Sergey Shilov
01 November 2022 11: 00
Headings: Dossier News Policy

Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man?

The truth about someone who cleverly makes up stories about others.

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Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man?

It is because of such people that journalism is called the second oldest profession - that's what can be said briefly about a person who has been shaping the information policy of the President's Office for two years now and writing speeches for the head of state, and sometimes speaking on his behalf. Of course, Podolyak does it very professionally, and his merit is that Ukraine is head and shoulders above Russia in the information war, is quite obvious. And yet, things in the information policy of Ukraine were not going so well if Zelensky needed the help of people like Podolyak and Arestovich ... About the latter, by the way, we have already told in our dossier.

Path to journalism

Mikhail Mikhailovich Podolyak was born on February 16, 1972 in Lvov. There is practically no information about his parents: it is only known that they eventually moved to Novovolynsk, where Mikhail Podolyak graduated from high school, and then to Lutsk. Closeness is its hallmark, which is not surprising. After all, a person who has been looking for dirt on others all his life must have tried not to give others clues about himself! And yet, Podolyak is very well known in Ukraine and remembered in Belarus, so as not to let him bury all the undesirable facts of his past.

So, at one time, some media claimed that Podolyak has an older brother Vladimir (born 1965), who has been living in Russia since the late 80s and allegedly works either in the GRU, or in the FSB. Hence, they say, the long-standing ties of Mikhail Podolyak with the special services, which he sometimes boasted of! But how reliable this information is is unknown.  

At school, Mikhail Podolyak was a solid “good student”, and even an excellent student in chemistry and biology, took places in city olympiads. In 1989, 17-year-old Podolyak went to Minsk, where he entered the medical institute.

However, in Minsk Podolyak immediately caught the wind of political "perestroika". True, being a very materialistic young man, he was carried away not by ideas, but by prospects. Of course, he could not apply for a mandate, but he found for himself a different vocation, which later turned out to be his gold mine: he became a journalist specializing in PR and anti-PR (the so-called black PR), in demand by both the authorities and the opposition. His first articles were published already in 1990. Soon, Podolyak realized that he was much better at working with a pen than practicing in an anatomical theater - and he gradually abandoned his studies at the medical institute. Did Podolyak manage to finish it or not, does he even have a diploma of higher education - remains one of his secrets.

Also, remaining to live and work in Minsk, Podolyak did not begin to transfer to Belarusian citizenship in the 90s, and left himself Ukrainian. But perhaps it was not about patriotism, but about the benefits that Podolyak never missed. First, so he escaped military service: in Belarus he could not be called up as a foreigner, and his native Ukrainian military commissars could not get him in Minsk. Secondly, the status of a foreign citizen helped him to get out of situations in which a Belarusian would have ended up behind bars. And so he "added" only to the forced deportation to Ukraine.

Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man? - photo 1

Podolyak in Belarus: his political omnivorousness

If Mikhail Podolyak seriously studied as a doctor, then in the mid-90s he would simply have no time to professionally engage in journalism. Meanwhile, in 1994, he became chief editor a new edition of Andrey Klimov's Newspaper (circulation over 20).

Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man? - photo 2

Former firefighter Andrey Klimov in the early 90s, he took up schemes with apartments, on which he rose - becoming one of the beginning Belarusian oligarchs. By 1995, in addition to the newspaper, he already owned a construction company and a bank, and he needed his own publication to be elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus (elections were held in May and December 1995). How 29-year-old Klimov met 22-year-old Podolyak, remained their personal secret - perhaps the fact that Klimov was a graduate of the Lviv fire-technical school played a role. But in any case, by that time Podolyak already had enough experience and reputation to become the chief editor and, in fact, Klimov's image maker. Mixed with articles who sang the entrepreneurial genius and boundless humanity of Klimov, in his newspaper Podolyak posted then popular materials about the horrors of the "communist regime" and erotic-ufological reviews.

Klimov was one of the deputies opposed the early dissolution of the Supreme Council (in 1996), which led him to the ranks of the opposition, and besides that, he also became Lukashenka's personal enemy - as a result, in 1998, he sat down on charges of major fraud. But by this time, Mikhail Podolyak had already left Klimov, who had become "toxic", to new customers - who were in abundance before the 1996 early elections. 

