Poland - 18-24 April 2016

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On 22 April, Polish radio station RMF FM carried a report by Przemysław Marzec titled “In Russia people are being frightened by another Chernobyl. A catastrophe is hanging by a thread.” It was based on a program titled “Another Chernobyl?” that aired the day before on Siegodnia, which is produced by Russia’s NTV television channel. 

The false fact or narrative: RMF FM reported the following: “In Russia, people are frightened by a [potential] repeat of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, as a result of actions taken by Ukrainian authorities. In Moscow, it is claimed that Ukrainian nuclear power plants are being exploited so much that a catastrophe is hanging by a thread …Volodymyr Oleynik, a former Ukrainian deputy  who escaped to Russia for fear of criminal liability, says nine power plants in Ukraine are in urgent need of immediate overhaul.”

The truth: International experts regularly visit and inspect Ukraine’s four active nuclear power plants: Rovenskaya, South-Ukrainian, Zaporozhskaya and Khmelnitskaya. In early April, experts inspected Rovenskaya—which was mentioned in RMF’s broadcast—as part of the European Commission’s MAGATE project. This demonstrated its compliance with MAGATE standards.

Technique: The source of this disinformation was Volodymyr Oleynik, the former deputy of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) and one of the founders of the Russian “Committee for Rescuing Ukraine.” This committee includes collaborators within the circle of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. In a press release that appeared on 20 April on its official website, the committee warns that “Ukraine is awaiting another Chernobyl disaster because of the lack of professionalism of its government.” But in that release—which is likely why RMF FM carried a similar news item about the “new Chernobyl disaster” the next day—nothing was said about nine Ukrainian reactors needing an urgent overhaul because they were dangerous. That only came out next day in Oleynik’s speech of Oleynik, and a few days before the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster—a natural time for news stories about the event, and a convenient way to boost the “popularity” of his revelations.

Audience: The disinformation is directed inwards, to frighten Ukrainians and spread mistrust towards government authorities, who allegedly demonstrated scandalous ignorance by exposing their fellow citizens to danger. It also seeks to stoke fear within the European Union, given that any potential nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine would affect the EU as well.

Analysis: For two years now, Russian propagandists have attempted to frighten the world by warning of another Chernobyl-type disaster. A Russian-language Google search for the terms “has for two years been an important element of the activity of the Russian propaganda. The “Ukraine another Chernobyl” produces 577,000 hits; practically every major Russian media outlet has covered the “new Chernobyl” theme. Newspapers have written about alleged explosions in nuclear power plants, about several dozen serious breakdowns which allegedly took place there, about radioactive contamination, and about the permanent threat of a major catastrophe in Ukraine. This disinformation continues, even though not a single one of these reports has been confirmed. Indeed, time passes and these catastrophes fail to materialize. Although no one can deny the importance of ensuring safety at Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, merely repeating such revelations—without any input by foreign nuclear security experts—means succumbing to the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign. Apart from portraying Ukraine as a global threat, this campaign may also be aimed at shutting Ukraine’s nuclear plants—thereby limiting Kyiv’s ability to produce its own energy and making it more dependent on Russia.