Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    UOC (MP)’s media platforms echo Russian propaganda claims of Zelensky’s “illegitimacy”

    On May 20, 2024, the five-year term of office of President Volodymyr Zelensky was supposed to officially end, and the elections were to be held on March 31 of this year. But Russia’s full-scale invasion made it impossible to hold democratic elections in Ukraine. However, the Kremlin does not abandon hope of undermining public trust in the Ukrainian authorities and provoking destabilization, protests and riots, which would help the enemy capture Ukraine.

    In one voice with Russian propaganda, the media platforms supervised by the UOC (MP) under the control of Metropolitan Antony (Pakanych) joined the Russian psyop pushing a propaganda narrative about Zelensky’s alleged illegitimacy.

    On May 20, one of Pakanych’s outlets, Raskolam.net, affirmatively stated that Zelensky’s powers had allegedly lapsed. “Today the term of office of President of Ukraine, stipulated by the Constitution, has expired. Questions about the current status of Volodymyr Zelensky are raised timidly, but more and more often and loudly in mass media. At a time when some ‘opposition’ political forces are afraid to turn to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine with a request to clarify whether the head of state can be considered as such after his term of office has expired, some non-systemic analysts report that such a clarification has already been given,” says the text of the UOC (MP) resource.

    The text further states that the law banning the UOC (MP), if signed by President Zelensky, would be “illegitimate” and “would not even be worth the paper it would be printed on.”

    First, the term of office of President of Ukraine has not expired because Ukraine was attacked by the Russian Federation, which makes it impossible to hold democratic elections due to massive shelling. That is, organizing elections would jeopardize the lives of millions of citizens.

    In March alone, Russia launched more than 400 missiles, more than 600 attack UAVs, and more than 3,000 aerial guided bombs over Ukraine.  In addition, about 7 million adult Ukrainians were forced to flee country. Also, according to the estimates from the Central Election Commission, UAH 5.4 billion would be required to hold elections, which should be better spent on the country’s defenses. These are far from all the arguments and factors that indicate that in the conditions of a full-scale war, holding elections would be impractical and dangerous for the voters themselves, and their turnout would be small, due to constant shelling, which would affect confidence in the outcome.

    Secondly, the Constitution provides for the postponement of presidential elections in a war situation. This is not only legally possible, but also directly defined by Article 19 of the Law “On the Legal Regime of Martial Law”. Of course, the Verkhovna Rada has the authority to make changes to the current legislation, but currently there is no reason to do so: according to Article 64 of the Constitution of Ukraine, the voting rights of citizens are not among those that shall not be limited during a state of war or emergency.

    Thirdly, Raskolam.net claims that “questions about Volodymyr Zelensky’s current status are raised timidly, but more and more often and loudly in mass media.” But they do not specify which media, because it is the Russian media that constantly revisit the topic of the legitimacy of Viktor Yanukovych and the “illegitimacy” of all those who took the post after him. And here the authors from Raskolam.net unwittingly betrayed their Russian intelligence handlers.

    According to Dmytro Zolotukhin, Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine (2017-2019), an expert on information warfare, the peak of reports about “illegitimacy” fell on unnatural hours, which proves that the topic was infused into the media space artificially, with the involvement of Russian bot farms. This is directly related to the intensification of Russian propaganda efforts led by the head of Russian foreign intelligence Sergei Naryshkin, who personally spoke about the events “post May 20”. Russian intelligence is tasked with running a campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government, to cause paralysis of the state and domestic destabilization.

    Simultaneously with the UOC (MP), other pro-Russian platforms also claimed Zelensky’s “illegitimacy”. The effort climaxed on May 20.   The second most popular topic was the claim that Volodymyr Zelensky is an “usurper”.

    However, Ukrainian society thinks differently than the “non-systemic analysts” and mass media, mentioned in the UOC (MP), would like.   According to the poll run by the Rating Sociological Group on behalf of the Center for Analysis and Sociological Research of the International Republican Institute in February 2024, the majority of Ukrainians (67%) do not support the idea of holding presidential elections during wartime. Also,  69% of citizens believe that Zelensky should remain in his position until the end of martial law, as evidenced by the poll.

    In addition, the European Union stated that they have no doubts about Zelensky’s legitimacy. The representative of the EU foreign policy service, Peter Stano, said the Ukrainian Constitution provides that the president can perform his duties until the new head of state takes office. The spokesman emphasized that Ukraine cannot hold free elections because it is under the attack of Russian missiles, drones, and bombs, and millions of people have become displaced. The European Union has no doubts that President of Ukraine is Volodymyr Zelensky, Stano told a briefing on May 21.

    In this way, the platforms run by the UOC (MP), under the control of the leader of the pro-Russian wing, Metropolitan Antony (Pakanych), are trying to undermine the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government. Without recognizing the legitimacy of President of Ukraine, the outlets of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (MP) thereby seek to challenge his decisions, in particular the law on the prohibition of the Moscow Patriarchate. This position absolutely coincides with that of the Russian propaganda campaign, the purpose of which is to weaken international support for Ukraine and destabilize the internal situation.

    So, on May 20, various malign sources picked up narratives about the alleged “termination of powers of the President of Ukraine.” Obviously, this is part of a complex operation to destabilize Ukraine, known as “Maidan-3”. All this activity is dangerously playing into the hands of the enemy. After all, it is internal paralysis and mutiny that is the only scenario under which the Kremlin might fulfill its strategic goals in Ukraine, which failed to be realized in 2022.

    We will remind you that in March 2024, the SBU security service exposed a criminal organization operating in Kyiv region that worked on information sabotage upon FSB’s orders. It was about the SPZh platform, where criminals mass-produced and circulated pro-Kremlin narratives and provocative messages that were expected to destabilize the socio-political situation and incite religious enmity in Ukraine. This is one of the largest FSB networks that operated in Ukraine, of which 15 members were exposed, the SBU reported at the time.

    It is known that SPZh closely cooperates with the aforementioned Raskolam.net.  “Journalists” who worked for the SPZh often also worked for Raskolam.net. For example, according to information from mass media, Yevgenia Stekunova worked not only at SPZh, but also at Raskolam.NET.

    The Spiritual Front of Ukraine has repeatedly put into spotlight some individuals standing behind these platforms, namely Metropolitan UOC (MP) Antony (Pakanych), the leader of the pro-Russian wing within this organization who holds the position of “affairs manager.”

    As we can see, despite the arrest of criminals from the SPZh and Raskolam.NET, these platforms continue to function in Ukraine and sow distrust in the Ukrainian authorities and discredit Ukraine in the international arena. The latest high-profile case was with the provision of aid from the USA, where Raskolam.NET assured that “Republicans directly linked the allocation of aid to Ukraine with government’s non-interference in the affairs of the Church”.

    Amid the ongoing war, the Church should take a consolidating, unifying position and reject any destructive attempts to destabilize the nation from within, instead of playing into the hands of the enemy’s propaganda machine. Of course, not everyone in the UOC (MP) supports Pakanych with his destructive platforms, but the malign elements require attention.