One of them was the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus Sergei Gaidukevich (now the party is led by his son Oleg). Having worked with him, Podolyak became the editor of the newspaper Pravda Gaidukevicha. At the same time, he was not at all embarrassed that Gaidukevich was in soft opposition to Lukashenka for one reason - he was much more pro-Russianthan "Batska", and advocated the creation of a confederation of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation even before these countries signed a union treaty. Accordingly, Pravda Gaydukevich, edited by Podolyak, actively agitated Belarusians for "union of fraternal peoples". Today Oleg Gaidukevich recalls about Podolyak like this:

«Then 23-year-old Podolyak was completely for Russia, and today he adheres to an anti-Russian point of view. Why did he leave the party? Only because of the "money", it was not some kind of political disagreement. That is, while he was well paid, and he received a very decent amount at that time - several thousand dollars, no one was earning like that, the young guy worked closely with us. But as soon as the money was gone, he immediately left and became a Russophobe. Such a person is the worst thing that can be in politics! He will sell everyone and always. I am sure that if Mikhail is paid a lot of money, he will again play for Russia tomorrow - it's only a matter of price».

Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man? - photo 3

Sergei Gaidukevich

A few thousand dollars is a lot of money for a modest editor of a party newspaper. Therefore, Podolyak could really leave the reliable employers of the Gaidukeviches and go to the oppositionists, who were constantly waiting for the visit of the Belarusian KGB, only in one case -  if you get a better offer. And judging by the fact that the Belarusian and Ukrainian media later wrote about him, this two other factors contributed. 

First, the Podolyak specialized in "jeans" and other commissioned publications, developing it into a well-established business, later formalized as a media consulting. It was not enough for him to work for Gaidukevich alone, he wanted to be an independent "media entrepreneur" with many wealthy clients. The Belarusian opposition, which did not spare money for materials that “watered” the authorities or competitors from other parties, gave him many such customers. Secondly, Podolyak actively cooperated with the special services of Belarus and Russia (which he himself admitted more than once), and with the embassies of Western countries. One edition even arguedthat Podolyak was allegedly recruited by the 3rd Secretary of the Political and Economic Department of the US Embassy in Minsk Mark Fungard. They “leaked” information through Podolyak or launched disinformation, and also provided him with a certain “roof”. Maybe that's why Belarusian oppositionists were imprisoned, but there is no Podolyak! 

Apparently, this helped him to avoid lawsuits. Here is a telling story with Belarusian edition "Our Freedom", in which Podolyak placed "anti-PR" on the then chairman of the State Control Committee Anatoly Tozik. In August 2002, the Moscow District Court of Minsk found the publication discrediting the honor and dignity of Tozik, imposing a fine and legal costs on the newspaper in the total amount of 54 thousand dollars, and compensation for moral damages on Podolyak in the amount of 2,7 thousand dollars. The newspaper then ceased to exist, and Podolyak immediately found himself a new edition.

The political "omnivorousness" of Podolyak then took on very indecent forms. Belarusian journalist Diana Shibkovskaya told about him is:

“Mikhail at that time was already sharply opposed to the state power in Belarus and collaborated with the opposition media. One representative of the state press then asked the defecting journalist the question, how can he spin like a weather vane? To which the answer followed: "The professional differs from other journalists in that he is unprincipled." Podolyak added: “And if, for personal gain, I need to gobble up a fresh bunch of Mr. ... on, I will eat it and not choke. If it will shine for me with some big money, I will put all my principles aside. It all depends  Is it good for me or not?

It is believed that Mikhail Podolyak was deported from Belarus on June 21, 2004 for violent opposition activities, especially since the official reason sounded like “calls for the consolidation of the radical opposition in order to counteract the state bodies of Belarus, which could lead to destabilization of the political situation in the republic”. You must admit that it was impossible to come up with a better one, with such a “sentence” Podolyak would immediately be accepted into its open arms by the Ukrainian opposition, which was then preparing for the elections and the first Maidan!

However, there is another unannounced version of the deportation Podolyak. According to which, this happened as a result of his serious conflict with the chairman of the United Civil Party Anatoly Lebedko. Being one of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition, Lebedko was the "darling of the West", often met with European politicians, spoke in US Senate. And then one day something happened that forced Lebedko to accuse Podolyak of greed and immorality, after which the special services of Belarus were suddenly hastily deported to Ukraine. 

Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man? - photo 4

Anatoly Lebedko

Was the "agent" who compromised himself deported or simply transferred to another country? How to know! But, perhaps, that is why Podolyak then could not, upon arrival in Kyiv, profitably “sell” himself to the “orange coalition”. Moreover, soon he began to work against its leaders, sowing distrust and enmity among them. 

