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WAR IN UKRAINE: Anti-Ukrainian narratives in Romania. Among the sources, anti-vaxxers and people previously promoted by the Kremlin’s mouthpiece, Sputnik

A Ukrainian serviceman helps an elderly woman to leave destroyed residential building after shelling in Eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, 08 March 2022.
©EPA-EFE/VASYL ZHLOBSKY  |   A Ukrainian serviceman helps an elderly woman to leave destroyed residential building after shelling in Eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, 08 March 2022.
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People previously promoted by Sputnik, who in the past were accused of defending the interests of Russia and/or were associated with the anti-vaxx movement, launched a number of anti-Ukrainian disinformation narratives after war broke out. Cozmin Gușă, Diana Șoșoacă and Iosefina Pascal are among those who promote these disinformation themes, ranging from false justifications for the invasion (the existence of laboratories manufacturing biological weapons), to complete denial of an actual war.

1. Russia attacked Ukraine because the Americans were developing biological weapons in Ukrainian cities

NARRATIVE: Cities in Ukraine became the targets of Russian attacks because they hosted laboratories set up by the United States of America, via its Department of Defense and in partnership with the Ukrainian Health Ministry, which stored and worked with very dangerous viruses, such as hemorrhagic pneumonia, cholera, hepatitis A and influenza. Under the guise of defending against bioterrorism, hundreds of Ukrainians in the aforementioned cities were diagnosed with these diseases and actually died over 2009-2016. The destruction of these laboratories would represent one of the reasons for Russia’s invasion.

SOURCE: Iosefina Pascal. Actively promoted by Sputnik, the Kremlin’s mouthpiece, which put her in 2nd place in a ranking of Romanian journalists in 2021, but also by Sorin-Roșca Stănescu, who was handed a prison sentence after being indicted, among other things, for “setting up an organized crime group”, Iosefina Pascal works for Gold FM, a radio station officially owned by the son of the controversial politician/analyst Cozmin Gușă, ever since he was 23 years of age. Gușă himself was given his own show on his son’s ratio station, and was also included in Sputnik’s ranking in 3rd place, after Iosefina Pascal. Pascal was associated with another movement spreading fake news, of which many are coming from Russia, and challenged anti-Covid measures introduced by the authorities.

Iosefina Pascal presented her arguments regarding these biological laboratories as part of a so-called “investigation” that involved “many hours of probing and examining documents” and that was published on her website, romaniareala.com and shared, among other sources, by solidnews.ro, a website associated with Gold FM. Moreover, Iosefina Pascal was invited on Gold FM to discuss her “investigation”.

BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS AND RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: In defense of her claim, Iosefina Pascal says a number of documents referring to these laboratories have been erased from the website of the United States Embassy in Ukraine. While it is true that, right now, the files are no longer available for download, Veridica was able to access them easily, consulting an older version of the embassy’s website. Therefore, the documents are still available online. Besides, the fact that they were made available for public access on the Internet confirms this is not some conspiracy or a military research, which is usually kept confidential.

The narrative about the existence of laboratories purportedly developing biological weapons underlies numerous disinformation themes promoted by Russia, according to which the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia would host such biological laboratories. Disinformation and fake news published in the Republic of Moldova were actually debunked by Veridica as part of the Demagog 2021 project that monitored the unfolding of the latest election campaigns, as you can see here and here.

Nearly a week after Iosefina Pascal’s “investigation” came out, the disinformation about biological weapons in Ukraine became part of the Russian army’s official discourse. The disinformation also appeared in the Russian traditional and social media and was debunked by Veridica here.

The so-called biological weapons are not the only weapons of mass destruction Russia referred to in order to legitimize its invasion of Ukraine. Another equally false narrative promoted by Moscow authorities claims that Russia attacked Ukraine to prevent it from manufacturing nuclear weapons.

2. The war in Ukraine is not real and images of the bloodbath are doctored

NARRATIVE: It is quiet in Kyiv, there is no bombing, and the images that shocked the international community, with apartment buildings, hospitals and schools lying in ruins after the bombing, with hundreds of thousands of civilians (women, children and elderly) fleeing to the country’s borders are a deception. Senator Diana Șoșoacă urges people to follow live images captured by CCTV cameras set up around the Ukrainian capital-city Kyiv in order to see for themselves that the city streets are quiet and tourists can walk around freely. Outraged, Șoșoacă claims the fake news about the existence of a Russian attack in Ukraine and the atrocities committed by the invaders are supported by images captured at the BLM protests in the United States, while journalists reporting on scene are wearing holiday clothes, not war gear.

SOURCE: Diana Șoșoacă. The Senator was herself one of the people actively promoted by Sputnik.md, and over the years has attracted the media’s attention by being at the center of various scandals, but also by promoting certain theses, false narratives and disinformation narratives very similar to those launched in Russia. Diana Șoșoacă gained increased visibility by taking part in protests condemning the so-called “medical dictatorship”, whose ringleaders were close associates of the Russian Federation’s Embassy in Bucharest and spread disinformation and fake news regarding the coronavirus and the anti-Covid vaccine (as reference, check out this narrative debunked by Veridica, according to which the vaccine induces sterility across three generations). Diana Șoșoacă also went to great lengths to combat the vaccination campaign, although Șoșoacă herself allegedly took the vaccine, according to information published by multiple sources, also corroborated by Veridica. Diana Șoșoacă is also an advocate of sovereigntist and anti-EU theses which were equally part of numerous disinformation themes and false narratives promoted by the Kremlin over the years.

