It is not a secret that the Kremlin wants to win back Ukraine to its sphere of influence. Some might go for flowers and chocolates, but the Kremlin is doggedly following a different path of wreaking more chaos in Ukraine, undermining the credibility of Ukrainian power institutions, and manipulating public opinion wherever its octopus like tentacles can reach, writes James Wilson for EU Political Report.
It is not difficult to imagine that after direct and obvious violence against its neighbour and former ally (“our brotherly people”, a phrase coined by Russian propaganda) this might not be the Kremlin’s greatest idea. But Moscow is persistent and obsessive in believing that the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine will present a lucky and long awaited weakness in Ukraine’s defences against electoral interference.
This time it might not be so simple, because Russian observers have been banned from the elections. But Ukrainian intelligence sources have uncovered that the Kremlin is going to deploy basically the same tried and tested tactics as it used to great effect in Donbass back in 2014. The recipe is simple: find local influence groups that might be gullible to the Kremlin’s approaches (or just susceptible to the smell of money) and then instruct them to do something harmful. This time, according to reliable sources, they will be collecting and promoting fake exit poll results in an attempt to discredit the results of the vote. The basic plot is to fabricate evidence that will enable the Kremlin to allege that the vote was faulty, and that the Ukrainian President elect is illegitimate.
In addition to support from local groups, the Kremlin intends to use its world famous swarm of internet bots in social networks to spread fake polling results. This information will then be picked up by the Western pro-Russian media and promoted among sympathisers. Once again, these are not new tactics. A very similar scenario was payed out at the last presidential elections in Ukraine when Russian state-owned TV channels showed false polling data alleging that a nationalist candidate was in the lead. The objective at tat time was quite different. Russian propaganda at that time was seekingd to make allegations about Ukraine taking a nationalist political course and becoming a fascist state.
The objective of forging exit poll results is to show the discrepancy between fake polling results, which pro-Russian media is keen to demonstrate, and the actual result of the vote. This would undermine the credibility of authorised exit polls and enable further allegations about the illegitimacy of the elections. The Kremlin would also wag the finger and complain that Ukrainian law enforcement authorities were complicit in wrongly declaring the exit polls to be fake and it would call upon the West to take proper action to put the record straight.
All this means that being banned from observing the elections, the Kremlin is determined to do its best to assist democracy and ensure a free and fair vote by their neighbours. Threats, deviousness, manipulation of opinion, now that is the way to win back a friend who has strayed from the fold.