Podolyak in Ukraine: from Brodsky to Ivanyushchenko

Immediately upon arrival in Kyiv, Mikhail Podolyak acquired an expensive apartment and a new car there - having bought them either for savings, or for the advance payment and lifting. In 2005, he established the Ukrainian Media Group publishing house and Media Pro System Consulting Group LLC, and began publishing Ukrainska Gazeta. The main activity of Podolyak remained the same: custom PR and anti-PR. 

And in April 2005, a scandalous article was published in Ukrayinska Gazeta "The Last Supper", in which Podolyak raised the then topical topic of poisoning Viktor Yushchenko, focusing on the possible involvement of the “orange oligarch” in it David Zhvania and already former deputy chairman of the SBU Vladimir Satsyuk. The article caused a lot of controversy: Podolyak was summoned to the Prosecutor General's Office as a witness, the SBU came to him, he was condemned by other journalists. In particular, the media expert Natalia Ligacheva said the following about her: “Such publications that appeared in Ukrayinska Gazeta were made without observing any journalistic standards.”

The resonance did not subside for a long time, and this publication played a role in the fact that Vladimir Satsyuk fell into great disfavor with Viktor Yushchenko, was stripped of his titles and, in the end, left for Russia, where he stayed until 2011. And practically no one paid attention to the fact that The Last Supper, which killed Satsyuk, was published shortly after Mikhail Podolyak began working for the notorious Russian-Ukrainian raider Vadim Grib. Who at that time had very big frictions with Vladimir Satsyuk because of NPO "Medingservice". In this way Podolyak, fulfilling Hryb's order, simply “drowned” Satsyuk in the blackest anti-PR!

Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man? - photo 5

Vadim Grib

Having provided information service to Hryb, Podolyak since 2006  began to work with his good friend - no less scandalous oligarch Mikhail Brodsky, who then held the position of chairman of the State Committee for Regulatory Policy. Podolyak joined to him as an adviser on media policy and PR, began working in Brodsky's Obozrevatel, whose editor-in-chief he became in 2011. But a few years later, Podolyak quarreled with Brodsky in the same way as with his former employers. So seriously that when Podolyak became an adviser to the head of the OP and an important person in the Zelensky team, he began to threaten Brodsky "bleed".

In 2010, Podolyak again tried to work (remotely) in Belarus, where they were then preparing for the next elections and protests. In response, the Belarusian website Svobodnye Novosti Plus allegedly posted Podolyak's interview, in which he boasted of his connections with the special services of Ukraine and Russia, and stated that he was ready to write anything for money. Podolyak soon announced that this interview was a fake, concocted from pieces of his previous “off-the-record conversations” with some representatives of the special services, and that it was 20% fiction. But then it turns out that 80% was it true?!

When power changed in Ukraine, Mikhail Podolyak got a job as a consultant to Sergei Levochkin - Head of the Administration of President Yanukovych. Due to this, in particular, Podolyak joined the group of selected journalists (with Shuster and Kiselyov) allowed to meet with Yanukovych in Mezhyhirya. Then highly praised Yanukovych в my article in the Explorer promoting him as a competent and far-sighted leader, open to dialogue and not tolerating corruption. 

Mykhailo Podolyak: general of the information war or just a simple PR man? - photo 6

Mikhail Podolyak (right) at a tea party with Viktor Yanukovych (left)

It was quite natural that he moved from Levochkin and Yanukovych to PR service for the scandalous Yuri Ivanyushchenko. It seemed that it was simply impossible to whiten the reputation of "Yura Enakievsky", but Podolyak took up this business - apparently, for a very good fee! 

April 29, 2011 in UNIAN took place press conference on the topic “Who and why invented the myth about Yuri Ivanyushchenko?”, which was organized by Tatiana Gavrish (daughter Stepan Gavrish), her deputy at the law firm ILF Alexey Kharitonov and Mikhail Podolyak. It was Podolyak who prepared the main theses voiced at this press conference:

  1. Why was launched in the national media a massive campaign to discredit MP Yuri Ivanyushchenko as much as possible?
  2. During this company are used false documents and deliberately false information is reported about Ivanyushchenko's criminal ties.
  3. There is no evidence of any links between Ivanyushchenko and the criminal community of Ukraine, which will be proved by the legal advisers of the people's deputy.
  4. The SBU and the Prosecutor General's Office deny the existence of any defamatory materials about People's Deputy Ivanyushchenko in their archives and in the current investigative proceedings.
  5. Before the start of the “discrediting campaign”, no one mentioned any connections discrediting the bright image of MP Ivanyushchenko.