The denial of the existence of a conflict in Ukraine was also at the center of a post on Facebook that was meanwhile deleted from Diana Șoșoacă’s account.

THE FAKE WAR AND RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: The massive flow of images and on-scene footage, the accounts of numerous journalists on the ground, satellite images, statements by officials of Ukraine and other countries, responses from representatives of international organizations, testimonies by Ukrainian refugees and the very existence of an increasingly large number of refugees – all that confirms that Ukraine is at war, caught deep in a conflict that is affecting a sizable part of its territory, including major urban centers and the capital-city Kyiv. Nevertheless, official Kremlin propaganda is trying to persuade people this is merely a “special operation” whereby the Russian army is actually providing support to separatist forces in Donbas, helping them repel an alleged Ukrainian threat. The merciless bombing of numerous civilian objectives all over Ukraine, the murdering of civilians and the tragedies that surfaced in the wake of the invasion, the scale of Russia’s military operation and the hostility with which the locals have met the Russian invaders, have all been denied by Moscow propaganda.

3. Bucharest must not help Ukraine, since this country is an artificial construct that annexed Romanian territories

NARRATIVE: Ukraine is an artificial state that comprises territories seized from Romania – Northern Bukovina, Southern Bessarabia, Transcarpathia – and for this reason Bucharest must not get involved in the Russian-Ukrainian land dispute. Moreover, Crimea is a Russian territory that was awarded to Ukraine, just like all other Romanian provinces.

SOURCE: ActiveNews. ActiveNews is an online publication which in recent years has spearheaded the coronasceptic movement, publishing numerous fake news and disinformation narratives, some disproved by Veridica, such as the ineffectiveness of lockdowns, the fabrication of the Omicron strain in order to impose a global dictatorship, conspiracy theories regarding efforts to enslave the population by means of the green certificate or the adverse effects of anti-Covid vaccines. ActiveNews is also a fierce supporter of the Archbishop of Tomis, Teodosie, another champion of Covid denialists among the Orthodox clergy. The publication also overtly supports president Vladimir Putin, whom it praised for the many places of worship it founded on Mount Athos not two weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine. At the same time, ActiveNews rallied behind narratives promoting the traditional family – the publication regularly publishes articles written by Iulian Capsali, one of the iconic representatives of the Family Coalition – which foster many themes that are identical to those of Russian propaganda, depicting Russia as a citadel under siege that fosters the traditional values undermined by Gayropa.

THE ARTIFICIAL CONSTRUCT AND RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: Russia is promoting these narratives in order to support its claims about Ukraine being an artificial country, invented by Lenin and Khrushchev, in order to justify its acts of aggression, the annexation of certain territories that belong to Ukraine and its demands that Ukraine should firmly remain in its orbit. A few days before the launch of the large-scale invasion in Ukraine, when he recognized the independence of the separatist republics in Donbas, Vladimir Putin again referenced these narratives and challenge the viability of Ukrainian statehood.

Worth noting in this respect is that Ukraine never occupied any of Romania’s territories, but merely inherited from the USSR territories the latter occupied by force and annexed based on the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Subsequently, after the second occupation of these territories during World War II, Romania was forced to surrender these territories under the 1947 Paris peace treaty.

After the collapse of the USSR, relations between Romania and Ukraine cannot be described as excellent, although the two countries signed a Treaty on Good Neighborly Relations, a necessary move considering Bucharest had already opted for Euro-Atlantic integration. A territorial dispute between Romania and Ukraine over maritime borders, the continental plateau and areas of economic exclusion was won by Romania at the International Court of Justice in Hague. As a member of both NATO and the EU, Romania can no longer issue any territorial claims, although this ensures its territorial integrity and guarantees protection against other country’s claims.

4. The Rothschild financial empire bought Ukraine, and the partition of this country has already been decided

NARRATIVE: From an ideological, moral and financial standpoint, Ukraine is a failed state, for which reason the country is deep in external debt, owing some 100 billion dollars to the Rothschild financial dynasty – which is also funding George Soros. Since the escalation of tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border, the family business expressed concern over the possibility of retrieving its investment. For this reason, Rothschild called on president Emmanuel Macron, its agent in French politics, who succeeded in bringing Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin to the negotiations table. The authority of the Rothschild group extends way beyond that of Russia or the USA.

SOURCE: Cozmin Gușă. A typically Eastern-European mix of politician / analyst / consultant / businessman, Cozmin Gușă has been for many years labeled by Romanian media as a close firend / supporter / agent of Russia. Over the years, Gușă has been associated with a number of controversial figures, from the Moldovan oligarch turned wanted criminal, Vlad Plahotniuc, to the Romanian tycoon Sebastian Ghiță, also wanted by the authorities, whom Gușă actually visited in Belgrade, where Ghiță is currently in hiding, also with the help of Serbia, the Russian Federation’s most trusted ally in the region. Cozmin Gușă was in the frontline of the campaign condemning the exploitation of shale gas in Romania. Coincidentally, shale gas explorations are neither in Russia’s best interest, the Federation preferring to eliminate any alternative to its natural gas deliveries.

