Russian propagandists promoting "Orthodox jihad" project spin fake story of "Ukrainian Army shelling monastery in Donbas"
As expected, Russian invaders went for an armed provocation in the Donbas warzone, spiced by some religious overtones.
In my piece of April 11 "Propaganda squads deployed: Why Russian 'blood-thirsty' journalists are coming to Donbas", I named Russian propaganda mouthpieces that have simultaneously flocked to occupied Donetsk, noting that the only ones missing at the time were Alexander Kots and Yuriy Kotenok, with the latter possibly set to further be tasked with orchestrating an act of provocation with religious connotations. For example, I reflected, he could suddenly "witness" a "Ukrainian artillery" strike on some Orthodox church. After all, it was this narrative that Russian propagandists had tied to spread in Nagorno-Karabakh toward bringing a religious factor into the conflict, making it even more multipolar – it's not only Christian shrines, but also Muslim ones that have been shelled, reports claimed.
And now, on April 12, Yuriy Kotenok (already deployed in the occupied Donetsk) starts spitting out posts on social networks about local churches and the "Orthodox Jihad". Then I immediately suggested city residents should beware attending church services any time soon. After all, it was Yuriy Kotenok who played a key role in the provocation where a temple in Nagorno-Karabakh's Shusha was shelled. So I was sure the Russians would seek to repeat the Shusha trick, this time in Donetsk.
Incidentally, on April 14, the Information Resistance OSINT group posted on its website my oped entitled "Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine could play a key role in the framework of the 'Orthodox Jihad' project", telling how Russians could sow destabilization in Ukraine through provocations in Donbas against Orthodox temples.
On April 16, Russia's propaganda Russian resource WarGonzo, led by Semyon Pegov, claims that the Iversky Monastery, located in a Donetsk suburb, came under Ukrainian forces' fire.
Let's dwell into the report.
This kind of provocation was likely to expect, as seen in my previous piece, simply because Russian intelligence operatives seem to stick to the same manuals for years, lacking creativity and initiative.
Besides, all Russian media figures who gathered in Donetsk had long compromised themselves so their role is pretty much clear to a trained eye wherever they appear. Consequently, the scenarios set to be played out with their participation are also quite predictable.
As for the shelling of the monastery, there is absolutely no sense in it. Indeed, back in 2014 and 2015, the temple housed an observation post and a firing point of the Russian occupation forces. Since the positions of the Ukrainian Army were regularly fired upon from this location by snipers, as well as from cannons and rocket artillery, it was eventually destroyed. Therefore it is of no strategic and tactical importance. The question arises, why shell it, really?
And here I'm ready to once again look in my crystal ball. Over the past several weeks, Russian propaganda journos, especially the man behind the WarGonzo project, Semyon Pegov, have regularly claimed that the Polish military, Turkish specops forces, and even Syrian militants are arriving to assist the Ukrainian Army. Frankly speaking, even the guy's colleagues stopped believing these ludicrous claims.
At the same time, given the propaganda concept earlier used by Russians in Nagorno-Karabakh, I suggest the Muslim element might as well be integrated into the latest monastery provocation. Otherwise, the Russians could simply promote the narrative of "immoral" military servicemen fighting for Ukraine with no God in their heart.
It should also be understood that the recent fake story about a "Ukrainian drone" killing a boy in the village just outside Donetsk, as well as the latest fake story about a civilian man killed in his own apartment in a "Ukrainian artillery shelling" (or was it a mortar attack? Russian propaganda pundits seem to have not yet made up their mind on this one) both made federal news, having sprung from the fringe segment of Runet, traditionally targeting audiences devoid of critical thinking. So the monastery attack story is also highly likely to be highlighted as much as possible. And the process seems to have been launched… I don't rule out that by Saturday morning, it will already be massively picked up by federal media in Russia.
And to this end, it's the lower-tier media and talking heads who are involved. In particular, it's about Moskovsky Komsomolets (operating under the patronage of the Russian defense ministry), TsarGrad (unbelievably, also supervised by the defense agency and directly affiliated with the GRU military intel, and (most interestingly) even an "Orthodox blogger" Alexander Voznesensky! Remember the guy? Let me refresh your memory. Alexander Voznesensky (aka Alexander Borislavsky) is a Russian military intelligence asset operating in Cyprus posing as a religious observer.
By the way, a notorious TV host Vladimir Solovyov, albeit with a slight delay, also jumped on the bandwagon to spin the story, thus ringing the first "federal-level" bell.
Now, let's look at the initial setup in this game. A Russian propaganda outlet, which has long become a laughing stock even among its Russian peers, claims an Orthodox temple was shelled, failing to recall that the site had long been destroyed and turned into ruins. And then the spin finds second wind across platforms directly affiliated with the Russian defense ministry and military intelligence. Nothing strange here, really, rather, a well-known pattern…
For this reason, I won't be surprised to see this fake spin also pulsate across specific news outlets reporting on religious matters. Moreover, this could be the platforms run both by the Russian Orthodox Church and its branches, including the notorious ROC in Ukraine. After all, it wasn't in vain that Voznesensky got engaged in circulating this "masterpiece", right?
Or perhaps they won't dare this time. After all, the fake news piece has been conceived and spun by the already rotten fish floating upside down in Russia's media aquarium. In fact, their supervisors should have known better than entrust them with performing such peculiar tasks while all that can be expected from them is a shameful fiasco.
Classic, albeit poorly performed, cliché stunt. As one modern-day dictator, who has been shyly hiding in his bunker for over a year already, once put it: "Too boring, ladies, too boring!.."