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Alleged conflict between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi was instigated by Kremlin - Washington Post

Zaluzhnyi's dismissal
Zaluzhnyi's dismissal

The first information that the Ukrainian president was preparing to fire Valerii Zaluzhnyi appeared in January 2024. At the time, the Kremlin was beside itself with joy.

This opinion was expressed by journalists of The Washington Post. According to the documents obtained by the publication, the Kremlin has been trying to organize such a split for a long time.

It is noted that the aggressor country has long planned to intensify the conflict between Zaluzhnyi and Zelenskyy saying "he intends to fire him." This happened after a meeting of high-ranking Russian officials and experts that took place in 2023, according to internal Kremlin documents.

In addition, according to Western journalists, the Russian dictator's administration ordered a group of its political strategists to use social media and fake articles to push the theme that Zelenskyy is "hysterical and weak."

"The Ukrainian president is afraid that he will be pushed out of power. That is why he is getting rid of the most dangerous people," they noted.

According to the WP journalists, the Kremlin's instruction led to massive publications on social media. There were also a number of fabricated articles created by troll farms not only in Ukraine but also across Europe. They tried to exploit the tension between Zaluzhnyi and Zelenskyy. Such data was published by one of the European intelligence agencies.

The files, which include more than a hundred documents, were handed over to WP by a source that is not disclosed. This was necessary to expose the scale of propaganda aimed at the President of Ukraine in order to divide and destabilize our society. These are exactly the actions that Moscow called IPSO, "information and psychological operations".

The documents show how in January 2023, the Kremlin's first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko, instructed a group of officials and political strategists to create a presence on Ukrainian social media to spread disinformation.

The efforts were based on a previous project. It was overseen by a longtime aide to the dictator. It is noted that the goal of this project was to undermine support for Ukraine, including in France and Germany.

After Ukraine pushed back Russian troops in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, and Kyiv began talking about a large-scale spring counteroffensive in the east and south, Kiriyenko assembled a second team focused on destabilizing Ukraine itself. It was this team that formulated four key goals for the Ukrainian propaganda group: discrediting Kyiv's military and political leadership, splitting the Ukrainian elite, demoralizing the Ukrainian military, and disorienting the Ukrainian population.

The team's success was to be measured by key indicators: they were to "lower the ratings of key personnel in Zelenskyy's office, the government, and the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine," as well as increase the public's belief that the government was working only for itself.

The documents show that progress was monitored at weekly meetings in the Kremlin, where political strategists presented the most popular posts from Ukrainian social media, calculating the overall distribution of their results. They also conducted weekly polls on the level of trust in Zelenskyy and the military leadership.

By early March 2023, dozens of bots were posting thousands of messages and nearly forty thousand comments on social media every week. According to the documents, they received approximately seven hundred US dollars for writing one hundred comments a day.

Most of the strategists' reports to their political superiors focused on the volume of content created and the total number of views. However, for the first five months, they provided no evidence that these efforts had any impact on Ukrainians. Still, polls conducted by the Kremlin showed that trust in Zelenskyy remained consistently high.

By August 2023, however, Kremlin polls showed that this figure had declined slightly. The accuracy of these polls cannot be assessed, and it is unclear how the Russians conduct them in Ukraine.

However, the occupier's strategists were aware of the complexity of their task.

"We have to enter the Ukrainian media landscape from scratch. The pro-Russian segment has been completely purged from the media and social networks," the April 2023 report said.

The Kremlin strategists advised to develop the Telegram channel network, noting that its audience in Ukraine had grown by tens of hundreds of percent over the past year. In their opinion, this was the most effective way to penetrate the Ukrainian media space.

"Telegram has become the most important source of news, even more important than mainstream media. It cannot be blocked," a senior European security official said.

Kremlin strategists also emphasized the need to avoid blatant pro-Russian propaganda in order to build audience trust.

In the first week of May, a Facebook post claiming that Valerii Zaluzhnyi could become the next president of Ukraine received 4.3 million views. The Kremlin then issued orders to create similar posts, or "augmented reality," a term used by Russian officials to refer to fake news. These included reports that Western leaders were looking for a replacement for Zelenskyy and that Zaluzhnyi intended to stop the counteroffensive.

In addition, Russian political technologists have spread numerous articles in Ukraine through social media. In May, one of them was titled "Zelenskyy holds on to the throne. Democracy is being eliminated in Ukraine".

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