Here, as they say, no comments! Interesting, does Mikhail Podolyak remember this press conference? After all, for all his cynicism, he sometimes tries to erase some pages of his past, which have become very undesirable. For example, article "OPG Poroshenko VS Kolomoisky", published in 2010 in the Observer, where Podolyak literally ridiculed the future president of Ukraine:

«Today one can talk about Poroshenko either in no way or with irony. Well, who is he? What is its real (not imaginary) influence? Foreign Secretary? Not seriously. Just a temporary reprieve. Situational hill on an endless road down. Promising politician? Doubly unimportant. He has no chance to re-enter somewhere in the favorite bedchamber. Too clumsy and greedy, so to speak, thinking»

True, back then Podolyak really could not have predicted that Poroshenko would become president after all. And when this happened, he hastily removed this article from the Observer website. And he was so sure that no one would remember her that in February 2015 he tried to win a place for himself as head of the Kyiv headquarters of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. 

Path to Bankova: "Dark Demon" Advisor

With the headquarters of the BPP, Podolyak then did not work out, and he went to the main PR and political strategists to to Sergey Dumchevwho spent on his election campaign 20 million dollars. Kyiv was hung with billboards with rhinos (the symbol of his party "Movement for Reforms"), black PR was poured in printed leaflets and online media Vitaliy Klichko, some sociological centers drew Dumcheva at least 9% and second place. But when in October 2015 the elections of the Kyiv mayor took place, Dumchev scored only 3,9% and took eighth place. Losing was so deafening against the background of the amount invested in the elections (according to media reports, Dumchev sponsored Sergey Tigipko) that Podolyak after that for a very long time could not find new  clients. His reputation has gone from bad to worse!

However, in 2016, a good “part-time job” for Podolyak, who got into the taste of chic life, was PR company in defense of the scandalous MP Alexandra Onishchenko. Unlike the clumsily concocted campaign in defense of Ivanyushchenko, which was based on the primitive method “what is your evidence ?!”, here Podolyak approached the matter thoughtfully and creatively, having managed to portray Onishchenko a little guilty, but causing pity and sympathy. 

Periodically "bored" Podolyak entertained himself with frank fakes. So, in August 2017, on the Channel 24 website, he wrote that the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite does not want to communicate with Petro Poroshenko - “Her refusal to communicate with Peter Alekseevich is an extremely bad sign. A sign of disappointment for those who sincerely and freely love us.” Soon the Secretariat of the President officially announced that this Podolyak's claim is a "fake mouse". But this fake was needed by Podolyak, who was fulfilling someone’s order to discredit Poroshenko – in particular, by convincing Ukrainians that the president had become “hands-shaking” in the West and that he needed to be changed. And as Podolyak wrote in January 2021, "fake is the new idol of the new time."

In the elections of 2019, the participation of Mykhailo Podolyak was noticed did not have - Apparently, Zelensky's team successfully “wetted” Poroshenko without his help. Therefore, Podolyak resorted to a military trick: he began to slowly water the “servants of the people” with black PR, expecting a business proposal from them. So, in March 2020, Podolyak wrote about Andrey Ermak as follows: 

«Yermak is now evil. A dark demon behind Zelensky. One that will hard mobilize opponents. Annoy and cause them to grind their teeth. Sooner or later, Zelensky will get tired of him and will try to send Bohdan down the path».

They heard him on Bankovaya - and literally a month later Podolyak was appointed to the same Yermak as an "anti-crisis adviser." Behind this intricate title of his position, there was a rapid drop in the rating of the Servant of the People party, followed by a drop in support for Zelensky himself. And Banking was in dire need of an experienced "PR manager"which would correct this situation. So Podolyak, in fact, first began to form the information policy of the Zelensky team,  and then began to have a great influence on other policies. Exactly with his arrival in the OP, the war of the "servants of the people" against Anatoly ShariaThen the same conflict with the Opposition Platform for Life and Zelensky’s rhetoric in general has changed dramatically.

But if until the spring of 2022, Mikhail Podolyak was mostly in the shade that with the beginning of a full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine, he received his "minute of glory" that has not stopped until now. Zelensky highly appreciated Podolyak’s ability to turn and twist information so that sometimes he deftly interpreted Ukraine’s defeats into a well-thought-out cunning strategy leading to an inevitable victory, and immediately rejected all counterarguments as “fakes of Russian propaganda”. 

Well, Podolyak deservedly can bear the title of "general of the information war"! But still, one should not forget that he is a hired employee, fulfilling now the most important order in his life. Yet the military will win the war, and the politicians will sign the peace - but the role of PR people in these events is still secondary.

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