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Russia is now implementing yet another psy-op targeting Ukraine’s far-western Zakarpattia region, traditionally trying to sow splits along the existing issues around the Hungarian minority.
Each year, Russia tends to up its efforts toward destabilization in Ukraine through media and psychological special operations (psy-ops) especially during the most tragic anniversaries — those of the Revolution of Dignity, as well as the occupation of the Crimean peninsula and parts of Donbas. As we can see, this year was no exception, and Russian architects of chaos are skillfully exploiting the national factor, placing a major bet on the regional aspects of Zakarpattia (also known as Transcarpathia) where they orchestrate interethnic tensions that are not inherent in the region’s modern history.
One of the elements of the attest psy-op was a staged video where a masked man speaking on behalf of the Right Sector right-wing organization threatens local residents who have received Hungarian passports. “We know all of you,” he says to the camera, quite menacingly.
This video quickly went viral among a number of pro-Russian and explicit Russian propaganda platforms, as well as the pro-Hungarian media in the region. Hundreds of outlets shared the video showing the provocative video allegedly showing a Ukrainian rightwinger spitting threats and throwing a Nazi salute.
Few actually wondered though if it was actually a Right Sector member speaking on camera…
It’s important to note that the video emerged in the wake of another unfolding row — a “leaked” video, posted this week despite being shot back on November 21, which has also gone viral within hours, shows local village deputies singing the Hungarian anthem during the inaugural ceremony following local elections.
If anyone forgot, back in 2013 and 2014, the Russian GRu military intelligence did pretty much the same tricks in Crimea and Donbas, spreading fears among the locals through propaganda talking heads who claimed the Right Sector would start “genocide” of Russian speakers.
Returning to stereotypes in Russian psyops involving the elements of radical nationalism, the use of video addresses with terrifying threats has already become a tradition.
Ahead of the referendum in the Netherlands, decisive for Ukraine’s signing of the Association Agreement with the EU in 2016, Moscow had been working to form a negative image of Ukraine in the eyes of the Dutch voters, employing their favorite boogeyman tools such as fascism and radicalism, along with exploiting the MH17 tragedy and putting the blame on Ukraine.
Then, in January 2016, a video was uploaded on YouTube where a group of armed men sporting balaklavas, who spoke of themselves as fighters of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, promised — in Russian and English — to “destroy the Dutch” if the Association Agreement wasn’t ratified as soon as possible.
This and many other videos of the same nature, aimed to compromise Ukraine, were staged in the same way as the ones the Russian intelligence pundits made where the “Islamists of the Caucasus” spoke in Chechnya, and “ISIS terrorists” — in Syria.
In this context, it’s also worth recalling another Russian psyop targeting the relations between Ukraine and Hungary, implemented in 2018. In February of that year, the office of the Society of Hungarian Culture in Zakarpattia (KMKSZ) was twice set ablaze. This incident sparked a major diplomatic misunderstanding between Ukraine and Hungary and served to incite in the media space certain anti-Ukrainian attitudes, primarily molded by Russian and pro-Russian media platforms.
However, thanks to the effective and rapid response by the SBU, the investigation found that it was the two Polish nationals who actually committed the arson attack. They were members of the radical neo-Nazi group Phalanga and Strzelec, the latter being led by Bartosz Becker, a Putin fan, a vocal critic of NATO, and a Ukraine hater.
The investigation also revealed traces of the arson’s mastermind leading to Germany, to one of the pro-Russian lobbyists, and then further to Moscow. The perpetrators were supposed to record the attack on video and send the file to Mikhail Prokopovich, the organizer, to confirm that the job is done. Meanwhile, the idea was to blame some Ukrainian radicals for the attack on the national minority’s organization.
It should also be noted that members of the pro-Russian Phalanga group fought against Ukrainian troops in Donbas…
As for the man who masterminded the whole thing, as per Prokopovich’s testimony, it was a German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, suspected of cooperation with the Russian intelligence, also working for the then Bundestag MP Markus Frohnmayer with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The political force, in turn, is well known for its pro-Russian stance and participation in various stunts initiated by Russian intelligence.
The media reported that Ochsenreiter had several meetings with a major Russian propagandist Alexander Dugin, the man with ultra-rightist views, affiliated with the GRU. The two collaborated in the Katehon Center, where chairman of the supervisory board is another key figure for the GRU — Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev, known for financially supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, as well as funding various anti-Ukrainian events in Eastern Europe.
Another interesting fact is that Budapest has never apologized to Ukraine for unfounded allegations following the investigation and trial of the arson attackers in Poland. Moreover, Hungarians stubbornly continue to play along to the Russian fiddle.
Now comes a natural question… In the latest Russian psyop involving a “Hungarian anthem — Right Sector” combo, is Moscow playing independently, using Budapest as a “useful idiot” through employing agents of influence both among the Hungarians of Zakarpattia and the political beau monde in Hungary, or are Russia and Hungary’s actions synchronized?
In fact, no matter the answer to that question, it’s time for both the EU and NATO to take a tougher stance on their member country Hungary, which, driven by its neo-imperial ambitions, questions territorial integrity of Ukraine and, together with Russia, works to destabilize its neighbor. Yes, exactly, together with Russia, the country seeking to ultimately destroy the EU and NATO, the country with which Ukraine has been waging a war on all fronts for seven years already.
An untimely reaction of the EU and NATO to Budapest’s actions may soon yield disastrous consequences for European security, while Moscow will help pour fuel on the fire. Isn’t Europe fed up with terrorist attacks and other destabilizing moves by Russian special services — from election meddling to riots and coup attempts?