THE ROTHSCHILD CONSPIRACY AND RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: Cozmin Gușă is carrying over information dating back five years ago, according to which, in preparation of extending the deadline for its external debt, Ukraine allegedly announced it is consulting with Rothschild banking experts in order to manage its medium-term debt. It was around this time that conspiracy theories started being circulated, including in Romania, according to which the Rothschild family allegedly took over Ukraine’s external debt by means of the American investment holding, Franklin Templeton.

The Rothschild family, one of the biggest and most affluent in the world, has been for many generations the target of conspiracy theories, which are basically means of disseminating anti-Semitism. It was only natural for such theories to surface in Russia as well, a country with a long tradition of anti-Semitism. One theory, for instance, claimed the Rothschild family is allegedly tied to the assassination of Grigori Rasputin with a view to destroying Christian Russia, while according to another theory, Emmanuel Macron was groomed by this group, a narrative also fostered by Cozmin Gușă right now.

5. NATO has pushed Ukraine into a war with Russia, whereas Moscow attacked in response to Kyiv’s provocations

NARRATIVE: NATO is fighting Russia indirectly, using Ukraine as its agent after pushing this country into a war ever since the Euromaidan protests. Russia attacked Ukraine in response to Kyiv’s provocations, and Ukraine is now pushing for a change of regime in Moscow.

SOURCE: Gândește.org. This blog presents itself as a platform pooling a plethora of opinions. Based on its description, the blog focuses on the traditional family, resistance to the green certificate, anti-globalism, sovereigntism and national identity. These are all tenets of Moscow-backed disinformation narratives. Those who write on gândește.org are usually people associated with coronascepticism and sovereigntism, the Family Coalition, at least one convicted criminal and highly controversial public figures: Gheorghe Piperea, Iulian Capsali, Sorin Roșca Stănescu, Cornel Nistorescu, Ilie Șerbănescu, Mirel Palada, etc.

THE AGGRESSIONS OF NATO AND UKRAINE AND RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA: From the very beginning, Russia demanded Ukraine must remain within its sphere of influence. Ever since 2013, when the country came very close to signing the EU Association Agreement, Russia exerted tremendous pressure to prevent this course of action. With the outbreak of the Euromaidan protest movement, followed by Viktor Yanukovych’s escape and the ensuing general election that installed a new regime, Russia started spreading the idea of a coup staged by Ukrainian “fascists”. What followed was the invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea and the start of the pro-Russian insurrection in Donbas. Both actions were acts of aggression at the end of which Ukraine lost territories. Both were also accompanied by a resurge of Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts. Ukraine never strived to remove Putin from office, nor does it have the capacity to threaten Russia, given Russia’s disproportionate military strength.   Moreover, unlike Ukraine, Russia is also a nuclear power. On the other hand, the democratic process in certain ex-Soviet states, the implementation of the Western model of democratic societies and the development of closer relations with the EU and NATO are seen as a threat to Putin, who fears that, once they acknowledge the existence of alternatives to authoritarianism, an ideology fostering deep-seated inequities, the Russian people might be drawn to them and demand a change. Hence Putin’s obsession with “color revolutions” and the measures introduced against civil society and independent media.

The false idea of a Ukrainian “threat” is the primary justification Russia offered in defense of its invasion of Ukraine. The truth, however, is that, despite the Kremlin’s propaganda, Russia is the one that has repeatedly attacked Ukraine, captured its territories and bombed its cities.

Closely tied to this narrative is the one about NATO’s aggression – the Alliance allegedly expanded eastwards in spite of having given assurances, at the end of the Cold War, that it won’t do so, and is thus threatening Russia. Unlike Russia, a country that pledged under the Budapest Memorandum to observe Ukraine’s security and integrity in exchange for this country surrendering its nuclear arsenal inherited from the USSR, NATO never issued any written guarantee that it won’t expand eastwards, and there is no document attesting to this commitment. On the contrary, the former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev and his Foreign Minister at the time, Eduard Shevardnadze, publicly admitted they don’t recall such promises ever being made, since at the time the question of NATO’s eastward expansion was never up for debate. Russia’s modern-day propaganda with respect to NATO’s purported promise is based on vague verbal assurances that former US Secretary of State, James Baker, is said to have delivered. Moreover, no NATO member state was ever forced to join NATO – they all chose to join the Alliance of their own accord, whereas ex-Soviet and ex-communist states chose NATO because they had a history with Russia’s acts of aggression and appetite for expansion. Russia pursues its “imperialist” drive to this very day, and the reason for this war is Russia’s refusal to acknowledge the right to self-determination of another country it claims to be a rightful part of its empire.

 

Tags: Ukraine , Russia , Sputnik , fake news , disinformation , Ukraine crisis , Romania , War in Ukraine
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