From mobilization to illegitimacy: a detailed analysis of Russian disinformation efforts in February

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In February 2024, the Ukrainian information space was subjected to a massive disinformation attack aimed at undermining trust in state institutions. The main vector of attack was the thesis about the alleged illegitimacy of the Ukrainian government. The InfoLight.UA research and analysis group monitored and analyzed these campaigns using both conventional methods and an artificial intelligence-based tracking system.

One of the most prominent examples of disinformation in February was a campaign that claimed the alleged illegitimacy of the Ukrainian government after February 20. This narrative was actively disseminated by Russian and some Ukrainian media, as well as on social media, contributing to the inflammation of public sentiment. It is worth noting that this narrative appeared against the backdrop of the replacement of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which contributed to the creation of a tense atmosphere.

The journalists of the Babel publication conducted a detailed analysis these disinformation reports, refuting them as unconstitutional nonsense. According to them, the statement about the loss of legitimacy of the Ukrainian government in May 2024 does not comply with constitutional norms, since under martial law due to Russian aggression, any elections are prohibited, and therefore the president and the Verkhovna Rada continue to work.

In an interview with Babel, NSDC Secretary Oleksiy Danilov emphasized that the issue of the alleged loss of legitimacy of the Ukrainian government will be actively promoted by Russia in the spring to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. This is confirmed by the analysis of experts and lawyers who have analyzed in detail the constitutional norms and legislation of Ukraine.

The lawyers explained that under martial law, the powers of the main state authorities, including the President and the Verkhovna Rada, cannot be suspended. They continue to exercise their powers in full until the next elections, which will be possible only after the end of martial law.

In addition, based on the Constitution of Ukraine, the President of the country exercises his powers until the next newly elected President of Ukraine takes office. Similarly, the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada continue to operate until a new government is formed and the new MPs are sworn in, respectively.

This underscores the importance of the principle of continuity or “continuity principle” of power, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine. This principle ensures that there can be no vacuum in the highest state power even in peacetime, let alone in times of war.

In addition, constitutional experts and lawyers emphasize that the Constitution of Ukraine and the law provide for the possibility of holding elections only in a safe and stable environment, which excludes the possibility of holding them during martial law.

Information obtained by the InfoLight.UA Research and Analysis Group also indicates that certain networks and public figures are behind the dissemination of these narratives, coordinated from Moscow. This confirms the targeted nature of disinformation attacks aimed at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine.

At the same time, the Intelligence Committee under the President of Ukraine reported an active disinformation campaign aimed at creating conflicts within the country and provoking mass unrest. However, the name, “Maidan-3,” which was made public, caused a wide negative response in part of Ukrainian society, shifting the focus from the essence of the problem (Russian provocation) to an external characteristic (the name).

In February 2024, in addition to spreading narratives about the illegitimacy of the Ukrainian government, Russian agent networks intensified their efforts to disrupt mobilization processes in Ukraine. These networks used this narrative as an argument, claiming that the “illegitimate authorities” had no right to involve citizens in military operations, further fueling the spread of disinformation.

These activities led to a series of high-profile scandals and social protests, including the events in Kosmach and a rally in Ternopil. Calls for the physical elimination of employees of territorial recruitment centers (TCCs) appeared on social media and some information resources, as well as unconfirmed information about the alleged “liquidation of 4 TCC employees by rebels.”

Of particular concern is the fact that, under the guise of human rights activities, such networks hide their true intentions with the certificates of journalists and representatives of public organizations (NGOs). This indicates a high level of organization and disguise of sabotage activities aimed at the state security of Ukraine and its defense capabilities.

Such actions by Russian agents, in tandem with the spread of disinformation about the illegitimacy of the government, pose a serious threat not only to the information space but also to Ukraine’s national security.

The findings of InfoLight.UA’s research and journalists’ investigations emphasize the need for a critical attitude to the information disseminated in the information space and the active work of government institutions, civil society and the media in combating disinformation. Joint efforts will help protect Ukraine’s information space and strengthen trust in government institutions.

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