ukraine political party

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Back in February 2022, when Moscow launched its full-blown invasion of Ukraine, it hardly expected to become engaged in a prolonged war. The invasion was meant to be exactly what it was officially called: a "special military operation", a blitzkrieg aiming to quickly destroy the leadership of Ukraine, break the will of the Ukrainian army to resist, and install a pro-Russian occupation regime.

According to the Ukrainian intelligence sources, the Kremlin did not care much about who would head this occupation regime — the main objective was to take over Kyiv as the political hart of Ukraine, all else could be decided on the spot — but Russian authorities did consider two political figures who could lead the Ukrainian puppet state.

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  • Documents seen by this author suggest that Viktor Medvedchuk may be the public face of The Other Ukraine (TOU), but the actual role of the 'movement' is to function as a front for Russian disinformation offensives targeting Western countries (Photo: Anton Shekhovtsov)

One was former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych who had fled to Russia at the end of the Ukrainian revolution of 2014; the other was Ukrainian pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk who at the time of the invasion was under house arrest in Ukraine.

The Russian blitzkrieg failed, Medvedchuk escaped his house arrest but was arrested by the Ukrainian security services, and was handed over to Russia in a prisoner exchange in September 2022.

Unlike Yanukovych who was apparently seen as useless by the Russian authorities and did not take part in any major pro-Kremlin information operations after he had fled Ukraine in 2014, Medvedchuk almost immediately joined the Russian political warfare against Ukraine and its Western allies.

Soon after he was transferred to Russia, Medvedchuk announced the creation of a new political movement, The Other Ukraine, that positioned itself as the "party of peace" between Ukraine and Russia, as the voice of subjugated 'good Ukraine' that would surrender to Russia's imperial rule — the real meaning of "peace" promoted by the Kremlin and its henchmen.

Documents seen by this author suggest that Medvedchuk may well be the public face of The Other Ukraine (TOU), but the actual role of the 'movement' is not to represent any sort of 'Ukrainian government-in-exile', but to function as a front for Russian disinformation offensives targeting Western countries providing support for Ukraine.

The principal mastermind behind the media strategies of The Other Ukraine is a Russian marketing and political consulting firm called Social Design Agency (SDA) founded by Russian political technologist Ilya Gambashidze.

The SDA, together with another company founded by Gambashidze, Structura National Technologies (SNT), was involved in one of the most insidious Russian disinformation international campaigns that was dubbed Operation Doppelganger and consisted in spreading false information using fake websites impersonating government organisations and international media.

The two companies are formally independent businesses, but their main customers are Russian governmental structures that contract a wide variety of services ranging from information support for the Kremlin's domestic initiatives to Moscow's political warfare against the West.

The Operation Doppelganger was busted by the EU DisinfoLab, and both SDA and SNT, along with their founder Ilya Gambashidze, were sanctioned by the EU in July 2023. The Meta company took action against Facebook pages spreading disinformation of the SDA and SNT even earlier.

The SDA's international plan for The Other Ukraine predominantly targets two European countries, Germany and France. Its internal documents analyse public sentiments in the two countries and consider potential support for the major anti-establishment parties there, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Marine Le Pen's National Rally, considered by Moscow as its political allies.

Tailored narratives

The SDA specifically looks for data from public opinion polls on "fear of what the future holds" and on "unwillingness to sacrifice wellbeing for the victory over Russia". On the basis of its analysis of socio-political weaknesses and vulnerabilities of German and French societies, the SDA composes lists of narratives that should be disseminated in the two countries to undermine support for Ukraine.

Some of these narratives are almost identical: for example, "the US is waging an economic and hybrid war against Russia at the expense of Germany/France"; or "Germany/France risk plunging into the deepest socio-political crisis in contemporary history"; or "Germany/France is left without weapons — they were all given to Ukraine".

But some disinformation narratives are tailored to a specific national context.

For example, the SDA alleges the "flight of capital and production" from Germany to the US. Or it claims that the US and UK use the Green environmental agenda to prevent France from becoming "an energy donor and hegemon of a united Europe". Or it offers advice to France to "return to Charles de Gaulle's politics, become a sovereign great state, and leave Nato".

To disseminate pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian propaganda using the front of "The Other Ukraine", the SDA relies on a wide range of instruments and techniques adopted from the projects such as now late Yevgeny Prigozhin's troll factory (officially known as the Internet Research Agency) or Operation Doppelganger.

At the moment, the presence of the SDA's project The Other Ukraine on internet platforms such as Facebook and X (ex-Twitter) seems to be in the stage of accumulating content and building legitimate profiles.

In its internal memos, the SDA warns that Western social networks are suspicious of political initiatives and highlights the need to develop their influence operations cautiously.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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